Why Do Power Linemen Wear Metal Suits?

If you stand in a thunderstorm holding a metal lightning rod, chances are you'll get struck by lightning. So why do linemen who work on high-voltage wires wear suits infused with metal? It all comes down to electricity's predictable behavior. When electrons meet a good conductor, like metal, they glide so easily over it that they hardly penetrate the surface. If that metal is a container, like a cage or a suit, the electricity never reaches the inside, keeping its contents—whether that's a computer or a person—safe from harmful shocks. A grounded metal enclosure designed to protect its contents from electric charges is known as a Faraday cage, and it appears in everything from microwaves to TV cables. The uniforms worn by linemen are known as Faraday suits, and are designed with a combination of stainless steel fibers and fire-retardant fabric to ensure they're both protective and lightweight enough to get the job done comfortably.

How to Survive a Lightning Strike

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Lightning is more likely to strike metal because lightning bolts are just long strings of fast-flowing electrons looking for the easiest path from point A to point B, and no material provides an easier path than metal. 00:00

  2. A metal suit protects you during a thunderstorm for the same reason it attracts lightning bolts: electrons glide so easily over metal that they barely penetrate the surface, so whatever is inside of a metal container stays safe. Physicists call this a Faraday cage, or in the case of the steel-woven clothing worn by linemen working on high-voltage wires, a Faraday suit. 00:34

  3. If you do find yourself in a field during a thunderstorm and can't head indoors, the best thing to do is crouch low and keep your feet together. This makes the electrons travel through your legs -- an inefficient path they're unlikely to travel. Even if they do travel up one leg, they'll travel back down the other, helping them miss vital organs. 01:23

Written by Ashley Hamer May 12, 2016