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.
Key Facts In This Video
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. (0:00)
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. (0:34)
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. (1:23)