Electricity + Control

As a country, South Africa experiences 24 million lightning strikes annually, with a related death toll of more than 500 officially recorded every year. This fatality rate from lightning is one of the highest in the world and could, in fact, be even higher when we take into account possible unrecorded lightning deaths in rural areas, and similarly the deaths from lightning of homeless people.

ELPA launches

To date, the South African lightning protection industry has arguably been somewhat disconnected, with a need for more coherent knowledge dissemination, communication around the potentially deadly dangers presented by lightning, and over-arching legislation to advise and guide all concerned parties. Despite this, the research and development around lightning protection in South Africa has been leading the world in particular areas.

This is according to Alexis Barwise, chairman of the newly-launched Earthing and Lightning Protection Association (ELPA), which was formed to protect consumers, establish a uniform interpretation of the codes of practice, and help to regulate and advise the lightning protection industry. ELPA was established as a non-profit organisation of voluntary membership.

Speaking at the ELPA launch on 19 June 2017 at Wits University in Johannesburg, Barwise said, “When we compare the annual statistics for lightning deaths in South Africa to the numbers of deaths from shark attacks, we could expect a maximum of ten or fewer recorded deaths from unprovoked shark attacks in our waters every year . Shark nets in the waters off our beaches, as well as people on shore who are acting as shark spotters, are quite common around our world-famous coastline and yet statistically, far fewer people are killed by sharks annually than by lightning.

“I believe that the same vigilance, attention and resources should be applied to protecting people from lightning, and this is the primary reason for ELPA’s formation. We acknowledge the need to protect life as well as property. This requires certainty, which we achieve through certification and compliance, all united under one umbrella body which brings together experts and interested parties from various areas of the lightning protection arena.”

Echoing the seriousness of the threat posed by lightning, particularly in South Africa, Professor Ian Jandrell, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at the University of the Witwatersrand, said in his keynote address, “Understanding this spectacular natural phenomenon assists with protection against its deadly force. Throughout the ages, human beings have always tried to make sense of lightning through myths and legend. Today we approach the understanding of lightning through science, drawing on decades of research which has taken place across the world and in South Africa - and is still ongoing today. Currently, the barrier to entry in the lightning protection industry is very low, but the barriers to competence are very high. In addition, our data shows that the risk of lightning strikes in this country is increasing.

“These facts showcase the obvious need for an industry body such as ELPA, which needs to assist with education and awareness in general, including among consumers and the general public, and should also play a role in improving the technical competency within the industry, in particular that of installers and contractors. There is a need to upskill those who carry out lightning protection installations, so that they understand the science behind what they are doing. In the lightning protection industry overall, we need to move away from a view which looks at price as the most important factor – we need to consider the cost and benefit over the life of the installation, and should never discount the human safety aspect of lightning awareness and protection. Recognising this emphasises the important of proper protection and what the cost implications would be if we cut corners and price.”

Barwise explained that the formal establishment of ELPA is an important addition to the standard of safety in the South African lightning and protection industry, as the association will offer certification of qualified designers, installers and inspectors, with the support of the Department of Labour, Wits University, the Electrical Contractors Association of South Africa (ECA), the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE) and others. This will have positive repercussions for the building of both residential and corporate structures and there is an intention to further assist regulation and claims in the insurance industry.

Barwise clarified, “Together, ELPA’s NEC members already have over 100 years of industry experience. It’s our intention that ELPA will prescribe guidelines around good practices, such as the issue of what a good risk management plan looks like. We propose being able to work with the insurance companies and so provide a certain peace of mind, distinguishing between possible residential versus corporate claims. An ELPA guarantee on the work will assist the insurance industry, in that we will commit to fixing sub-standard work at our cost if an installation that was guaranteed by ELPA is later found to be non-compliant. This ties in further with our plans to carry out random quality inspections. In this way, we can see how using an ELPA-certified installer would provide peace of mind. Similarly, we would provide guarantees on the design, even before installation.”

In terms of the structure of ELPA, Barwise said, “We don’t have to create everything – we can work together and use what already exists through collaboration. This is reflected in our Board, which incorporates such role players within the lightning protection industry including manufacturing members, a technical committee, a certification and inspection area, as well divisions according to different regions of the country. In this way, we’ve noted the need to have expertise in different areas, as well as a need to be able to report in to ELPA within your geographical location in South Africa.

“Further, we have purposefully structured a business model inside ELPA’s executive committee to sustain the organisation and keep it growing into the future. We plan to keep changing the office bearers and so keep bringing new blood into the organisation. Collaborating associations include Wits University, the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE), the Electrical Contractors’ Association of South Africa (ECA), Eskom, the Lightning and Electromagnetics Network (ACLENet), the Association of Municipal Electricity Undertakings of South Africa (AMEU), Safe House and the Lightning Interest Group for Health Technology and Sciences (LIGHTS).”

Barwise concluded, “In short, it is our goal to ensure accountability, and this will be a shared responsibility that will also be driven by other bodies.The entire concept around ELPA’s formation hinges around uplifting and uniting the lightning protection industry, and upskilling all those who are involved in it. In all of this, ELPA will be the glue.”

Contacts

ELPA, Claudelle Pillay, +27 11 704 1487,/ +27 76 516 8964, info@elpasa.org.za, www.elpasa.org.za,

Facebook: @ELPASA.org.za

icomm: Debbie Sielemann, +27 (0) 82 414 4633, debbie@pr.co.za, www.icomm-pr.co.za

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