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A delegation from South Africa’s Earthing and Lightning Protection Association (ELPA) recently attended the annual conference of the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI)/United Lightning Protection Association (ULPA) 2018 in Florida in the United States.

The attending team included ELPA national director Richard Evert and former national director Trevor Manas. The conference included two general assembly meetings (AGMs) for the two associations and an LPI-IP update meeting where LPI-IP is the Inspection Programme of LPI facilitating inspections of all lightning protection installations in the USA.

Commenting on ELPA’s decision to send a delegation over to the US at this particular time, Evert says, “ELPA is a fledgling organisation focused on managing aspects of the lightning threat present within our country, and it has been formally in existence only since June 2017. The relationships among service providers as well as between service providers and end-users are critical to the success of the lightning protection industry in South Africa.

“Since inception, ELPA’s leadership has applied available local knowledge of association practices and business models. As the organisation grew, however, it also became apparent that acquiring intelligence around other potential business models and standard operating procedures could be helpful. ELPA’s ability to meet the needs of its members will rely entirely on available knowledge, business acumen and the will to deliver what is needed.”

With reference to the US lightning protection industry conference, Evert clarifies that there are three organisations making up the overall lightning protection coordinating body, and that the level of cooperation between them is impressive. He clarifies the structures as follows:

  • The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI), founded in 1955, is the parent body addressing standards and business operations across the country and is a non-profit organisation. The LPI addresses the security of the industry. Its members are dedicated to ensuring that lightning protection systems installed are the best possible quality – in design, materials and installation – so that lives and property can be protected from lightning.
  • The United Lightning Protection Association (ULPA) is the body that coordinates and supports the activities of the installers and technicians. ULPA places emphasis on the well-being of the people in the industry.
  • The LPI-IP is the for-profit body responsible for ensuring that all lightning protection systems (LPS) installed by LPI/ULPA members are inspected and comply with the required specifications and regulations.

Evert adds: “The LPI recognises that earthing and lightning protection is a specialised discipline where expertise is required for system design and installation. In the United States, an experienced lightning protection specialist who is certified through the LPI will take into account the architecture of, and the contents in, a structure, without compromising industry safety standards for installation. Installation requirements according to the safety standards are specific and often complex, and the experienced and certified lightning protection specialist knows how to interpret the safety standards to meet all requirements with the completed installation.”

ULPA was founded in 1936 with a long-standing history within the lightning protection industry. Lightning fatalities in America first started being recorded in the 1940s. Fatalities were similar to the figures we now have in South Africa in the order of several 100 per annum. With active intervention those statistics came down to an average of 51 people per year from 1984 to 2013. Last year, related deaths in the United States reached an all-time low, with a recorded history of 16 fatalities – this according to a year-end report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). ULPA is credited with playing a role in helping to reduce these deaths.

Further to their efforts, the US lightning protection industry established the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA) comprised of lightning protection manufacturers, distributors and installers[1]. As a collaboration of groups including the National Lightning Safety Council, events are arranged to make the public aware of the dangers of lightning. At this time, the US will hold the “Lightning Safety Awareness Week” from 24 to 30 June, appropriately in their northern hemisphere storm season. Across the country schools, communities and interested contributors are encouraged to consider different aspects of lightning, what it does and how to “stay safe”[2].

Evert states: “The successes in the USA are not due to singular efforts or that one great solution, but a collaborative effort to take lightning seriously, driving education and awareness campaigns among the general public, and facilitating meaningful safety practices endorsed by those in the lightning protection industry. The USA experiences a significant annual lightning threat that is accumulatively comparable to that of South Africa. It was of real strategic importance for ELPA to attend this conference, as it provided the organisation with an opportunity to attend the board meetings of the associations responsible for managing the largest coordinated lightning protection association in the world. In addition to the two-day conference and the board meetings, we had the added bonus of being able to network with the other delegates, to better appreciate how the US lightning protection industry operates, as well as the standards that it applies.

“Going forward, we envisage that the benefit to ELPA will include being able to grow our own knowledge further, and balancing South African conditions and circumstances with those of the USA, in order to identify ‘horses for courses’ circumstances that are common between our two countries.”

Evert notes that in contrast with the situation in America, as outlined previously, South Africa has some 300 actual annual recorded deaths per annum, as verified by mortuaries[3] – although this number is believed by many lightning experts to be significantly higher.

He says: “Here at ELPA, we therefore look forward to emulating our American peers as we play our own role in the South African lightning protection industry and press on with our goal of becoming the recognised national professional body for the earthing and lightning protection industry. It is also vital that we acknowledge that lightning risk management did not start with ELPA in June 2017, and that the quality of work and best practices did not suddenly appear with its inception. SANS standards must be upheld at all times.

“It is our duty as ELPA to facilitate bringing all parties together that will aid our efforts in supporting developing and established industry service providers to meet the growing need to save lives and protect property. We need to see our fatalities reduce steadily year by year. The dynamics of how this will be done may be different to how it has been achieved in the US, due to vastly different socio-economic conditions, but we can take a leaf out of the US experience and apply our collective minds and efforts to make it happen.”

Evert concludes: “Through this public medium, we want to thank the US Lightning Protection industry for their open hearts and generosity and undertake that we will use the knowledge gained with the same passion and commitment they shared with us”.

For more information, visit ELPA is supported by various institutions such as Wits University, the Electrical Contractors Association of South Africa (ECA) and the Department of Labour.