Last year, lightning deaths in the US reached an all-time low in that country’s recorded history.
This is according to a year-end report published recently by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which cited a total of 16 deaths across the US.

This was seven fewer than the previous record low of 23 (2003) and significantly below the previous year’s total of 39 for 2016. Lightning fatalities in America first started being recorded in the 1940s.

When lightning fatalities first started being recorded in America, the annual number of deaths reached as high as 432 in 1943. Following the institution of the American National Weather Service’s (NWS) Lightning Safety Campaign in 2001, about 55 lightning deaths occurred each year, based on the previous 10-year average. That death toll has now been reportedly cut in half, as the current 10-year average is 27 deaths per year.

“When you consider the geographic size and population figures of the US as a country, these latest figures are highly commendable,” says Trevor Manas, the national director of South Africa’s Earthing and Lightning Protection Association (ELPA). “The continuing trend in the drop in the lightning fatalities figures in the US is ascribed to an improved educational outreach and public awareness, as the American public has been made aware of the dangers of lightning and knowing when and where to find shelter.

“In contrast, South Africa has a disturbingly high number of lightning fatalities annually. While the average number of local annual lightning deaths is not always easy to estimate, due to such factors as the unrecorded deaths of homeless people and those who are killed by lightning and buried quickly due to cultural beliefs, the South African Weather Service has nonetheless estimated a figure of over 300 recorded deaths every year, while acknowledging that this figure could, in fact, be skewed higher. The fact that South Africa has some 300 actual annual recorded deaths, as verified by mortuaries, is a serious cause for concern.”

Manas says ELPA is determined to implement all programmes necessary, including educational, in its quest to become South Africa’s recognised National Professional Body for earthing and lightning protection, and make serious inroads into the improved protection of life and property.

ELPA was officially established in June 2017, after two years of hard work by lightning protection industry experts from around the country, and is supported by various institutions such as Wits University, the Electrical Contractors Association of South Africa (ECA) and the Department of Labour.

A professional body, by definition, is usually a non-profit organisation seeking to further a particular vocation, the interests of individuals engaged in that profession and the public interest. Many professional bodies are involved in the development and monitoring of specialist educational programmes and the updating of skills. They therefore carry out certifications to show that a particular individual in that industry possesses the necessary qualifications.
In this regard, Manas comments, “ELPA aims to assist with providing industry accreditations, certification and benchmarks for quality of design and installation, as well as information and education on lightning safety.”

He notes the following aims and projects carried out by ELPA in its short history thus far:

* Certification exams for lightning protection installers, lightning protection design and surge protection installations for electricians who carry out surge protection installations.

* Other certification exams will follow during 2018, including a first course for testers/assessors of lightning protection systems (LPSes). These next certification exams are linked to the launch of the ELPA Certificates of Compliance (COC) programme in late 2017. The COC programme involves the inspection of LPSes that are registered by ELPA accredited installers and designers. An expected inspection rate of 100 percent of all registered projects is anticipated.

* Noting that much of South Africa is subject to high lightning ground flash density, with a consequent wide-ranging need for the installation of LPSes, ELPA is making use of online facilities in a bid to nationalise some of its courses. Installation accreditation is the flagship online accreditation project, to accommodate the substantial number of candidates from around South Africa who want to take the ELPA installation exam.

* In addition to the LPS certification exams for designers, installers and inspectors, ELPA will implement a CPD programme to boost electrical engineers in the science of lightning protection. Manas notes, “This would be extremely valuable to all electrical engineers, as lightning protection is not a subject included in an electrical engineering degree in South Africa, and is normally only offered as part of a post-graduate high voltage study programme.”

In demonstrating its ongoing commitment to becoming the recognised National Professional Body for earthing and lightning protection, an ELPA delegation, including Manas and Richard Evert, recently attended the annual conference of United Lightning Protection Association (ULPA)/LPI (Lightning Protection Institute) in Florida in the US.

“ULPA in the US was founded in 1936 and as such is now in its 82nd year. It really was a great privilege for ELPA to be able to attend this world-renowned body of lightning expertise and learn from those who have such a long official history within the lightning protection industry,” sys Manas.

“Saying that, we shouldn’t underestimate the expertise that is present in South Africa, and the ground-breaking lightning research that has taken place in our country since the middle of the 20th century, through some of the very partners – such as Wits University, for example – that ELPA is proud to partner with. The conference was a very satisfying experience and we at ELPA look forward to continuing our work during 2018 and growing our national presence even further.”