A discussion with ELPA on the state of the lightning industry
The goal of the Earthing and Lightning Protection Association (ELPA) is to bring the lightning protection industry together to deliver a safe environment to the consumer, their infrastructure/equipment and personnel. ELPA national director Richard Evert believes that the ultimate achievement for the association will be compliance across the entire spectrum of property management.
“However, for this to be possible, we need to have systems in place,” he says. “With the lack of an apprenticeship and a training path for lightning installers, businesses are issuing and receiving false certificates of compliance (CoCs). The lightning risk dictates the required earthing to specific target earth resistance values. Test certificates are being issued as compliance certificates, when in truth they form only one part of the Installation Safety Report (ISR) which must become a permanent attachment to every CoC issued in South Africa, signed off by an accredited designer, accredited installer and the electrician/engineer responsible for the site CoC which is well recognised.”
He continues, “We have to have the mechanisms in place to police the five percent who wilfully disregard safety and purpose, and support the 95 percent who want and intend to deliver on what they sell. Failure to comply, as well as compliance, must both receive the same exposure such that the fruits of their labours are there for all to see. If we can equip people with everything they need, then compliance will follow.”
Skills development is essential in any industry, and this is no different when it comes to managing the threat of lightning. Evert notes that there is a push to get ELPA accredited installers, designers and inspectors. “We are seeing the need for knowledge as well as an increase in the requests for training.”
The founding members of ELPA had started putting training programmes in place. The need to eliminate conflict of interest between training provision and accreditation, meant the training effort needed to be deferred.
“We are, however, transitioning and will be discussing a change in our constitution’s vision and tasks in the near future,” he says. He believes that the Department of Labour must be involved in these discussions as well as the existing companies that have been in the industry for many years and have the expertise.
“It is imperative that ELPA work steadily along a sustainable path and within the existing structures of governance. Those with expertise need to expand their services to form part of a strong technical centres base of skills development. There is scope to open up training centres going forward but it cannot be done in a vacuum and the solutions must be a win-win for the country”.
Evert believes that it would be beneficial to bring the country’s universities together and put their facilities and knowledge together to provide a concerted research picture. “There currently are not enough resources to provide high quality training, so collaboration becomes vital and, dare I say, non-negotiable,” he says. Industry associations, from architecture, property development, consulting engineers, investors and insurance to the ECA and SAIEE are ideally placed to facilitate ELPA’s need to reach the masses. “Communication is key,” says Evert, “To achieve the first phase of compliance, a clear awareness message to all the major associations and their members is important.”
Power utilities are the key drivers to the development of lightning density measurement technologies.
“We have standardised across the world with ground flash density as the measure, yet the technology, operational since the early 1990s, already detects individual strokes,” says Evert. “In the SABS SANS 10313 standard, we will be looking at the actual lightning density (strokes) and not only the flash density. We are putting the need on the table with ELPA driving the discussion forward.”
Evert notes that, worryingly, loadshedding during the summer of 2018 started before the summer thunderstorms had really made themselves felt. “The decision to shed electricity across the country places our economy in crisis. The circumstances that place Eskom in a position where loadshedding is inevitable is speculative and at best should have been anticipated through our experiences from the 2008 period of loadshedding. Wet coal, unplanned outages and insufficient budget all go hand-in-hand with business risk management. High frequency system switching exposes weak insulation. When the full wrath of the storms makes itself known, those weaknesses will be magnified.”
Having been in the ELPA hot seat since June 2018 – after more than 28 years with Eskom – Evert is looking for ways to ensure that ELPA is an association which not only benefits those in the industry, but the country at large. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. The saying goes that you eat an elephant one bite at a time. We need to eat the bits that are closest to us and strategically place ourselves where the important life-saving bits get done first!” he concludes.