From the skills and training of medical staff members to the sensitive equipment and sterile measures that are used on patients, hospitals are synonymous with efforts to save lives and improve health and well-being. The greatest threats to sensitive life-saving equipment are chronic intermittent utility power issues and frequent lightning strikes. The latter can be assisted by installing the proper surge protection.

Keeping hospitals safe from lightning and surges

“At different times in my life,” says an anonymous spokesperson, “and for various reasons, I have been in situations where I have seen my father, another member of my family, and a friend’s child on life support machines. The idea that a power surge could have crippled the equipment that was keeping them alive at the time is truly terrifying”. And this, in a nutshell, sums up exactly why hospitals so urgently need to be safe from equipment failure caused by power surges, including those that may be related to lightning strikes.

Julienne Puttkammer, part of the Technical Team at DEHN AFRICA, the local subsidiary of DEHN, says, “When we look at the importance of protecting hospitals from electrical surges and/or lightning strikes, the preservation of human life is usually of paramount importance. As with data centres, when it comes to hospitals and their sensitive electronic equipment, there are two main types of risk when it comes to electrical power surges, namely lightning strikes, both direct and indirect hits; and switching surges.

“Switching surges can be external – from the power utility itself, or internal – potentially caused by the switching of a cooling system’s inductive load or possibly a generator switching over from the utility supplier.”

Puttkammer says that because life support systems and other types of electronic monitoring equipment in hospitals are so important, they all run off battery operated uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems. “UPS systems reduce the chances of down-time significantly and, in fact, many steps are taken electrically to make sure systems are always on, and available and stable. However, there is always the risk of surges so surge protection is desirable, as it will complement and round off the whole protective system for optimal results, meaning ensuring a constant electrical supply. In short, you want the surge protection to try and make it infallible.

“When we consider town planning in the broader scheme, as per IEC 62305, the best protection should always be implemented in hospitals to mitigate risk. When we at DEHN AFRICA carry out a risk assessment, we zone the areas of the hospital into different parts, and distinguish between offices, waiting room areas, theatres and intensive care units (ICUs), for example. While all the areas of a hospital, in general, need protection from power surges, theatres and ICUs obviously carry supreme importance.”

Puttkammer notes that South Africa boasts hospitals that offer world-class care, both in the public and the private sectors. Nonetheless, some of the country’s hospitals feature unique risks and challenges when it comes to surge protection. He says, “These risks include load shedding schedules, and from the perspective of nature, parts of the country are habitually at risk of lightning strikes as they are situated in high lightning strike density areas. On top of this, hospitals in general are larger buildings and are more susceptible to direct lightning strikes.

“In addition, some of the country’s hospitals are situated in ageing buildings. Older buildings often have inadequate surge protection – even if they do have lightning protection installations – and this needs to be addressed. When existing hospitals are upgraded, the weaknesses of the older system can be revealed and this is where the need to improve the whole system can arise.

“Such upgrades to the hospital itself, which then bring to attention the need to upgrade existing lightning and surge protection systems, include the building of additional hospital wings, or the addition of rooftop PV systems to supplement the electricity source from the power utility, or upgrades to the cooling systems.” South Africa is a country in which lightning strikes and surge voltages cause a high risk of personal and physical harm or damage to electrical and operational systems. “In addition to damaging critical patient care equipment, the destruction that lightning and power surges can cause to electrical and operational systems can be costly to repair or replace. Ensuring that hospitals are equipped with fit-for-purpose lightning protection systems is therefore of critical importance. Today’s modern hospitals are generally built with state of the art equipment, but the need to address lightning and surge protection in older hospitals in South Africa remains crucial,” concludes Puttkammer.

DEHN is a globally active electrotechnical company offering comprehensive services, products and solutions in the field of surge protection, lightning protection and safety equipment.

Enquiries: +27 (0)11 704 1487

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.