This is a serious article that any self respecting Manager, Workplace Safety, or Engineering Professional should be aware of, and hopefully will go away and question the internal processes within their own organisations as to how lightning risks are dealt with.
Hopefully many will share my view that there is an un-diagnosed endemic problem simmering and just waiting for its next victim.
The incidents and statistics presented below should serve to confirm that I am right.
In this article I will detail a scandalously long list of what I believe were “preventable” lightning fatalities and injuries. Incidents that I suggest did not need to happen, yet which did happen, and could occur to any organisation that has large groups of personnel working outdoors, or who may be conducting activities that involve higher risk factors.
It is my view that those tasked to identify and document lightning risks do so without the knowledge or understanding that whilst lightning follows the technical rules of physics and electricity, its physics and behavior is in reality very different than what we are used to with man-made electricity. Our human ‘common sense’ thoughts and extrapolations of our electrical experience are more often than not wrong about the behavior of lightning.
So lets address the elephant in the room and lets see what we are dealing with here.
Lightning vs Mining, Exploration, Rail & Ports
Fatality/ Injuries (1997-2018)
NOTE * Author was involved with organization following the incident
- Lightning v HME Dump Truck Operator -WA Pilbara – injury 1997 *
- Lightning v Truck driver -WA Kimberley – Fatality-Western Australian man 1998
- Lightning v Minesite visitor-WA Goldfields-injury-1999 *
- Lightning v Mine Manager-WA Goldfields-Fatality- Western Australian man-2000*
- Lightning v HME Wheel Loader -WA Pilbara- injury-2004
- Lightning v Comms Mast Laos – Fatality – Western Australian man -2008) *
- Lightning v Exploration Hut -Laos – Fatality/injuries- Australian Company-2008 *
- Lightning v Heavy Fitters Workshop -WA Pilbara – injury 2010 *
- Lightning v Drill Rig -WA Goldfields – 1 injury-2012 *
- Lightning v Railway Maintenance -WA Pilbara – 2 injuries-2014 *
- Lightning v Drill Rig -Laos – near miss-Australian Company-2015 *
- Lightning v TSF (Peru – Fatality- Australian Company -2015 *
- Lightning vs Electrical Workers -WA Pilbara – 2 injuries-2015 *
- Lightning v Bore-field Maintenance -WA Goldfields -2016 *
- Lightning v Exploration camp -Indonesia – 2 injuries -Australian Company 2016 *
- Lightning v Railway Maintenance -WA Goldfields- 13 injuries- 2017 *
- Lightning v Railway Yard -WA Pilbara – Near Miss – mild effects felt -2017 *
- Lightning v Port Workers -NT – injuries -2017 *
- Lightning v Open Pit -WA Pilbara – 7 injuries -2018
- Lightning v Mining Office worker (WA – injury)
There have also been many significant lightning incidents (no injuries) including:
- Lightning v U/G mine (WA Murchison- U/G Explosives Pre-detonation 1998) *
- Lightning v Crusher (WA Goldfields – 2 months unplanned downtime -2003) *
- Lightning v HME (WA Pilbara – HME Pyrolysis -Tyre explosion -2004) *
- Lightning v U/G mine (WA Goldfields- U/G Explosives Pre-detonation -2006?) *
- Lightning v Go Line ( NSW Coal Fields- HME Pyrolysis -Tyre explosion 2008) *
- Lightning v Explosives pre-detonation (WA Pilbara – Open pit -2017) *
- Lightning v ROM (WA Pilbara – HME Pyrolysis -Tyre explosion 2018) *
- Lightning v Near Miss (Most sites have their own stories)
What is also interesting regarding these incidents is that with the exception of :
- a Pyrolysis Tyre Explosion in NSW *
- a Fatality to an Elect Mines Supt in Laos *
- a Fatality and several injuries to exploration workers in Laos *
- two (2) exploration camp injuries in Indonesia *
- a Rail Maintenance injury in Melbourne *
- a TSF construction fatality in Peru *
- a Port related “near miss” in Darwin, and *
All of these lightning incidents involved mining operations in Western Australia, yet we can find no evidence of any other significant numbers of lightning fatalities or injuries, from any other Australian State or Territory.
Are there any?
Is this is generically a Western Australian only problem ?
There have been many other Mining related HME Pyrolysis incidents that have occurred around the world, and which have not been reported here. Overseas there have been many HME Pyrolysis fatalities.
We know of many other Australian HME Pyrolysis incidents that are not listed above due to there being anecdotal reports only (Pine Creek and Ipswich). We suggest HME Pyrolysis is a significant industry specific Lightning Risk.
Work-groups affected have included:
- Govt Environmental worker- Visitor
- Exploration camp workers
- Exploration drillers
- Instrument Technician
- Heavy Automotive Fitter
- Electrical Workers
- Asst Mine Manager
- Elect Mines Supt
- Railway maintenance workers
- Borefield Maintenance worker
- Port Workers
- U/G Coal workers
- Truck driver
- HME Operator
- Wheel Loader operator
In the past 20 years Standards, Codes, and Industry regulations have not changed despite so many different types of significant lightning incidents occurring to so many different work-groups, and across so many activities.
This author knows of NO other catastrophic risk that has gone unchecked and IGNORED for so long, despite such an abysmal record, and long list of fatality, injury, and significant near miss incidents.
Workplace noise levels requires a more thorough and documented industry response wherever workplace noise exposures are above 90 dB and 140 dB thresholds, yet ongoing “actual” fatalities and serious injuries (lightning related) command no such industry response?
Are these not known risks?
So I ask these questions:
- How can HSE develop procedures against a risk when they don’t have the engineering skills to understand the nuance of what is already a technically challenging risk, with various risk mechanisms, or have the understanding how these mechanisms might manifest as injuries?
- Where can HSE obtain the required information relating to lightning risks, the various risk mechanisms, and how these then manifest as injuries?
- Where can HSE obtain sufficient technical understanding so as to properly deal with the various types of lightning incidents that were outlined earlier?
- What technical resource is available that would enable HSE to obtain the required informationto collate a sufficient understanding to put everything together so as to appropriately deal with the technical nuance associated with lightning?
Obtaining relevant lightning related fatality and injury statistics is very difficult to find, and I invite any reader of this post to go away for the next 5 minutes or so, and using their own investigatory powers, see how many lightning fatality and injury statistics from their own specific industry that they can come up with.
I’ll wager that they wont find any useful information, so what hope does HSE then have?
If organisations were serious about Lightning Safety and Lightning Risk Mitigation, they might ask themselves, and then honestly answer this simple question.
- How does my organisation monitor and then determine the severity of lightning threats ?
The answer is likely to be one of the following responses
- Strike Guard/ Vaisala Prof Grade Lightning Warning System – IEC62793: Class 1
- Strike Guard/Vaisala Prof Grade Lightning Warning System – IEC62793: Class 2
- Weatherzone (etc) Online Lightning Locating Service – IEC62793: Class 2
- Boltek Lightning Detector – IEC62793: Class 3
- Skyscan/ Lightningman Handheld Lightning Detector – IEC62793: Class 4
- Flash to Bang mental reckoning
- No threat detection capability
If the answer is :
- Then the organisation is absolutely 100% serious about lightning
- Then the organisation is very serious about lightning, and can harmonize and integrate Class 1 “predictive” capability at some future time .
- Then the organisation is somewhat serious about lightning, but cannot integrate Class 1 “predictive” capability later.
- Then the organisation may not be that serious about lightning risks.
- Then the organisation is not concerned about lightning risks as it is in cost savings.
- Then the organisation is not serious about lightning risks.
- The Lightning risk hasn’t even come up on the radar as being a risk.
I make this statement that 99% of all Australian workplaces who use lightning threat detection, base such determinations around technology that detects and reports lightning threats “historically” and after the fact, despite predictive (IEC 62793-Class 1) threat detection technology being available.
Those who rely upon handheld detection technology may not be aware that this technology has very limited capability, and is unable to detect and report to Cloud to Cloud (C-C) lightning flashes that can precede Cloud to Ground (C-G) Lightning strikes, but which are still indicative that dangerous lightning conditions are current.
Having been directly involved in the aftermath of seven (7) lightning fatalities, five (5) of which occurred upon Mining/ Resource operations, it would be a fair to say I have a unique perspective into what is a highly technical and niche area of workplace safety.
I regularly find myself horrified by the lack of due diligence shown towards lightning risks, given the recent and significant loss of life, and the frequency by which these significant incidents continue to occur, and indeed plague some higher risk industry sectors.
Curiously there is and has always seemed to be a scant awareness towards lightning risks for longer than I care to recall, to which I suggest that in general, there is an entrenched;
- lack of understanding surrounding lightning risks,
- lack of understanding to the various lightning risk mechanisms,
- lack of understanding to how lightning injuries manifest,
- lack of vetting to the application of appropriate lightning risk mitigation controls,
- lack of suitable guidance or information within normal information repositories
- total disregard to lightning where the risks are deemed so remote that “it will never happen to me”.
So the point of this article is to ponder and then pose the following questions;
- why is there so much secrecy surrounding lightning fatality & injury statistics?
- why is there no detail surrounding significant lightning incidents that high risk industry could share for the better understanding of how lightning injuries manifest, for the greater common good?
- why haven’t standards, codes and industry regulators jumped up and down at the lack of any industry response to these significant lightning incidents?
Grant Kirkby- Lightningman