With Lightning Protection facing its biggest changes in decades, Dave Allen, Operations Director of Omega Red Group - casts a critical eye over the readiness of the construction industry for the introduction of the new British Standard BS EN62305: Protection Against Lightning
The requirements of the new standard are much more comprehensive and progressive than before and it has taken Omega two years to fully digest its provisions. During that time the new and existing standards ran in parallel to enable lightning protection companies and their customers to get up to speed - from September this year, the new standard is the only show in town. But has the industry used the time available to adequately prepare itself for the changes ahead?
More than three times the size of its predecessor, the new British Standard BS EN62305 uses modern protection techniques for the design and construction maintenance of lighting protection systems.
Our own preparations have been helped hugely by the new Standard training programme devised by our former Managing Director, Mike Henshaw, who has worked in conjunction with the British Standards Institute to produce the UK Guide to the Practical Application of BS EN 62305. Omega has had the training programme in place for some time and we continue to use it to ensure all our staff and operatives understand and can implement the various complexities of the standard.
Broadly speaking, the new standard requires lightning protection companies and all of their customers to raise their game significantly. What has been accepted practice for the past few decades will no longer meet the full requirements of the new standard and the penalties for a failure to adapt could be costly in both time and money.
The information required to produce precise assessments, designs and costs means that lightning protection experts will need to be consulted much earlier than has been the norm under existing tendering practices. A key requirement of the standard is that lightning protection is fully integrated at the design stage of a new development and that means a much greater degree of co-ordination with building services.
Aside from obvious risk of business systems failure, contractors may also find that failure to meet the new Standard could mean that their insurance is invalidated - very costly on major developments should something go wrong, particularly if it involves loss of life.
Organisations in the lightning protection industry need to ensure they have training programmes in place now to ensure that they have the capability to work to the new standard when BS6651 is withdrawn on 31 August 2008.
At the start of the process and before any design work can take place, a client will need to decide which or more of the following four risks they wish to protect against:
1. Risk of loss of human life
2. Risk of loss of service to the public
3. Risk of loss of cultural heritage
4. Risk of loss of economic value.
Risk assessments are then undertaken in order to determine whether or not lightning protection is required and, if it is, to determine what the required level of protection is. The next stage of the process is to establish what protection measures need to be applied in order to reduce the risk to a tolerable level and this will always include the provision of surge protection - an entirely new requirement.
The new risk assessments demand much more detailed input information than under the current standard, including:
- Dimensions and use of the structure to be protected
- Type and characteristics of equipment to be protected
- Type of cabling used for power and telecommunications/data systems
- Characteristics of power and telecommunications lines feeding the structure
- Characteristics of the structure feeding the lines
- Relative location of the structure and its services to other structures
- Type of floor surfaces (for example, concrete, asphalt granite etc)
- Risk of fire and any special hazards
- Provision for fire protection
- Any inherent or specifically built-in spatial shielding against electromagnetic influences
- Various financial information if requiring a calculation of Risk 4.
The scale of the task is illustrated by the fact that while Risk 1 is addressed under the existing standard, Risk 2 is only partially addressed and then only in an informative appendix. Risks 3 and 4 are included for the first time within the new standard - completely new requirements which neither developers nor lightning protection companies have previously had to consider.
An example of the impact this will have can be illustrated by work that Omega has done over the years on the lightning protection system at St Paul's Cathedral. We have always taken great care to ensure no damage was caused to paintings, statues or any of the other artistic treasures in the Cathedral but that was part of Omega's own customer care programme, not a requirement of the existing standard. Under the new standard there is an obligation to consider ‘cultural heritage' just as we have always considered the risks to human life and to the structure of a building.
Don't Get Left Behind
The new Standard has many merits but it is long and complex and requires a complete rethink by lightning protection companies - its understanding and application require a complete change in systems, training, operations and organisation. Unfortunately, some companies in the lightning protection industry may find it too complicated, too time consuming and yes, too expensive in terms of retraining and have so far done little to prepare. It is a big challenge for the industry as a whole and we may find that some organisations will struggle to pass the test.
There is, in addition, a legal obligation to test the system every year and the discovery of a necessary and expensive retrofit is unlikely to be welcomed. That is why clients need to be absolutely sure that they chose a specialist lightning protection contractor who can demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of the new standard and one that has a proven track record.
At Omega red Group Ltd we have put all our existing engineers through a rigorous training programme regarding the new standard. That includes every one of our apprentices at the CITB training centre at Bircham Newton, to which we routinely send more than half of the industry's entire intake. It is very much in the interest of both the lightning protection industry and our colleagues in construction to get up to speed with the new standard as soon as possible if we are all to avoid costly mistakes.
Omega is now working to the new British Standard, which becomes Best Practice in September 2008.