18 December 1998

Lightning dangers underestimated, says researcher

The recent lightning-related death of a West Australian horse and jockey demonstrated the potential dangers of outdoor events during thunderstorms, according to a University of Queensland researcher.

Recognised world leader in high voltage engineering and lightning protection, Professor Mat Darveniza said many people still underestimated the dangers of lightning.

"With a very active season of thunderstorms predicted for Australia, people should take safety precautions during their summer holidays and during outdoor activities," he said
"Even though the lightning safety rules are publicly available, each thunderstorm year, a number of people pay the penalty for ignoring the simple rules for lightning safety.

"In America, some recent legal cases involving lightning injuries indicate that reliance can no longer be placed on the lightning-as-an-act-of-God defence.

"These cases suggest that organisers of outdoor events have a clear responsibility to people participating in those events during thunderstorms, such as those engaging in recreational activities out of doors on another's unprotected property.

"I believe this issue is of relevance to Australia."

Professor Darveniza, a professorial research fellow of the University's Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Department, heads Lightning and Transients Protection Pty Ltd, the consulting company he formed in 1995, and is writing a book on his lightning protection work.

He is active in national and international expert committees on lightning, high voltage and insulation and is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

Professor Darveniza is chairman of EL24, the Standards Australia technical committee responsible for lightning protection, and represents Australia on International Electrotechnical Commission TC81.

Last year he developed a portable lightning protection device through his work in the University's high voltage laboratory and was awarded a Meritorious Achievement Award in Continuing Education from the IEEE.

Media contact: Professor Darveniza (telephone 07 3365 3775 or 07 3378 4610).