Lightning a threat for new skyscrapers

A safety expert says building designers in the UAE should take note of lightning and the risk of electrical fires.

"The UAE has an average of 10 thunderstorm days in a year. It means there can be one lightning strike in a two- to six-sq-km area every year." said Mr Banerjee.
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DUBAI // A safety expert working at the world's tallest free-standing structure says building designers in the UAE should take lightning and the risk of electrical fires into account when developing projects. Sonaj Banerjee, technical director of Duval Messien, a lightning and earthing protection company employed at the Burj Dubai Tower to ensure systems are adequate and are in line with international standards, said the UAE was at risk of electrical fires.

"There is a long-standing myth that the Middle East is not exposed to the risk of lightning, driven by the notion that the region receives scanty rainfall and has low incidence of thunderstorms," Mr Banerjee said. "The UAE has an average of 10 thunderstorm days in a year. It means there can be one lightning strike in a two- to six-sq-km area every year. "With rising heights of towers, a lightning protection system will definitely save you if you are the unfortunate one to be struck," he said, adding that his company had been commissioned to install systems at the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority's head office and the Raffles Hotel in Dubai.

The Dubai Government is urging all contractors to ensure earthing systems are maintained to the highest standards, especially on new buildings. "Like all progressive governments in the world, [the Dubai Government] is doing its best to regulate supply of certified material in the market," Mr Banerjee said. "The contractors now have to rise above business to ensure best practices for safety-related fields."

The Government has issued closure warnings to more than 1,000 factories if they fail to maintain proper fire-safety standards, The National reported last week. It cited exposed wiring and improperly stored flammable materials among potential fire hazards. Warehouses and factories that ignore fire safety regulations will face hefty fines and possible closure.

Seventy per cent of electrical faults are due to poor earthing, they said. Mr Banarjee said all UAE residents must take responsibility if disasters were to be avoided. Children should be taught about earthing systems in environmental science classes, enabling them to spot loose contacts, sparks and overheated equipment. Adults should ensure earthing systems are maintenance-free, certified and tested.

Industries should withhold warranty on goods they sell if they are to be at sites that lack proper maintenance-free earthing. They should also work with the regulatory authorities to discuss developments in science, which can save lives and assets. "The earthing employed not only has the responsibility to dissipate the [electrical] fault to the earth, but the earth has to be made ready to absorb such a discharge," Mr Banerjee said.

"The land of UAE comprises of sand, which easily loses moisture. Hence maintenance-free earthing is the only solution."