Lightning strikes!

By E Trengove and KJ Nixon, University of the Witwatersrand


Download full article


Published in:

Electricity+Control, April 2013 (pages 48 – 49)

• E Trengove -email
• KJ Nixon - Tel: 011 717 7203 or email


South Africa has a relatively high number of lightning fatalities. Reports in the lay press indicate that there were 84 lightning fatalities in South Africa between January 2009 and November 2010, but it should be borne in mind that newspapers are not a reliable source of information since:

  • Not all lightning deaths are reported in the newspapers
  • Accounts are usually anecdotal and are not based on any kind of forensic investigation



In view of the recent ‘deaths by lightning’ in and around the Johannesburg area, it is appropriate to revisit the basic physics of lightning, the mechanisms of lightning injury and offer some lightning safety guidelines.


Take note

  • Even at an industrial plant, it must be remembered that lightning can cause harm to people.
  • Five mechanisms of injury have been scientifically proven.
  • Ensure that site personnel are familiar with the basics of safe behaviour during a thunderstorm.