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Lightning Protection Codes, Standards, and Regulations

July 15, 2020

One of the most significant dangers to buildings and construction sites is lightning. The sheer power and voltage behind a lightning strike can cause extreme fires, electrocution, and extensive damage, completely disrupting a facility’s operations.

This is why there are national and international lightning protection standards and regulations in place to help keep your personnel safe and operations running smoothly.

The Basics of Lighting Code Standards: NFPA

The standards for lightning protection are regularly updated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), with the current Lightning Protection Standard being NFPA 780. It’s important to recognize that with the exception of the state of Florida, all Lightning Protection Standards are just standards, they are not codes. NFPA 780 provides lightning protection standards, regulations and installation requirements. In doing so, it provides facility owners the basis of design and installation requirements to safeguard people and property from fire risk and other related hazards associated with lightning exposure. Other lightning standards that are important to note include the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) UL 96A, and Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) LPI-175.

Following the basic regulations of the NFPA 780, UL 96A, and LPI-175 will ensure that you are able to keep your structures safe and protected from potential lightning damage during a storm. Each standard does have some variations, but they correlate very closely with each other and are each certified.

These lightning protection standards and regulations come from substantial research of the science behind what happens during a lightning strike. Much of the research on our lightning protection systems was conducted by NASA. NFPA, UL, and LPI then take this discovered information and incorporate it into lightning protection systems and protocols to help protect you and your structures against even the most intense and direct lightning strikes.

When Is Lightning Protection Required?

At a national level, building lightning protection requirements do not mandate Lightning Protection Systems in the United States, but certain facilities benefit greatly from this increased protection. Especially those with:

  • Large crowds
  • Continuity of critical services
  • High lightning flash frequency
  • Tall isolated structure
  • Building containing explosive or flammable materials
  • Building containing irreplaceable cultural heritage

Lightning Protection standards generally leave the application of these systems up to the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) or in most cases, the owner of the building. One exception to this is the state of Florida, whose building code requires Lightning Protection Systems to be installed on all newly constructed Schools, Hospitals, and Nursing Homes. This is the only such mandate in the US.

The NFPA keeps building owners informed of the lightning protection system standards with the provided NFPA 780, so they can rest assured that their facility meets current lightning protection system standard. The risk to your facility can be determined with the NFPA’s Lightning Risk Assessment located in Annex L of the current edition of NFPA 780.

Lightning Risk Assessment

When assessing your risk from lightning, we first attempt to determine what is the likelihood that your building will be struck. Then, if struck, we look at how vulnerable the operations of the facility would be to that event. Once the level of risk has been determined, the development of appropriate lightning protection measures and implementation of lightning protection standards can be implemented onto your building or facility.

Note: Regardless of the outcome of your lightning risk assessment, facilities that have qualities of the bulleted list above should give serious consideration to a lightning protection system.

Need help with ensuring your facility is up to code? Contact one of our lightning protection system experts today!