Risks associated with phones during a thunderstorm


  • New video phones providing greater protection for Griffith staff

The threat of lightning

According to Dr Karl, the old saying of staying off the landline phone during a storm is no myth. In fact, in a recent ABC article he warns that lightning can hit the phone line, travel half a kilometre and come out of the handpiece when you are using it.

In Australia, lightning accounts for 5 to 10 deaths and well over 100 injuries annually, according to the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), with most incidents occurring to people outdoors in open space or out on the water. About 80 injuries a year result from people using fixed telephones during thunderstorms when the phone system may become highly charged near where lightning is striking.  While these injuries are often minor, (Australian Lightning Protection Standard AS/NZS 1768 reports 10% of injuries are severe), injuries can include hearing damage, burns, and electric shock. No telephone related deaths have been reported in Australia.

Considering that approximately 40,000 lightning strikes were recorded on Energex’s lightning tracker on Monday 6January during storm activity across south-east Queensland, these figures are very low. The Australian Lightning Protection Standard AS/NZS 1768 provides further perspective on the risk, stating that each year we have a 1 in 2,000,000 chance of death by lightning strike, compared to a 1 in 8000 chance of death caused by a traffic accident.

Advice to Griffith staff
Griffith University’s telephone (PABX) system has lightning protection however should lightning strike in the “right place” it may possibly affect an older style Griffith phone (see images below).

Old Griffith Phones

Please note that the chance of lightning causing harm to a person using a Griffith phone handset would be very small. To reduce the risk of being struck we recommend staff minimise the use of the old style phones during a lightning storm. An approaching thunderstorm is treated as local when the time interval between seeing a lightning flash and hearing the thunder is less than 30 seconds (AS/NZS 1768).  If you are not in a position where you can hear or see the storm, you can check the weather radar and local warnings on the BoM website.

Mobile phones are safe to use indoors, as radio waves do not conduct electricity.  Telstra advises that lightning cannot reach the user of a mobile phone, as long as the phone is not connected to an electrical outlet.

Good news for Griffith staff
As part of the Unified Collaboration project installing new video phones across all campuses (see images below), if not already, you will soon be even safer than using an old style phone during a lightning storm.  This is due to the following network design:

  • On campus – lightning strikes cannot be conducted along the inter-building network links because optical cable is used instead of copper
  • In buildings – switches are used to stop high voltage spikes being conducted along inter-floor copper cabling.

New Griffith Phones

We hope to have the new video phones deployed across all of Nathan Campus by June 2014 and the Gold Campus completed by end of October 2014.  Logan Campus will be completed thereafter and Mt Gravatt deployment will be from November 2014 to January 2015.

If you would like to know more about the new video phone rollout please refer to the Deployment Schedule for video phones.

If you have a special requirement regarding the video phone rollout please contact the project team – unifiedcollaboration@griffith.edu.au.



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