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Electric Power Systems Research 113 (2014) 88–94

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Electric Power Systems Research

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/epsr

A study of human safety against lightning considering the grounding

system and the evaluation of the associated parameters
Daniel S. Gazzana a,∗ , Arturo S. Bretas a , Guilherme A.D. Dias a , Marcos Telló b ,
Dave W.P. Thomas c , Christos Christopoulos c
Department of Electrical Engineering, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Av. Osvaldo Aranha, 103, 90035-190 Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil
Companhia Estadual de Energia Elétrica – CEEE-D, Av. Ipiranga 8500, E2A, 91530-000 Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil
George Green Institute for Electromagnetics Research, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: This paper presents a study about the influence of different types of soils and surge wave characteristics
Received 30 July 2013 in terms of human safety. The study is focused on the step, contact and transferred potentials generated
Received in revised form 28 February 2014 by a lightning striking a grounding system and the produced potential gradients that a person could be
Accepted 11 March 2014
exposed to. Initially, an introduction about the subject is made. After that, some important aspects about
Available online 1 April 2014
the grounding systems and human body representation are presented followed by a discussion regarding
to the survivability threshold and the model parameterization. A Transmission Line Modeling Method
and a circuit based model are used to represent the grounding system and the human body. Several
Human safety
simulations were performed in order to analyze the behavior of the current passing through the heart.
Lightning It was found that soils with different properties do not affect the possible harmful currents considering
Transmission line modeling method the step potential mechanism. On the other hand, in the case of contact and transferred potentials, the
soil characteristics have significant influence in the survivability threshold.
© 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction the determination of step and touch potentials and current tol-
erable by humans is the IEEE Std 80 [4], but it is important to
Since the dawn of humanity, thousands of injuries caused by note that this standard is based on the industrial frequency and
lightning have been observed, causing fatalities and damage to steady state analysis, which is not appropriate for transient stud-
humans with short and long term effects [1]. It is known that the ies. Moreover, a more reliable approach must be centered in energy
effects of a given electrical current passing through the human body evaluation, which is not the main goal of the referred standard.
are primarily related to its duration, frequency and magnitude [2]. Also, in the existing literature there is little information about the
There are several efforts, over the past decades, dedicated to current pathway through the human body, in the case of sub-
the establishment of reference limits and development of studies mission to a touch potential, step potential and other lightning
related to the effects of electric current on human beings and ani- mechanisms.
mals. However, most of these studies consider only low frequencies Unlike the studies related to the effect of alternating current for
and are focused primarily on the analysis of sinusoidal current with low frequencies and low magnitudes, research with focus on the
frequency in the order of 15–100 Hz, which culminated in the elab- lightning and its iteration with humans are very difficult to be car-
oration of international norms currently in use [3]. It is not usual ried out due to the tests that have to be performed. It is a tricky task
to evaluate the electric current tolerable by human being from to verify the effects caused by atmospheric discharges in humans.
a lightning, as well as for frequencies higher than the industrial It is obviously unacceptable to submit people to contact with elec-
(60 Hz), since today there are not defined criteria for such pur- tric shocks. This may be the reason for the rare studies found in
pose. Nowadays, the main standard that provides procedures for the state-of-art literature. Also, there is little consideration of the
grounding systems and the influence of the soil and variation of
lightning parameters. Thus, the use of computational models that
represent the human body is a viable alternative to learn about the
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +55 51 3308 4291; fax: +55 51 3308 3293.
behavior of the lightning passing through it, contributing to the
E-mail addresses: dgazzana@ece.ufrgs.br, dsgazzana@gmail.com
development of new research and serving as a basis to the iden-
(D.S. Gazzana), abretas@ece.ufrgs.br (A.S. Bretas), gaddias@terra.com.br
(G.A.D. Dias), marcost@ceee.com.br (M. Telló), dave.thomas@nottingham.ac.uk tification and understanding of the effects and potential damages
(D.W.P. Thomas), christos.christopoulos@nottingham.ac.uk (C. Christopoulos). caused by a lightning [5].

0378-7796/© 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
D.S. Gazzana et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 113 (2014) 88–94 89

values of grounding impedance. However, as mentioned above,

this approach does not guarantee personal safety and low poten-
tials generated in the soil surface. This problem has a significant
relevance particularly in populated sites, where the people are
more susceptible to be injured by contact, transferred and step
potential or other lightning mechanisms [7].
In order to evaluate the current scattered along a horizontal
or vertical electrode and consequently the potentials generated, a
numerical technique can be considered. This will ensure knowledge
Fig. 1. Basic grounding in power system networks: left – wood poles; right – metallic of the grounding behavior before its physical implementation along
towers. with the estimation of the possible harmful electrical quantities
that a person can be exposed to [8].
Thus, the Transmission Line Modeling Method in one dimension
Usually, in the design of grounding systems both for trans-
(TLM-1D) can be a powerful tool to analyze the transients generated
mission and distribution systems as well as for the protection of
by a lightning surge reaching a LPS [9]. In this technique, the impul-
installations in a general manner, the main performance criterion
sive response and the behavior in the time domain at any point
is related to obtaining low values of grounding static impedance.
(node) along the electrode can be explicitly determined and there
This design requirement ensures only that high currents from a
are no problems with convergence, stability or spurious solutions.
given disturbance follow the path of low impedance. However, this
Additionally, nonlinearities such as the soil ionization phenomenon
procedure does not provide personal safety.
can be incorporated to the model [10,11]. Fig. 2 shows a horizontal
In this context, the aim of the paper is to evaluate the influ-
electrode represented in TLM-1D.
ence of soil parameters and variation of surge characteristics (wave
Based on the TLM-1D algorithm, the calculated electrical quan-
shape and wave magnitude) in terms of potential generated in a
tities can be used as input sources to the human body model. The
person submitted to a lightning mediated by a grounding system.
step and touch potentials can be determined, allowing the evalua-
To reach these goals, a Transmission Line Modeling Method (TLM)
tion of the current flowing through the body. The variations of the
algorithm combined with a human body model representation was
soil parameters, lightning wave shape and electrode characteristics
implemented. The step, contact and transferred potentials mech-
can be simulated with this technique. Therefore, the influence of the
anisms were considered in order to estimate the current and the
related parameters in terms of possible harmful energy, currents
energy flowing to the chest of a person, contributing to the study
and potentials can be evaluated.
of human safety as well as to the development of more reliable
lightning protection systems (LPS).
3. Human body representation
2. Grounding system representation
According to [3], the resistance of the human body depends on
The grounding system is one of the main resources responsi- the moisture, temperature and other physical properties. It is fur-
ble for dissipating the current proceeding from a lightning to the ther considered that the human body has two impedances (external
earth, being an important component for the population’s safety and internal). The body inside has lower impedance compared
[6]. Although it is known that the performance of a LPS can be to the impedance of the skin. This quantity may be represented
improved considering the use of elaborated grounding meshes, the by a combination of resistive and capacitive components. The
implementation of simple structures composed of horizontal or impedance of the body is dependent on the voltage, frequency and
vertical electrodes is a common practice adopted by the power util- contact area, considering the current pathway through it.
ities both in distribution and transmission networks. Fig. 1 shows More simplified models where the body is represented by equiv-
some of the basic grounding schemes used in power utilities. alent impedances [12,13,14] can be found in the literature. To
Usually, the practical implementation of these basic grounding summarize, in the referred works the human body is molded by
components is justified either by the physical constraints, espe- a single resistance ranging from 500  to 1 k. Another approach
cially in urban areas, or by means of financial resources, taking is the representation of the human body by an association of elec-
into account only the minimum material necessary to obtain low trical components, where a group of elements is associated with a

Fig. 2. Grounding electrode representation: top – horizontal conductor; bottom – equivalent circuit using TLM-1D.
90 D.S. Gazzana et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 113 (2014) 88–94

5. Model parameterization

Taking as reference the representative model of the human body

proposed in [5], some adjustments should be made in order to
evaluate the behavior of the electric current passing through the
In accordance with [18], (2) could be used to estimate the contact
resistance Rcontact between the feet of a person on the soil surface,
where s is the soil resistivity (m).

Rcontact ∼
= 3 · s (2)

Some human body models found in the literature as the presented

in Ref. [1] assume that to carry out simulations of atmospheric surge
mechanisms it is necessary to connect with the ends of the equiv-
alent circuit a high resistive component, e.g. 1 G, followed by the
Fig. 3. Human body representation based on Ref. [5]. remote ground. This assumption is justified by the need for a path
to electric current passing through the chest, especially in the case
of submission to the step potential. Otherwise, the electrical cur-
particular body part (torso, legs, arms, skin) [1,5]. In the proposed rent would flow only between the legs moving toward the earth.
study, the model presented in [5] was adopted. Fig. 3 shows a draft However, this component defined empirically is subject to further
of this model. investigation.
In order to better represent the step potential mechanism, the
inclusion of a capacitor in such extremities instead of a resistive
4. Survivability threshold component, being a physically acceptable solution, is proposed in
the approach presented here. The use of this capacitor represents
In order to evaluate the influence of the soil and lightning the presence of a very small leakage current between the plates
parameters in the electrical quantities that a person can be exposed of the capacitor toward the earth that can be understood as a real
to, step and touch voltages are utilized as input to the human body phenomenon. Thus, the value of the capacitance Cc (F) can be deter-
model. Then, the current passing through the heart can be esti- mined by (3) [19].
mated. The specific energy for the ventricular fibrillation Fe can be ε0 · A
used as a reference parameter in the supportability studies. Eq. (1) Cc = (3)
gives an estimate of this energy, where i (A) is the current passing
through the heart during the time t (s). In (3), ε0 is the vacuum permittivity (F/m), A is the area of one of
the capacitor plates (m2 ) representing the contact surface of the
 t body with the air and d is the distance between the plates (m),
Fe = i2 dt (1) which may be understood as the height between the surface of
˝ the hand and arm in relation to the earth. Considering the con-
tact surface area A = 0.1 m2 (area of a person arm) at a distance
As commented previously, there is a limited number of studies in between plates = 0.85 m (person standing with open arms), Cc = 1pF
the literature estimating the thresholds of survivable energy and (approximately) is obtained.
currents, especially in the case of fast surges with high magni- Fig. 4 (left) illustrates the equivalent circuit model to analyze
tudes. Some of the reference parameters related to the ventricular the behavior of the current passing through the heart Iheart consid-
fibrillation were obtained for exposure times around milliseconds, ering the step potential mechanism. This current is generated from
considering alternating current, low frequencies and a probability the difference of potential in the soil between two points on its
of fibrillation risk [15]. However, some extrapolations were made surface, as shown in Fig. 5 (left). In the case of the touch potential
based on the Dalziel’s criterion [16]. As for instance, according to mechanism, the current in the heart can be estimated based on the
[5], a current of 199 A in 340 ns is considered lethal. equivalent circuit shown in Fig. 4 (middle). It is noted that in this
Additionally, the energy produced by ventricular defibrillators is case Iheart results from the difference of potential between the elec-
on the order of 50–360 J, but there are not sufficient investigations trode and the soil surface, as illustrated in Fig. 5 (middle). Finally,
to establish this energy as a threshold reference [17]. Fig. 4 (right) shows the representative model for the determination

Fig. 4. Equivalent circuit of the human body model: left – step potential; middle – touch potential; right – transferred potential.
D.S. Gazzana et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 113 (2014) 88–94 91

Fig. 5. Lightning mechanisms considered in the simulations: left – step potential; middle – touch potential; right – transferred potential.

of the current Iheart taking into account the transferred potential. In l is the electrode length (m); εr is the soil relative permittivity; ε0
such case, the difference of potential occurs between the contact is the permittivity of free space (F/m);  s is the soil conductivity
point and the remote ground, as can be seen in Fig. 5 (right). ([m]−1 );  is the propagation constant defined in [20]; r is the
It is noted that for the three mechanisms associated to the distance between the midpoint in the electrode and the analyzed
atmospheric surge mediated by a grounding system, the models point on the soil surface (m); x, y and z are the distances between the
presented above are dependent on the: contact resistance Rcontact analyzed point on the soil surface and the origin of the electrode
estimated by (2); voltage on the electrode Velectrode that could be (m). It is known that a lightning surge has a relatively constant
determined using a TLM algorithm [9] and potential generated on frequency spectrum for frequencies on the order of kHz ranging
the soil surface Vsoil . This potential can be calculated using (4) from 10 kHz to 3 MHz [21]. Then, in the simulations presented here
500 kHz is the frequency calculation assumed for the estimation of
I · e−jω·t potential generated on the soil surface. In (4), ω can be understood
V (x, y, z) = · ej·r ·
2 ·  · l · (s + jω · ε0 · εr ) as the most representative frequency present in the lightning surge,
   e.g. ω = 2 ·  · 500, 000, as recommended in [22]. It was not observed
x 2 + y2 + z 2 + x expressive variation in the potential produced on the soil surface
ln  (4)
(x − l) + y2 + z 2 + x − l to different representative frequencies ranging from the interval
presented in [21].
where: V(x , y , z ) is the potential in a point on the soil surface Based on the presented models it is possible to perform a sen-
(V); t is the instant of time (s); ω is the angular frequency (rad/s); sitivity study in order to evaluate the currents passing through the
Ie−jωt is the complex current determined by the TLM algorithm [9]; heart and the associated energy.

Fig. 6. Left – step potential submitted in the body model considering soils with different properties; right – current passing through the heart.
92 D.S. Gazzana et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 113 (2014) 88–94

Fig. 7. Left – contact potential submitted in the body model considering soils with different properties; right – current passing through the heart.

6. Simulation results the body is proceeding from the difference of potential between
the contact point and the soil surface, considering that the feet
Aiming to estimate the currents and energy that a person can are together, 1 m apart from the touch point, as shown in Fig. 5
be exposed to in the case of a lightning reaching a grounding sys- (middle). Table 2 summarizes some important quantities.
tem, several simulations were performed. Fig. 5 illustrates the three Unlike the step potential mechanism mediated by a ground-
mechanisms considered in the developed study. ing system, in the case of contact potential, different types of soils
Taking into account the stochastic characteristics of a lightning produce alterations in the current passing through the heart and
surge, current peak values ranging from 4 to 250 kA were consid- consequently in the ventricular fibrillation energy. The current
ered, as recommended in Ref. [2]. Fast and slow wave shapes were magnitudes and generated energy are higher than the one pro-
also simulated considering the different soil properties. The soil duced by step potentials. In the case of rocky and low-rise city
resistivity and relative permittivity used in the simulations ranged suburbs soils, these reference parameters assume expressive val-
from 30 to 1000 m and 20 to 6 respectively. ues, especially in terms of energy.
In the simulations presented here a typical horizontal electrode The third simulation evaluates the produced currents consider-
with 7.5 mm of radius, 9 m length, buried at 0.5 m depth in homo- ing a touch voltage in the case of the transferred potential. In this
geneous soil is adopted. A slow wave shape, double exponential scenario the feet of a person are in a remote ground (0 V) and the
with 5 kA (8 × 20) ␮s, was utilized. exposed potential is the voltage on the energized point, as can be
According to Fig. 5 (left), Fig. 6 (left) shows the behavior of the seen in Fig. 5 (right). Fig. 8 shows the currents passing through the
step potential that a person located above and in the center of chest mediated by a grounding system in the considered soils. The
the electrode can be exposed to, considering different soil types. curve of voltages has a similar behavior to that of the contact poten-
Fig. 6 (right) presents the current that reaches the heart due to the tial mechanism. Table 3 presents again the maximum currents and
step potential generated. Table 1 quantifies the maximum current the generated energy.
passing through the heart and the ventricular fibrillation energy. As in the contact potential, in the transferred potential mecha-
Based on the presented results, it can be stated that in the case of nism different types of soils produce a clear alteration in the current
step potential mechanism mediated by a horizontal electrode, the passing through the heart and consequently an increase in the
type of soil with different properties does not produce significant ventricular fibrillation energy. The generated current in the most
alteration in the energy generated in the heart. Although a rise in resistive soils is noticeably close to the 199 A in 340 ns, estimated
the maximum current passing in the chest with the increase of soil as current threshold. Taking into account that the heart impedance
resistivity can be observed, the magnitudes are not expressive and ranges from 25 to 150 , the generated energy for the ventricular
the exposure time is low to generate enough energy to cause a fatal fibrillation Fe has a significant value [17]. Then, it can be concluded
injury. It can be concluded in such scenario that soils with different in these cases that the transferred potential will be fatal.
properties do not produce significant alterations in the possible
harmful currents to the heart. Table 2
Fig. 7 (left) illustrates the voltages that a person is subjected to in Electrical quantities generated due to contact potential mechanism.
the contact potential mechanism. The solid lines represent the volt-
Soil type  (m) εr Imax (A) Fe (J/)
age on the contact point and the dashed lines the voltages on the
soil surface. Fig. 7 (right) illustrates the behavior of currents pass- Agricultural plains 30 20 8.30 0.20
Rocky soil 500 10 51.42 5.89
ing through the heart for this mechanism. The generated current in Low-rise city suburbs 1000 6 66.26 7.18

Table 1 Table 3
Electrical quantities generated due to step potential mechanism. Electrical quantities generated due to transferred potential mechanism.

Soil type  (m) εr Imax (A) Fe (J/) Soil type  (m) εr Imax (A) Fe (J/)

Agricultural plains 30 20 8.82e−6 2.66e−13 Agricultural plains 30 20 15.37 0.7012

Rocky soil 500 10 2.12e−4 1.09 e−10 Rocky soil 500 10 129.22 36.80
Low-rise city suburbs 1000 6 4.36e−4 3.59e−10 Low-rise city suburbs 1000 6 167.88 49.62
D.S. Gazzana et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 113 (2014) 88–94 93

Fig. 8. Current passing through the heart considering a transferred potential mech- Fig. 9. Step potential obtained in the validation process.

In this study, the influence of fast waves and surges with high
peak values was also evaluated. Additionally, soils with other
properties were analyzed. Although fast waves produce high mag-
nitudes in the current passing through the heart, considering
contact and transferred potential mechanisms, no significant influ-
ence of the wave shape was observed in the study.
Considering the surge waves with high magnitudes, the injury
caused by contact and transferred potential will be more severe
in comparison with the damage caused by low magnitudes. An
important observation is that in the contact potential mechanism,
the current passing through the heart starts to have a significant
rise, for surge with high values. Consequently an increase in the
ventricular fibrillation energy can be observed.

7. Validation

The validation process of a representative model of the human

body can be considered a non-trivial task, mainly because of the Fig. 10. Current on the heart obtained in the validation process.
absence of real measurement data. This reason is reinforced by the
impossibility of humans to be submitted to electric shock with the
desired characteristics. Still, the existing models in the literature Fig. 10, the current in the heart with a maximum value of 1.2 mA is
consider only contact with the different mechanisms without con- within the range estimated by Andrews, less than 300 mA.
sideration of the grounding system as a mediating element between
lightning and human beings. However, some considerations can be 8. Conclusions
made based on previously reported studies.
With respect to the studied mechanisms, it is shown in the lit- This paper presented a contribution to the study of human safety
erature that in the case of the step potential, the associated effects in terms of energy and current transferred to a person subjected to
with such exposure are interpreted as being of short duration, long step and touch potential mechanisms, mediated by a grounding
duration and thermal, not leading to death by ventricular fibrilla- system. The influence of the different soils and surge characteris-
tion of the heart [1,5,7]. Additionally, the standard IEC/TR 60479-4 tics in the electrical quantities that a person can be exposed to were
establishes that a possible fatality might be caused by respiratory evaluated. A TLM-1D based algorithm and a human body model
failure rather than ventricular fibrillation [2]. representation consisting of a set o lumped circuit components
A quantitative comparison can be made based on the findings of were used for this objective.
Andrews concerning the step potential. According to [5], consider- Based on the simulations, it could be verified that soils with
ing a person 10 m away from the site where the lightning reaches different properties do not affect in a significant manner the pos-
the soil with the feet 1 m apart, the generated step potential would sible harmful current that reaches the heart, considering the step
have a magnitude of 1 kV, with an estimated current circulating in potential mechanism.
the heart smaller than 300 mA. To compare the results, in the per- In the case of the contact and transferred potentials, the soils
formed simulation a lightning of 5 kA (8 × 20) ␮s was adopted and properties produce a significant alteration in the current passing
injected into a soil with resistivity of s = 500 m. Figs. 9 and 10 through the heart, and consequently in the ventricular fibrillation
show the step potential and current on the heart respectively, energy.
derived from the model presented in Fig. 4 (left). In the developed study, only the first stroke was considered
In Fig. 9 the potential step matches perfectly the potential pre- and the simulations lead to the evaluation of lightning with short
sented in Ref. [5] in terms of magnitude. Further, as illustrated in duration. It is important to notice that to surges with repetitive
94 D.S. Gazzana et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 113 (2014) 88–94

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