According to the Nonresidential Building Report by FEMA, between the years 2014 and 2016, an estimated 100,300 commercial fires were reported to US fire departments each year. For each year, these commercial fires caused an estimated 90 deaths, 1,350 injuries, and $2.4 billion in property losses. Eight percent of these commercial fires were caused by electrical malfunctions—that is roughly 8,000 electrical fires.
Protecting your business and your employees from workplace fires is critical. When looking into fire protection, it’s normal to have questions like “What are the causes of an electrical fire?” and “How can electrical fires be prevented in the workplace?”
In this blog, we’ll discuss electrical fires causes and prevention to help you keep your investments and your most valuable assets—your employees—safe.
What causes electrical fires?
The most common causes of electrical fires are wiring, light fixtures, faulty outlets, equipment and appliances, extension cords, and space heaters.
Electrical panels and cabinets
Circuit breakers are in place to protect an electrical circuit from damaging an electrical panel or cabinet by automatically shutting off power to the circuit. When working properly, breakers trip overloaded circuits, power surges, or spikes, a short circuit, or ground fault. However, if the circuit breaker fails, it can damage equipment on the circuit or lead to a fire in the worst-case scenario. To reduce the failure rate, keep your electrical panel and circuit breakers up-to-date. Burning smells in the electrical panel, breakers that trip frequently or will not stay reset, and any physical damage or old age, are warning signs and indicate that you need to replace circuits.
Outdated wiring can start electrical fires because it might not have the capacity to handle the amount of modern-day equipment used today. Outdated breaker boxes often have worn breakers that do not work, which can cause them to overheat and cause a fire.
Outdated or faulty outlets
Most electric fires are caused by faulty outlets or old, outdated equipment. Never use a piece of equipment that has an old or frayed cord. If a cord is broken or frayed, it can send heat onto combustible surfaces that can start a fire. Another cause of fire is the misuse of extension cords. An extension cord should never be used to plug electrical equipment in for an extended period of time. They are only made for short uses, and if they are used otherwise, they can be dangerous.
Light fixtures with the wrong wattage bulb
Light fixtures with a bulb of the wrong wattage is another cause of electrical fires. If a bulb’s wattage is too high for the fixture, it can overheat and cause a fire to start.
Yet another cause of electrical fires is space heaters. Many individuals put portable space heaters too close to combustible surfaces. The coils in a space heater are hot and highly dangerous. If they get too close to a combustible surface, they can instantly ignite.
Are you wondering “how long does it take for an electrical fire to start?” Many times it can take as small as three minutes for a building to go up in flames due to an electrical fire. It’s very important to do everything possible to prevent your building or commercial property from electrical fires.
Now that we have talked about what causes electrical fires let’s discuss how to prevent them.
How to prevent electrical fires in the workplace?
To avoid electrical fires in the workplace, it’s wise to educate your employees about electrical safety and the steps to take to prevent electrical fires. Also, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires workplaces in the United States to have a set fire prevention plan.
Here are 5 tips to prevent an electrical fire:
1. One outlet for each high energy device
Many high-energy devices use so much power that they can easily overload a socket. High-energy devices include portable heaters, microwaves, large printers, and some computers. Each high-energy device should have a designated power outlet fitted with a specific power rating that suits their requirements.
Along with this, do no daisy chain extensions. This is a big one for many workplaces. Many employees make the mistake of daisy-chaining several power strips across a room. This can be a significant hazard since a power strip is not designed to handle another power strip's demands. When extensions are daisy-chained, they can get quickly overloaded and cause a fire.
2. Have a blueprint of your electrical distribution
As an employer or executive, you should have a printed blueprint of the wiring layout in your workplace. This blueprint can be used when renovating or repairing a building. Sometimes, workers can accidentally destroy or change circuit lines and cause fires. If you have a blueprint, you can see where the power fuses, circuit breakers, and transformers are located so you know where they are supposed to be and catch any issues if they were to happen.
3. Have fire extinguishers readily available
When an electrical fire happens in an electrical panel, there are two options to put it out: a fire extinguisher or an automatic fire suppression system. When using a fire extinguisher, make sure it works for Class C fires. The downside to using a fire extinguisher is that an individual needs to be present when a fire starts.
4. Unplug equipment that produces heat when not using them
When equipment is plugged in for a long period of time, heat-producing devices are highly susceptible to fires. Also, when heat-producing devices are plugged in for an extended period of time, it can lead to the electrical system overheating and sparking, causing fires. Unplug these types of devices after using them.
5. Install an automatic fire detection and suppression system for electrical panel fires
Fires can easily start in electrical panels and cabinets due to electrical arcing or other malfunctions. Since fires can start anywhere where there's an electric connection, installing a detection and suppression system can stop a fire at it’s source. In this type of system, a fire detection tubing is placed through an electrical panel where a fire is likely to occur and is connected to a cylinder that contains a fire suppression agent. If there was a fire in the electrical panel, the tubing would burst, deploying the clean agent and suppressing the fire. Clean agents will not damage any electrical components and are safe around people.
Not only can workplace fires cause massive damage, but loss of lives is another consequence of a fire in the workplace. It’s critical to have a preventive maintenance plan in place, educate your staff about electrical fire hazards and the evacuation routes in case of fire, as well as integrating fire detection and protection systems where applicable. With these steps in place, you will protect the lives of your employees, as well as your workplace and electrical equipment.