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How to Avoid Electrical Fires

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burned cablesFrom 2011 to 2012, a total of 2,800 non-domestic fires were caused by electrical appliances. A government report named electrical appliances as one of the top two causes of all fires in non-domestic buildings. It’s no wonder that electrical appliances are responsible for so many fires; we all use them, and all businesses depend upon them. By taking some simple precautions you can significantly reduce your risk.

Overloading electrical outlets

Electrical power is measured in watts. The rate of electrical flow is measured in amps. An electrical overload occurs when you are using too many amps. Businesses are specifically at risk of overloading an electrical outlet since so many devices are often used at one time – just think of the computers alone! To stop yourself from overloading, you can use a simple formula. Divide the amount of watts required to run your device by the number of volts available in your office. That will tell you how many amps you’re using. You can then find out how many amps your electrical outlet is, to see if you’re using too many. So, the calculation will look like this: AMP calculation formulaHowever, overloading an electrical outlet won’t necessarily cause a fire. All appliances made to safety standards will have a fuse in the plug. This will blow if the socket is overloaded to cut off the electrical supply to prevent a fire from occurring. It’s important that you check your appliance has the correct fuse. Generally speaking, the fuse needed will depend on how many watts a device requires to run. A 700 watt appliance should have a red fuse (3 amps). Appliances needing between 700 and 3000 watts will have a brown fuse (13 amps). If you have an older device, it may be fitted with a black fuse, which is 5 amps.

Damaged or misused cords

Damaged cords are a common cause of electrical fires. Cords often run along carpets, rugs and other flammable furnishings. Frayed or worn cords can let off heat that could cause combustible materials and surfaces to ignite. Often, cords are misused, which can also lead to the ignition of combustible materials. Running them underneath rugs or covering them in any way will cause them to overheat and potentially set fire to flammable material. It’s a good idea to keep them away from as many flammable materials as is possible, such as loose paper. The overuse of extension cords can also be hazardous. Appliances should be plugged directly into an electrical outlet. If your electrical outlet isn’t sufficient or you need an additional socket to be placed, an electrician can install one. Extensions cords are meant to be used as a temporary solution only.

Faulty or outdated wiring

When electrical current passes through wiring, it generates heat. If you have faulty or outdated wiring in your walls, this heat can cause wiring behind walls to expand and eventually loosen. Loose wires can create an electric arc. This is where electrical current can travel through matter that is normally non-combustible, such as air. This, in turn, can produce extremes of excess heat, which will cause wooden beams to ignite. To minimise your risk it’s important that ground fault circuit interrupters and arc fault circuit interrupters are fitted where appropriate. You can check for certain wiring faults with a socket tester, which can be plugged in to check if the wiring in a socket is safe. However, if in doubt, it’s always best to seek advice from a competent person. Older buildings are at greater risk of having faulty or outdated wiring. The wiring may not have the capability to support the increased amount of electricity needed to run certain devices. If you have moved into a building that is more than a few decades old, you should hire a competent person check the wiring in your building. There are many governing bodies in place to help you select a highly qualified electrician who is known to carry out work to safe and legal standards. It’s a good idea to opt for a Part P registered and NICEIC approved electrician.

Faulty electrical appliances

One of the biggest culprits is the electrical appliances themselves – if faulty or poorly manufactured. Surprisingly, faulty or counterfeited products can be found in a multitude of legitimate shops. Quite often, the resellers aren’t aware of the product’s shortcomings themselves. Some appliances fail to meet even the most basic safety standards, such as having a plug fuse fitted in case an electrical overload occurs. Additionally, there may be poor wiring inside the products that can lead to an electrical fire. Check that your products are manufactured to BS guidelines before buying so that you can be sure they’re safe to use. You can also reduce your risk by ensuring your portable appliances are periodically PAT tested. There is no strict guideline for how often they should be conducted, but the general consensus is that PAT tests should be carried out every year to meet HSE guidelines.

Heating appliances

Heating appliances are responsible for so many electrical fires that they are often discussed alone, as a separate cause. When using heating devices, it’s important that you take all of the other safety measures. Don’t overload sockets and make sure your heater has no faulty or covered cable or wiring. However, as the name implies, heating appliances give off heat, as is their function. This means that extra care needs to be taken. Ensure that you keep clothes, loose paper, clutter and litter away from heating appliances. Electrical heaters should be positioned well away from hard and soft furnishings, such as tables, chairs and cushions. It’s also incredibly important that you switch off and unplug any heaters not in use – especially when the office is empty. Never leave a heater on, unattended, overnight.

Lighting

Unsurprisingly, lighting is another major cause of electrical fires. Installing a bulb with a wattage that’s too high for the lamp is an easy mistake to make. It’s important that you never exceed the recommended wattage on any lighting fixture or lamp. Draping material or cloths over bulbs is another fatal error. While they help to create a nice ambiance, the cloth can get overheated and ignite. Photo Credit: wblo via photopin cc
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