Opinion

Signs of electrical fire risk

By Tunde Obileye

In any built environment where there is electricity, the risk of an electrical fire will always exist. They are notorious for spreading with lightning speed through wiring – even behind walls, dangerously out of sight. Loss of life, injury and damage to property is common occurrence because of electrical fire. By the time anyone sees or smells the smoke, an electrical fire may already be out of control. It’s essential for facility managers to know the signs of increased electrical fire risk so that they can make repairs to mitigate the situation immediately and what is needed if the fire has already started.

An electrical fire can start and spread due to issues such as overloaded circuits, aging, weathering, faulty installation and materials, and more. There are so many possible causes of electrical fire; it makes sense for facility managers through their maintenance teams to have a regular electrical fire safety inspection in their facilities to check for potential hazards. If facility manager or the electrical technician see or smell any of the following, action must be taken immediately to repair or replace the problem and reduce the risk:

  • Discoloration or smoke marks around sockets, outlets or switches.
  • Sockets, outlets and/or switch plates that feel warm to the touch.
  • Fuses that blow frequently or breakers that frequently trip.
  • Flickering lights.
  • Poorly wired plugs (look for loose colored wires or debris in the plug area).
  • Sockets that are overloaded (too many appliances plugged into the same outlet can cause overheating, which can lead to fires).
  • Cables or leads that are worn or frayed.
  • Cables that have been run under carpet (they can become worn before someone notices).
  • Outlets, cables, plugs and switches too close to fabrics, oils and other flammable materials.

 

A qualified electrician should regularly inspect these and other aspects of electrical safety throughout homes and buildings to reduce the risk of electrical fire, and protect lives and property.

The following should be considered if an Electrical Fire occurs

  1. Never put water on an electrical fire.Mixing water with live electricity can cause electrocution.
  2. Shut the electricity down in the building if you can. This should slow the progression of the fire, possibly saving other areas that have not yet been affected. Make sure that you know where the circuit box is and that it is easily accessible and not obstructed by any other objects.
  3. After the electricity has been shut off, use a Class C Fire extinguisher to put out the local flames. Make sure that you and occupants know exactly where the fire extinguishers are and have them inspected regularly so they are at the ready. Also ensure that Class C fire extinguishers are placed near locations where there is a higher risk of fire (kitchens, workshops, utility rooms, etc.).
  4. If you a Class C Fire extinguisher cannot be easily accessed, dry baking soda can be used as long as there’s enough baking soda and the fire is not very big.
  5. Evacuating everyone out of the building as quickly as possible must always be an option
  6. Even if the fire cannot be put under control, electricity should not be turned back on until the fire department has had a chance to inspect the area.

 

As always, prevention is the best way to never have to deal with an electrical fire; but if the facility manager encounters one, a plan should be in place to ensure everyone including the building’s occupants are equipped to handle it safely.

 

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