Electrical Fire Safety
Published: 3/16/21 (Tue)
Every day, when we plug in our phones to their chargers or turn on our computers at the office, we rarely, if ever, think about the path electricity took to provide power to our devices and electronics, let alone if every juncture along the way is safe.
Though modern electrical systems are vastly improved from those in the past, routine system maintenance and inspection are required to ensure your organization is taking all the necessary steps to reduce the chance of an electrical fire.
According to LocalGovU’s Electrical and Fire Safety course, “An estimated annual average of 31,960 home structure fires involving electricity resulted in an estimated 400 civilian deaths, 1,180 civilian injuries. An estimated annual average of 14,760 non-home fires, also involving electricity, resulted in 20 civilian deaths. These stats further emphasize that employees should be aware of electricity and the dangers it can cause.”
Though all electrical work should be completed by a licensed electrician, here are actions your organization and its employees can take to further improve the safety of its electrical systems:
Breaker Panel Location and Clearance. Breaker panels should be in a dry, safe, and easily accessible area, preferably one that is enclosed. If the area contains pipes or plumbing, be sure the panel is weatherproof. The panel door should be able to open at least 90 degrees, and the area surrounding the panel should be kept clear for 36 inches. This distance helps to reduce the chance of a panel fire spreading as well as ensures the panel is accessible if power needs to be quickly turned off.
Use paint or durable floor tape to section off the area surrounding your breaker panel that must be kept clear and be sure all exposed energized parts are marked with warning signs or tags.
Circuit Labels. All circuits within a breaker panel must be clearly labeled to ensure power can be shut off quickly in the event of an emergency. Be sure labels are durable enough to withstand oil, heat, or basic wear and tear which can cause them to fade or become unreadable.
Risk Removal. Some of the most common causes of electrical accidents and injuries are from “loose electrical connections, cords and wiring with missing or frayed insulation, equipment running beyond capacity, tools that cause shocks or emit smoke, excessive heat, odors or sparks, wires running across the floor, electrical cords near heat, flame or water, using electrical cords or equipment that creates an arc near hazardous, flammable or explosive materials (unless specifically designed for such uses)” (LocalGovU). If you discover any of these risk factors in your organization’s building(s), be sure to promptly address them.
Further, keep an eye on cords and cables that frequently bend or move which may cause insulation to erode. Some examples include lamps or appliances, elevator cables, and lifts, cranes, and hoists. Discard and/or replace any worn, frayed, or cracked flexible cords as soon as possible.
Employee Education. Depending on the size of your organization, all employees or a designated group of employees should know the location of the breaker panel and how to turn off circuits, if needed.
Electrical system fires cannot be extinguished with water. If an electrical fire occurs at your organization, be sure employees know to not pour water on the fire or touch any surfaces. In the event of an electrical fire, “water is an excellent conductor, and electricity can travel right up the stream of water and into your body” (LocalGovU). Only employees who have been properly trained should attempt to use a CO2 fire extinguisher on small electrical fires; however, the best course of action is to call fire-fighting professionals and wait for their assistance.
Your organization should also designate an emergency employee meeting spot so you can quickly account for all employees during an emergency. Employees should also know where emergency exits are located.
The NDIRF’s online training center LocalGovU offers a one-hour course on Electrical and Fire Safety to “help employees identify the most common electrical hazards and flammables” (LocalGovU) so they can help your organization reduce the chance an electrical fire occurs.