Electrical fire hazards exist in almost every workplace with fires leading to injury, fatality and damage to property. Common causes of electrical fires are overloaded equipment, electrical short circuiting of worn or damaged cables and heat generated by electrical equipment.
By assessing and understanding the electrical hazards, businesses can take the necessary action and install appropriate fire protection equipment to reduce the risk.
Wormald also advises that businesses implement correct maintenance and servicing procedures, both for the electrical equipment as well as the fire protection equipment in addition to providing fire safety training is to all staff.
According to Garry Kwok, National Technical Manager with Wormald, hazard assessments should be carried out as part of regular workplace inspections with the responsible person provided with appropriate training on how to identify and assess electrical fire hazards as well as record any safety infringements or incidents.
Common electrical fire hazards in the workplace:
- Overloading electrical circuits and extension cords can result in a fire and should be avoided. When designing a new workspace, one should ensure an adequate number of outlets are installed to avoid overloading at any point
- Use of unsafe, poorly maintained and poor quality electrical appliances at the workplace should be avoided as they can develop electrical shorts, which can create fire. Regular maintenance and servicing should be carried out by a qualified individual, and appliances should be turned off at the end of the day
- Electrically-operated office equipment such as computers, printers, scanners and shredders should be checked regularly to ensure their power cords are not defective, frayed or improperly installed
- Electrical machines should be disconnected before cleaning, adjusting or applying flammable solutions
- Combustible material such as cardboard boxes and paper should not be allowed to build up in inappropriate storage locations near sources of ignition
- Use of portable fan heaters, which are often placed under desks or in enclosed spaces, should be avoided as the heat from these units can cause paper to catch fire or melt the insulation around electrical appliances
When planning for fire protection in a workplace, Kwok highlights the importance of having in place the most suitable fire protection equipment to deal with potential fire risks.
Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZ 3760: In-service safety inspection and testing of electrical equipment recommends in-service inspection and testing to ensure the safety of those using electrical equipment in the workplace.
The first step is to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the workplace and identify the hazards to help determine the correct fire protection equipment required. When dealing with a facility housing high-tech equipment, the fire extinguishing agent has to be carefully selected so that it does not result in further damage. For instance, electrical fires are best treated with powder or carbon dioxide fire extinguishers. A fire protection specialist can advise on the best type of fire protection systems to install.
Wormald’s Inergen system is particularly suitable for facilities housing sensitive electronic instruments or high-value electrical equipment such as data centres. Inergen is an inert gas fire suppressant consisting entirely of natural gases, and is designed to suppress fire while allowing people to breathe easily within the area and escape the fire.
It is important for staff members, particularly those assigned to a company’s fire safety team to be fully briefed and trained on the procedures to be followed in the event of a fire. It is important that staff members are aware of the various classes of fire and the appropriate fire equipment to be used for each, which can be achieved through fire safety training. Fire wardens should be fully trained on their responsibilities, operation of fire equipment and emergency warning and communication systems in their premises and evacuation procedures.