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Managing risks of faulty electrical wiring in the workplace

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Faulty electrical wiring is a very common cause of workplace fires however regular assessment and maintenance of electrical systems can minimise the risk to employees and the business.

The impact that an industrial fire can have on a business is far reaching – with operations, profits and the company’s reputation all being adversely affected. Faulty mains powered and portable electrical equipment, excessive overloading and deterioration of electrical installations can all present the risk of fire and explosion.

Fire risks occur because in many electrical faults there is a short circuit or loose connection. In these cases the current flowing increases dramatically, which in turn causes overheating of wires and components in the device, and also in wires in the supply leading to the device.

The good news for the employer or facilities manager, however, is that control measures can be put in place to dramatically reduce the risk of fire due to electrical faults in the workplace. Detailed risk assessment that is documented and regular maintenance are crucial and a qualified and competent electrician can help by delivering a formal programme of electrical testing and inspection. They can also advise on other specialist aspects of control such as the use of Residual Current Devices (RCDs) and thermal imaging surveys (in addition to normal electrical condition reporting).

Overheating is one of the major factors causing electrical distribution equipment to fail. Thermal imaging, or thermography, is a cost-effective and valuable diagnostic testing tool that will highlight excessive loadings and phase imbalances where, if uncorrected, failure will occur and possibly result in fire from overheating. Instant fault diagnosis and early stage remedial action can lead to the avoidance of existing faults developing into more serious (and costly) problems. It is also becoming more common for insurance companies to request a regular thermal imaging survey to identify and predict any deterioration in electrical systems and equipment in order to reduce the risk of fire.

An uninterruptable power supply (UPS) is often used to protect safety or business critical systems and equipment that require a constant supply of electrical power. Failure or fluctuations in this power supply can have significant impacts including the potential for harm to occupiers of the building, the loss of data and business interruption. Planned preventive maintenance will dramatically improve the performance, reliability and lifespan of this critical equipment. A trained engineer can perform a combination of visual and specialist diagnostic checks and inspections to identify loose connections or evidence of degradation or soot marks that could signal a short circuit or poor connection. A maintenance bypass will provide an alternate power path that bypasses the UPS circuitry leaving the engineer safe to service or replace a UPS without interrupting power to loads and without danger of electric shock.

Through early diagnosis and rectification of electrical faults employers and facilities managers can significantly reduce the risk of fire due to faulty electrics, whilst also ensuring that operations continue to run smoothly and safely. At the time of testing an electrician should make safe any faults requiring urgent remedial action, rectify minor faults and automatically schedule any non-urgent faults for a remedial repair. This streamlining of processes not only maximises efficiencies, improves performance and increases control, but also provides the confidence that electrical systems remain safe and compliant.

You can read more on this topic in our article in Tomorrow’s Health & Safety magazine.

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