Electrical Fires Show Need For Observing Precautions
Industrial Fire Safety
It is difficult to visualize our daily lives without the convenience of electrical devices. However, if these power-consuming devices and the installations providing power for them are not properly maintained and installed, they create a definite hazard to life and property.
National Fire Protection Association records for the United States for 1965 through 1968 show that electrical causes are the second highest in fire causes with an annual average of 131,150 fires. The property loss (which does not include indirect losses) is estimated in excess of $200 million. Therefore, we must view fixed electrical installations and appliances as both a benefit and a danger.
Let’s look at some typical electrical fires in NFPA reports. An electrical extension cord wedged beneath the kitchen stove in a home short-circuited. Nearby combustibles ignited, and the fire spread to plastic wall tile behind the stove. Three persons died. In a college dormitory, an electric blanket shorted and caused a small fire. A student took the blanket to a bathroom and extinguished the fire in it. He also poured water in a small hole burned in the mattress and left the room. Some two hours later, the room was enveloped in flames.
The owner of a furniture and paint store plugged in the cord for an electrical display and went to work in another part of the store. About three minutes later, he noticed flames atop a large display pile of looped rayon scatter rugs and bedspreads. Fire spread to other merchandise and the paint and thinner storage area, causing a large loss.
Christmas tree blaze: The owner of a frame dwelling discovered his electrically lighted Christmas tree afire. The dryness of the tree let the fire increase rapidly. One of the most important recommendations for a safe Christmas is to keep all natural trees in holders containing water to help keep the tree moist. See FIRE ENGINEERING, December 1968, Industrial Fire Safety column, “Holiday Fire Safety Extends From Industry Into the Home.”
Although the figures for electrical fires are not broken down into industrial and household categories, we believe that a fair share of the average of 126 electrical fires a day occurs in industry. My personal loss records include the following: smoke and sparks coming from an electric motor, electric short in a wax tank thermostat, motor burnout because of low voltage, wiring short in a fluorescent light, bare wire that ignited a collection of dust, oil and grease, and worn wiring setting fire to in-plant mobile equipment.
As fire prevention is the most practical and least expensive way to reduce the loss of life and property, we will make some recommendations to prevent electrical fires.
Follow the code: All electrical installations should be made in accordance with the National Electrical Code. You should get the latest “NFPA Handbook of the National Electrical Code” from the National Fire Prevention Association, 60 Batterymarch Street, Boston, Mass. 02110, for $12.75. In addition to the code, the handbook contains explanations of how to apply the code. Use a licensed electrician to do any fixed installation work. By doing it yourself, you may do yourself in—as well as cause property damage.
When buying any fixtures, appliances, wire, extension cords, decorative lighting items, or anything electrical, buy only those with the Underwriters’ Laboratories certificate or label. Many imported electrical items, especially during the Christmas season, do not have UL approval. At times, the impression is created that they do have UL approval because they have a UL-approved cord. Be careful; read the advertising completely. Buy and use only UL-approved electrical devices and cords for home, business and industry.
Do not overload electrical circuits by using multiple taps or extension cords off extension cords. Install wiring of adequate size and provide sufficient outlets to properly supply all equipment. Appliance cords should be connected directly to receptacles. The last three items mentioned are vital to electrical safety. I would not care to list all the so-called temporary wiring violations that have been found in fire door openings, blocking their operation, or wound around steam pipes, just waiting for fire to happen.
Make inspections: Maintain electric motors, switch gear, fuses, circuit breaker boxes, machine switches and general wiring in excellent condition by making frequent inspections, keeping dust, oil and other combustibles away f m wiring and electrical equipment. Sparks from electrical equipment can, and do, ignite adjacent materials and liquids. Use only proper capacity fuses for main and branch circuits because overloading wiring will result only in heated wires with first hidden and then open disastrous fires. If a circuit breaker needs resetting frequently, a cure is needed. Stop and check for the trouble you have in the wiring or power-consuming device being used.
Use only properly grounded devices and hand tools for life safety, using standard three-wire cords. If a converter plug is necessary for a wall receptacle, attach the ground wire by screwing it to the receptacle cover. Remember, special wiring, switches, lights and motors are required in many areas containing, dispensing or using flammable liquids and certain gases. Check the electrical code prior to any installation. Do it right, be careful, be sure, stay alive!
Check your facility, whatever it may be. If you see a dangerous situation, fix it—don’t expect Joe to do it.
Prevention takes time and effort and requires your interest. In payment, we hope you and those about you will be able to live in an environment in which the possibility of electrical fires is drastically reduced.