Electrical fires pose one of the more disastrous dangers involved in home ownership or property management. Fires caused by faulty or malfunctioning wiring can quickly get out of control, and can be difficult to extinguish as they often begin hidden behind walls. A bad electrical fire can even cause you to lose your entire home. Taking steps to learn how to prevent electrical fires will help you keep your home safe from this potential threat.
1. Avoid overloading your home’s electrical circuits.
This is the easiest step you can take in reducing the risk of electrical fires, and it is also one of the most effective. Each circuit in your home is only designed to deliver so much electricity, and stressing these circuits by drawing too much power can cause the wires to spark or deteriorate.
- The simplest way to avoid overloading circuits is by minimizing the amount of electrical equipment you plug into each outlet. In particular, minimize your use of power strips as much as possible, trying instead to limit the use of each outlet to the 2 plugs it provides.
- If your home is very old, it may have very few circuits, as plug-in appliances and equipment were not as numerous when the home was built. A costly but effective measure to reduce stress on each circuit is to have an electrician run new wiring and install new circuit breakers on your electrical panel.
2. Replace or discard any frayed wiring. Frayed wiring, either in an appliance power cord or in your home’s wiring, poses a major risk of electrical fire. Appliance wiring in various gauges can be purchased inexpensively from hardware stores, and replacing frayed wiring on small appliances and electronics is a job well within the reach of an average DIYer.
- While electrical tape can be used to provide temporary protection against arcing or melting of exposed conductors, it should not be used as a permanent solution.
3. Replace any old wiring in your home.
Electrical wiring only has a lifespan of about 30 or 40 years, so homes older than that may be relying on deteriorated wiring. In addition, older wiring setups were not typically designed to handle today’s large electrical loads.
- If you are relying heavily on extension cords or if your circuit breakers trip regularly, you are likely drawing more power than your old wiring can handle. Have an electrician inspect your home’s wiring as soon as possible.
- Older homes may contain aluminum wiring, which poses a more significant risk of degrading and causing fires than copper wiring.
- Having an electrician replace all or most of your home’s wiring is a very expensive upgrade, but will provide a virtual guarantee against electrical fires for decades.
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The chief causes of house fires are clear — and so are the ways to avoid them. Here’s what you need to know about preventing 10 common hazards.
When a pot or pan overheats or splatters greases, it can take seconds to cause a fire. Stay in the kitchen when cooking, especially if using oil or high temperatures; most kitchen fires occur because people get distracted and leave their cooking unattended. Keep combustibles (e.g. oven mitts, dish towels, paper towels) away from heat sources.
Have your furnace inspected annually by a qualified technician, and your chimney cleaned and inspected annually. Keep portable heaters at least one metre away from anything that can burn (including curtains, furniture, and you), and don’t use your heaters to dry shoes or clothes. Install a carbon monoxide alarm to alert you to deadly carbon monoxide gas.
Make the bedroom off-limits to smoking, and supervise smokers who may become drowsy (i.e. on medication, drinking) or forget to extinguish their cigarette. Use large, deep ashtrays; never place an ashtray on or near anything that will burn; and check furniture for fallen cigarettes/embers (a butt can smoulder for hours before causing furniture to burst into flames).
Ensure the following:
1) Your electrical appliances don’t have loose or frayed cords/plugs
2) Your outlets aren’t overloaded with plugs
3) You’re not running electrical wires under rugs or heavy furniture
4) You’re not overusing an extension cord. Be careful about do-it-yourself electrical projects; many home fires are caused by improper installation, so use a licensed electrician.
Keep candles in a sturdy holder on a level surface, away from combustible materials and out of the reach of children or pets. Blow them out before leaving the room.
Children Playing with FireChildren cause fires out of curiosity (what happens when something burns) or mischief (they’re angry, upset or destructive, and fire is a major taboo to break). Kids may be involved in fire play if you find matches or lighters in their room/possession, smell sulphur in their room, and/or find toys or other personal effects that appear melted/singed.
Under UK law the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSW Act) in Great Britain or the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 in Northern Ireland employers are responsible for ensuring the safety and health of their employees and also the public, if they are at risk from those work activities. This includes electrical safety.
Electrical Inspectors aim to reduce the number of electrical accidents by enforcing the law, providing advice on good working practices, and developing guidance in response to technical changes in equipment and working methods.
Electrical Inspectors work in cooperation with other responsible bodies including The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) , Local Authority Standards departments and The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem ).
Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) enforces the continuity and quality aspects of the Electricity Safety, Quality and Continuity Regulations 2002 . For further information contact the DECC Inspectorate at DECC. HSE enforces the safety aspects of these regulations. There are particular reporting requirements placed on distributors under these regulations, these are separate to reporting requirements under RIDDOR.
The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) look after the interests of electricity consumers. This is principally a financial role, monitoring electricity generation, distribution and supply. For further information contact Ofgem.
The address of your nearest Health and Safety Executive office can be found on the HSE’s website. For some workplaces (such as offices, shops, hotels, many warehouses) the Local Authority enforces electrical safety regulations, generally its environmental services department. HSE and the Local Authorities work together to provide consistent advice and enforcement by means of a liaison committee (HELA).
Annual electrical accident statistics in the workplace can be found in the HSE Annual Report and in the HSE Health and Safety Statistics, also published each year.
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Portable appliance testing (PAT) is the term used to describe the examination of electrical appliances and equipment to ensure they are safe to use. Most electrical safety defects can be found by visual examination but some types of defect can only be found by testing. However, it is essential to understand that visual examination is an essential part of the process because some types of electrical safety defect can’t be detected by testing alone.
A relatively brief user check (based upon simple training and perhaps assisted by the use of a brief checklist) can be a very useful part of any electrical maintenance regime. However, more formal visual inspection and testing by a competent person may also be required at appropriate intervals, depending upon the type of equipment and the environment in which it is used
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