SATIB on electrical fire safety

Whether you are a B&B, lodge, hotel or office – all make use of electrical power. Most electrical fires result from problems with ‘fixed wiring’ such as faulty electrical outlets and old wiring. Problems with cords and plugs, such as extension and appliance cords, also cause many electrical fires.

Many avoidable electrical fires can be traced to misuse of electric cords, such as overloading circuits, poor maintenance and running the cords under rugs or in high traffic areas. As indicated, these are all avoidable through better management and routine checks. Build a sense of ownership within your operation to avoid unnecessary risk. Create daily / weekly or monthly checklists to ensure potential hazards are identified and removed.

Appliances

The appliances most often involved in electrical fires are electric stoves and ovens, irons, dryers, air conditioners, televisions, radios and DVD players.

• Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring.
• Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately.
• Use electrical extension cords wisely and don’t overload them.
• Keep electrical appliances away from wet floors and counters; pay special care to electrical appliances in the bathroom and kitchen.
• When buying electrical appliances look for products evaluated by a nationally recognised laboratory.
• Keep clothes, curtains and other potentially combustible items at least 1m from all heaters.
• If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
• Never overload extension cords or wall sockets. Immediately shut off, then professionally replace, light switches that are hot to the touch and lights that flicker. Use safety closures to ‘child-proof’ electrical outlets.
• Check your electrical tools regularly for signs of wear. If the cords are frayed or cracked, replace them. Replace any tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out or gives off smoke or sparks.

Thatch (Cabling & Services)

• Electrical power supply and telephone cables should enter the building by means of underground ducts, and all electrical wiring in the roof space should be run in screwed metal conduit, with all junction boxes properly sealed.

Generators

Turn off generators and let them cool prior to refuelling. Be sure that the main circuit breaker is off and locked out prior to starting any generator. This will prevent inadvertent energising of power lines from back feed electrical energy from generators and help protect utility line workers from possible electrocution.

Extension Cords

• Normal wear on cords can loosen or expose wires. Cords that are not three-wire type, not designed for hard-usage, or that have been modified, increase your risk of contracting electrical current.
• Use only equipment that is approved to meet SANS standards.
• Do not modify cords or use them incorrectly.
• Use factory-assembled cord sets and only extension cords that are wire type.
• Remove cords from receptacles by pulling on the plugs, not the cords.

General Do’s and Don’ts

Do

• Keep away from outdoor areas marked with signs that say ‘Danger’ or ‘Danger High Voltage’. Stay clear of overhead powerlines and wires.
• Respect utility electrical equipment.
• Always try to get inside a building or a car during a lightning storm.
• When disconnecting appliances from electrical outlets, use the plug when you pull it out.
• Replace electrical cords that have cut, broken or cracked insulation.
• Keep electrical cords away from sources of heat.
• Keep electrical cords and appliances away from water. Plug cords into protected outlets when you’re working near a sink or other water source.
• When you’re changing a lightbulb, be sure to turn off the switch or circuit.
• Put safety caps on any unused electrical outlets, especially if there are young children in the house.
• If there’s an electrical fire, call the fire department. Use a CO2, dry chemical fire extinguisher to douse an electrical fire. If it’s safe to do so, unplug the appliance first.

Don’t

• Don’t go near electrical stations, equipment, wires, substations or utility poles.
• Don’t touch an overhead wire with a pole, stick or other object. Electricity could travel down that object and cause a shock that could kill you.
• Don’t throw anything at wires or electrical equipment, and don’t fasten things to utility poles. Damaged equipment can be very dangerous.
• Don’t stay outside when there’s lightning. Avoid wide open spaces and tall trees. If you’re swimming, get out of the water.
• Don’t pull on the cord when you unplug an electrical appliance. Use the plug.
• Don’t use appliances that have damaged electrical cords – there’s a risk of shock.
• Don’t run cords under carpets.
• Don’t mix water and electricity. If an electrical cord or appliance is faulty, water will conduct the electricity and increase the risk of shock.
• Don’t work on light fixtures or appliances without unplugging them or switching off the power. Never put your finger in a lightbulb socket. Don’t poke anything into an electrical outlet.
• Don’t use water to put out an electrical fire.
• Air-conditioning heating units are the leading cause of fires and they occupy the second slot in the cause of fire deaths.

I hope these guidelines help you better manage your risk of electrical fire. Create a routine checklist and remember to share with your staff and colleagues at operational level.

For further insight, contact André du Toit: andre@satib.co.za, 082 446 1697.

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