Every year, electrical accidents cause over 1.3 billion dollars in property damage in the U.S., as well as cause bodily harm to many occupants and maintenance personnel. A painful example of such troubles arose just this June, in the form of London’s Grenfell Tower fire. The 24-story residential tower burst into flames, due to a cause that is still being investigated. However, there are reports that the building had suffered from faulty wiring, power surges, and other issues that had been a cause of concern among residents.
Responsible building owners have an opportunity to learn from tragedies like this and improve the safety of their own structures. In this post, we provide you with a few simple guidelines that will help you improve your building’s electrical safety and minimize risk of accidents.
1. Plan Electrical Installations with Safety in Mind
Are you currently in the process of constructing or renovating your building? If so, then you have the chance to plan your electrical installations in keeping with the best safety practices.
If possible, assess the layout of each room and what its likely function will be. Then plan the placement of outlets accordingly, ensuring that enough outlets are installed to accommodate the location and number of electrical devices that are likely to be used. By efficiently planning your outlet installation, you can prevent hazards caused by excess cord lengths, multi-socket adapters, and circuit overloads.
Be thorough in checking that the wiring used throughout your insulation is appropriate for the connections and expected power usage in all areas. Grenfell Tower residents had suffered through major power surges already in 2013, which caused electrical appliances to catch fire and break. This is thought to be due to faulty wiring. It’s suspected that in the recent fire, a resident’s fridge blew up from another electrical fault, starting the fatal blaze. This could have been avoided if the building’s electrical installation were sound.
Another consideration for the design & construction process is the materials used around circuit boxes, transformers, wires, wire junctions, and other electrical equipment. Insulation, varnishes, and other surrounding materials should be fire-resistant. Protective encasements should be installed around electrical installations to prevent exposure to moisture, contain any sparks, and shield against accidental contact by humans or animals.
Before finalizing your design plans, review them with your electrical contractor to check for improvement opportunities and guarantee that all aspects meet code requirements.
2. Start a Preventative Maintenance Program
The safest buildings are those that engage in routine prevention practices. By initiating a preventative maintenance program, you can keep your building’s electrical installations secure and catch problems before they become hazardous.
Consult with your electrical contractor about their suggested maintenance schedule for your building’s electrical installation. Plan thorough inspections to be done as codes dictate for your area, industry, and building type.
During your routine maintenance visits, electricians should check for degradation and damage. Make certain that dust and debris are cleaned off of electrical installations (though accumulation should be prevented in the first place). While electricians are performing maintenance duties, check that they are using OSHA-standard lockout-tagout procedures to guard against accidental power activations.
3. Promote Safe Habits Among Occupants
A bit of basic electrical safety education can help your occupants learn how to avoid common causes of electrical accidents. These include overloading a single circuit by plugging in too many devices, using damaged electrical devices, and keeping hazardous materials close to live electrical parts. Prevent incidents like these by introducing a set of easy guidelines occupants can follow to keep the building safe.
Such guidelines should consist of tips like the following:
Avoid placing papers, beverages, debris, etc. near outlets and electrical equipment;
Report and replace damaged electrical cables and other devices as soon as they’re discovered (discontinue use);
If multi-socket adapters must be used, place them in an open, well-ventilated area;
Turn off and unplug devices when they are not in use.
4. Train for Accidents
Ideally, occupants should be trained how to handle electrical accidents. Giving your building’s occupants access to basic training for response and first aid is critical for mitigating resulting harm and damage.
Training should include CPR and electric shock victim identification, as well as how to safely turn off power and separate shock/burn victims from the source of the electric current. Proper fire extinguishing techniques and evacuation drills are also important aspects of electrical accident response training.
5. Plan for Emergencies
Planning for the worst means setting up your building with the right equipment ahead of time. By installing solutions for evacuation and smoke/fire containment, you can confirm that your building is prepared in the event of an electrical fire.
When developing your evacuation plan, consider what’s most realistic for your building’s layout and construction. Make sure that there isn’t risk of escape routes becoming unsafe due to flammable materials or open paths for fires to spread. Thanks to modern equipment and technology, installations are available that can preserve the safety of evacuation paths and protect the rest of the building as well.
Smoke Guard’s smoke and fire curtains are designed to contain smoke and fire in the areas that they originate, keeping the rest of the building safe and allowing occupants to evacuate without danger. They’re designed to remain functional even when electrical accidents and fires cut off the local power supply. Each Smoke Guard unit can run on up to 18 hours of battery power. The battery power source is automatically switched on in the event that the connection to primary AC power is disrupted. By installing products like this, building owners can gain peace of mind knowing that their occupants and structure are protected.
Building owners who commit to the above tips will make great strides in safeguarding their structures from electrical accidents. Check back here at the Smoke Guard blog regularly to find more useful advice for designing and maintaining buildings that are safe for all.