A Plug For Electrical Fire Prevention

Published: October 1, 2014

In our technology-centered lives, we tend to take for granted what ultimately makes all our gadgets work: electricity! We rush to “plug in” and generally don’t think twice about the power that keeps us connected.

To bring attention to a growing hazard and to coincide with 2014 National Fire Prevention Week (October 5-11), let’s discuss electricity—a power source that’s similarly taken for granted and often ignored as a fire risk.

Extension Cords

Extension cords are useful for temporary wiring needs. The key word here is temporary. Extension cords should never be used as a permanent fix for reaching a primary power supply.

Extension cord fire risk is mainly from overload. Overloads occur when extension cords are carrying more current than they are capable of, which can cause the plug, socket, or the entire cord to heat up. If the cord is near some easily combustible material, the excess heat could ignite a fire.

Cord size and capacity must meet or exceed the requirements of the device being plugged into it. For example, a tool needing 14 amps must be powered by an extension cord with a minimum capacity of 14 amps. This is particularly important for longer cords, since power capacity diminishes with length.

Power Strips

Country singer Trace Adkins made headlines in 2011 because of a fire that burned down his house. Investigators determined the fire started in the garage…from an overheated power strip.

Have you ever “discovered” a power strip hidden beneath dusty, forgotten piles of papers or other things? We probably all have and didn’t even consider the potential risk. But think about this: That buried power strip may be generating heat that could, over time, lead to combustion of whatever material it’s near.

Most power strips have the capacity to power multiple items, or the equivalent of 15 amps. The power draw of each item should be considered before plugging in additional devices. As items are added, the chances increase for overheating and overloading the power strip.

Power Load

Knowing what types of electrical setups your company has is just the basis of a proactive fire prevention risk management plan. As electrical use increases, attention must be paid to the overall load on the entire system. Recognizable warning signs of inadequate load may be as slight as lights dimming when equipment turns on, to a more urgent indication like a breaker that continually trips. All workers should be aware of the warning signs, as early detection of electrical issues is a valuable preventive for fires. If your electrical system is showing signs of being insufficient, a competent electrical contractor should be consulted. This is especially important before installing any new machinery or whenever electrical problems are noticed.

Daisy Chaining

Daisy chaining refers to an unsafe method of linking extension cords or power strips together in any combination, which can present undue fire risk and should never be allowed. The main reason people set up daisy chains is from a need for either more cord length or more outlets. Both situations create increased stress on the power strip or extension cord that is plugged into the main outlet. That plug will have the most load and be increasingly stressed with each item added to the “chain.”

The Burning Issue of Electrical Fires

There are so many good reasons to pay attention to the electrical system your business uses every day. Not only will awareness help decrease the risk of electric shock and fire, you could also see more efficient use of power and less maintenance needed.

Conscientious awareness and fire prevention tactics can actually contribute to your company’s fiscal fitness. The costs for electrical system improvements or a stepped-up maintenance program can generally be absorbed. But the costs from a fire can mean the difference between staying in business or not. By incorporating risk management strategies, you are taking important steps toward helping to keep your employees and business safe.

Federated Insurance has developed a Fire Prevention Packaged Program, which includes specific checklists and resources for your fire prevention and educational efforts. Contact your local Federated marketing representative or Federated’s Risk Management Resource Center (800-838-1760 or e-mail riskmanagementmaterials@fedins.com) for more information.