Electrical hazards are often easy to identify; an exposed wire or a hanging light bulb is typically a sign that something needs attention. And while these issues may seem insignificant, they have the potential to cause major problems, including a fire. Luckily, many of these common hazards are not cost prohibitive to correct. To help protect your building from an electrical fire or other harmful situation, read on to learn how to identify and correct these hazards.
1. Missing Covers
Missing covers on junction boxes, switches and outlets expose energized circuits, which can create arc flash, shock, and electrocution hazards. In addition, missing covers provide a path of entry into the interior of the enclosure, allowing dust, dirt and debris to accumulate. Missing covers could allow metallic objects to fall into the circuits that could arc or lodge in a way that presents a hazard when the enclosure is opened. Covers should be provided for all these items.
2. Broken/Unsupported Light Fixtures
Light fixtures should be permanently mounted to the base and show no signs of damage. Light fixtures that are supported solely by wiring puts undue stress on the electrical connections. These two conditions present the potential for an electrical short, which can produce sparks that can ignite combustibles.
3. Circuit Breakers
A circuit breaker is a protective device designed to protect the circuit and equipment when it becomes overloaded as a result of too many appliances or equipment on the circuit, as well as when a short develops in a wire. The following safety precautions should be taken to prevent an electrical fire or damage associated with circuit breakers:
- All electrical breaker panels should be equipped with an appropriate cover and remain closed. Missing covers expose the circuits to dust and physical damage. If an arc or short circuit were to occur, the cover will contain the sparks from igniting surrounding combustibles.
- There should not be any missing breakers or other openings between breakers. These openings allow for the potential for electrocution, physical damage, and dust and dirt to accumulate in the circuits. Spare clips should be installed in any openings in the breaker panel.
- Breakers must never be taped or physically secured in the “ON” position. If the breaker is not allowed to trip, or cannot be manually tripped, the wiring could overheat, increasing the chances of a fire.
- The electrical panel should be indexed, identifying each individual circuit breaker. The directory must identify the various receptacles, general area, or equipment serviced by each circuit breaker. This will allow for quick de-energizing of a circuit under emergency situations.
Electrical equipment can and does fail, often catastrophically, with arcing that produces large amounts of heat. Any combustible material in the vicinity of the arc flash can be ignited. The following housekeeping rules should be followed in electrical equipment areas:
- Limit access to electrical rooms to authorized maintenance or operations personnel who understand the importance of maintaining a clean, well-ventilated electrical area.
- Keep electrical equipment dry and protected from moisture. If evidence of moisture is noted, examine the equipment for damage and conduct all necessary repairs. Also, identify the source of the moisture and eliminate it.
- Clean the electrical equipment areas and keep them protected from dust and dirt. If evidence of dust and dirt are noted, examine the equipment for damage, clean it and make any necessary repairs.
- Watch the placement of storage items to avoid restricting air circulation or impeding proper cooling to electrical panels or other electrical equipment. Excessive heat build-up will result in premature failure and shortened service life. Storage should not be closer than 36 inches to the electrical panels, equipment, ventilation vents or openings. Make a concerted effort to reduce the number of unused items, and to store items in a neat and orderly fashion.
These common electrical hazards are easily identifiable and often require only a small amount of time and effort to control. By following these procedures, you will greatly reduce your chances of having a fire due to an electrical issue.