Preventing electrical fires in the workplace

While some items like good wines or art improve with age, most buildings and the installed electrical and mechanical components do not. In fact, the older a building, the more likely it is to have serious defects, particularly in critical building systems such as electrical, plumbing, HVAC and roofing. Older buildings typically generate more insurance claims than younger properties, especially if they have not been well-maintained or if their building systems have not been updated.

The statistics
Electrical fires consistently rank among the top five causes of commercial and institutional building fires involving a variety of building types. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics for non-residential buildings and operations such as manufacturing plants, hotels, health clinics and hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, warehouses, bars and restaurants and farming operations  clearly show the high risk of electrical fires in these operations. . Fires involving electricity also regularly result in a higher percentage of property damage than those caused by many other sources.  A study by the U.S. Fire Administration found electrical malfunction was the leading cause of 4,065 fires in medical facilities between 2004 and 2006, resulting in more than $34 million in property losses. Warehouse fires sparked by electrical distribution or lighting resulted in $14.9 million in property damage from 2003-2006, according to NFPA. An effective way to address life safety concerns and better protect property against electrical fires is through education.


The two NFPA documents addressing electrical safety and maintenance are NFPA 70B and NFPA 70E. 70B is the Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, while 70E is the standard that covers electrical safety in the workplace.

Even tho the NFPA can not enforce any of it’s recommendations, when the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) adopted these recommended practices into their workplace safety standard they became “the law of the land” so to speak.

NFPA regards systematic and regular thermographic electrical inspections to be a critical part of an EPM program stating that “these (thermographic) inspections have uncovered a multitude of potentially dangerous situations.

The 70B standard prescribes in part:
“Routine infrared inspections of energized electrical systems should be performed annually prior to shutdown. More frequent infrared inspections, for example, quarterly or semiannually, should be performed where warranted by loss experience, installation of new electrical equipment, or changes in environmental, operational, or load conditions.”
“Infrared detection can be accurate, reliable, and expedient to use in a variety of electrical installations. More important, it can be relatively inexpensive to use considering the savings often realized by preventing equipment damage and business interruptions.”
“Many organizations are finding it preferable to obtain these surveys from qualified outside contractors. Because of their more extensive experience, their findings and recommendations are likely to be more accurate, practical, and economical than those of a part-time in-house team.”

Many insurances also recognize annual Infrared scans as a critical part of risk management.

Critical equipment:

A partial list of critical equipment that should be scanned at least annually includes

• Electrical utility substations, transformers and feeder poles
• Main electrical incoming services, transformers, capacitor banks, etc.
• Main electrical switchboards and disconnects
• Main electrical distribution panels and disconnects
• Uninterruptable electrical power supplies
• Generator controls and transfer switches
• Main I-Line electrical panels
• Lighting and receptacle electrical panels
• Motor Control Centers
• Service electrical disconnects for motors
• Bus Ducts

Depending on the type and use of a given facility other components and equipment might also benefit from a professional infrared thermographic scan to be performed annually.

Did your flat roof take a beating this winter?

This winter has been wild, with record-breaking temperature drops and more snow than the northeast has experienced in recent memory. Many flat and low slope roofs took a severe beating in the extreme weather and many buildings in the northeast even collapsed under the tremendous stresses forced on them.

Winter can be quite hard on a flat roof, particularly if the roof has signs of wear and tear.

Extreme temperature changes

Extreme temperatures can damage a roof. During the winter, it is not unprecedented for the daytime high temperatures to be above freezing. When the temperature gets warmer, the building’s structure starts to expand. Then when the temperature gets colder, the building’s structure starts to contract. This expansion and contraction can wear on a roofing system and lead to leaks, especially in the winter months.

Ice dams on rubber and membrane roofs

Ice is rarely the direct cause of damage to a rubber or membrane roof. However, the creation of ice dams can compound problem areas in the membrane and increase the chances of leaks. Ice dams can hold water on a roof and not allow it to drain properly. As the ice melts, the water can drain into small cracks in the roof and then re-freeze. The expanding ice can make the hole even larger. This freeze and thaw cycle can repeat many times a day in some areas. Overtime the roof system will start to show signs of wear and tear. The roof should be inspected periodically for necessary repairs that can extend the longevity of the roof membrane.

A qualified thermal infrared flat roof inspection can save money

It doesn’t matter if a flat roof is rubber, or other membrane, the roof will eventually need to be repaired or replaced. The components that hold a roof system together can deteriorate in as quickly as a few winters. If the roof system is not properly repaired, it can damage the sub-structure of the roof and eventually migrate into the building. This will lead to increased costs of repair and cause potential health problems due to elevated moisture levels and potential mold contamination. Every roof is unique, and there is not a one size fits all for roof repair. Thermography is a very valuable and non-destructive tool to find leaks and wet areas in the roof assembly.

The roof pictured here has evidence of moisture saturating the insulation below the membrane. The thermogram clearly shows the warm area caused by moisture beneath the topmost layer.


The small temperature differences between wet roof insulation and the dry areas allow a skilled thermographer to determine where a possible leak exists and to determine the overall integrity of the roof surface. If a roof is showing signs of wear and tear, a qualified thermographer can assess the roof system, mark damaged areas not otherwise visible, and recommend the necessary repairs. Building owners and property managers can use this information to increase the “life expectancy” of their roof system and in many cases avoid the substantial cost of a complete roof replacement. Preventive maintenance is especially important on flat roof systems. An ongoing maintenance plan can save them significant money over the life of the roof system.

If the roof on your building is more than 3 years old you should consider investing in a maintenance plan that can help extend the life of your roof by many years and defer the cost of a new roof well into the future. With the average lifespan of the typical commercial or industrial roof being seven years, regular inspections and a proper roof maintenance program are required if the owner wishes to properly maintain the roof. The lifespan can be increased by as much as 300%, resulting in significant savings for the roof owner.

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