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.