By Mike Campbell
Electrical hazards are one of the installation’s most common deficiencies found during facility inspections. We identify on average 400 electrical hazards each year. This is an extremely high number and this article was developed to inform the Fort Leonard Wood community on common hazards in an effort to reduce the fire risk associated with them.
The most common causes of electrical fires are from improper use and overloading of extension cords, power strips, power taps, and surge protectors. The following are some common electrical hazards to look out for.
Most common electrical hazards found during fire inspections
— Extension cords being used as permanent wiring.
— Heat producing appliances plugged into surge protectors (coffee pot/Keurig, microwave, space heater, hot plate).
— Surge protectors being daisy-chained/piggy-backed (surge protector plugged into another surge protector).
— Multi-plug adapters without surge protection.
— Electrical cords ran through walls, doorways, under carpet/rugs, or taped to the floor.
— Electrical wires nailed or stapled to the building surface (Christmas lights).
— Frayed or exposed wiring.
— Space heaters (unattended, within 3 feet of combustible materials, or located under desks).
— Missing cover plates on receptacles, switches and outlet boxes.
— Electrical panels (3 foot clearance maintained around panel, properly labeled, and secured fire alarm breaker switch to prevent accidental use).
Electrical outlets and most surge protectors are rated at 15 amps (1,875 watts) and can be easily overloaded.
Add it up:
Computer = 2.0 amps (250 watts)
Monitor = 1.5 amps (190 watts)
Speakers = 0.12 amps (15 watts)
Desk lamp = 0.32 amps (40 watts)
Scanner = 1.2 amps (150 watts)
Printer = 9.4 amps (1,175 watts)
Totals = 14.54 amps (1,820 watts)
High-wattage appliances must be plugged directly into a wall outlet. This includes coffee makers, microwaves, refrigerators and space heaters.
Electrical appliances and wires should be UL, ETL, or SA listed. Electrical cords shouldn’t be spliced and users should inspect cords frequently for signs of fraying, cracking, wearing, or damage. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) are required in damp areas (i.e. bathrooms, kitchens, garages, outdoors, crawl space, etc.). When plugging in electrical devices/appliances, be sure to check the connection is secure.
Electrical appliances that do not require continuous operation will be unplugged when not in use, and this check should be accomplished when running your daily closing checklist. The facility manager should always make sure their facility is in a fire-safe condition at the end of each shift/day.
Power strip vs. surge protector
Can you tell the difference between a power strip and a surge protector? The main difference between them is surge protectors are designed to protect devices from voltage spikes. Conversely, power strips do not provide any type of protection and are simply an extension of your electrical receptacle. To tell the difference, you have to look at the packaging or the device itself. A true surge protector will be labeled as such, contain an indicating light and are usually rated in joules, the amount of energy it can absorb before it fails.
The facility manager should always make sure their facility is in a fire-safe condition at the end of each shift/day.
For more information on fire prevention and safety topics, call the Fire Prevention Section at 573.596.0886.
(Editor’s note: Campbell is a fire inspector with the Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department.)