Electrical fires are sneaky, insidious and often odorless. They don’t produce smoke, so smoke detectors don’t immediately sound an alarm. When faulty or damaged electrical wiring heats up, it slowly begins to smolder. These types of fires can be so slow-burning that it can take months to actually ignite. Even worse, they can be very hard to extinguish once they take hold. It makes sense that the best approach is to prevent electrical fires instead of having to deal with one.
The major areas of concern in terms of electrical fires typically occur when large, high-wattage power tools and portable generators are in use or when a new electrical system is being installed or tested. However, old, neglected or damaged wiring, well-meaning, but inexperienced homeowners or amateurs and improper installations and repairs can also contribute to electrical fires. These hazards can be present at any type or size of jobsite, so be prepared to prevent or deal with potential electrical fires is vital.
Jobsite Safety Comes First
Special care must be taken when working on residential jobsites, especially if working on an older or historic home that’s being remodeled or updated. Additionally, electrical contractors often have to work in small, cramped or dangerous areas within a home.
Construction sites tend to be full of potential electrical fire dangers. Fires on these sites happen frequently, posing very real risks of serious injury or even death for electricians. Even if no one is injured, damage to the structure and property can add up to significant costs to the company overseeing the project.
OSHA Safety Regulations exist to protect you, especially when working in a characteristically dangerous environment. Staying current with changes in OSHA regulations and putting those safety regulations to use on every jobsite will help you provide the best fire safety protection possible for yourself and your employees.
You can drastically reduce the spread of electrical fires by arming yourself with the right fire extinguisher. Dry chemical fire extinguishers (Class C) smother fires by coating the wires, outlet or other point of combustion with a thin layer of fire retardant powder containing carbon dioxide. Class C fire extinguishers are available in canisters of different weights; a 4-lb. extinguisher can be easily brought along when you’re required to work in tight spaces in attics, crawl spaces or basements.
Class ABC (multi-purpose) fire extinguishers are the most common types of extinguishers used on both commercial and residential jobsites. In addition to electrical fires, these extinguishers effectively smother wood, paper, plastic and textile fires. Instead of using Co2, ABC extinguishers employ monoammonium phosphate to smother fires. These extinguishers are also available in a variety of sizes.
Preventative Safety Measures
Most safety measures to prevent or handle electrical fires are a matter of common sense, preparedness, and good training practices. Here are a few steps you should never neglect.
• Always check your equipment before beginning work
• Remember to install effective lockouts/tagouts on live, energized circuits
• Wear approved protective eyewear, clothing and gloves on the job
• Keep your work area free of debris that might help spread an electrical fire
• Always keep an approved, Class C fire extinguisher within reach
Wearing flame resistant clothing is a must on any jobsite, but special items are needed on electrical jobs which may involve the possibility of dealing with arcing. Because most of you provide your own work clothes, it’s extremely important to ensure that all your protective gear meets or exceeds safety standards. Keeping an arc flash hard hat, coveralls, face shield, and hood in your toolbox or safety kit offers you the best protection in many dangerous work environments. A set of rubber insulating gloves and a set of protective leather gloves and sleeves should also be included in your collection of safety gear.
The personal safety of you and your crew is the most important consideration on any job site. Staying up to date on fire safety procedures and equipment and using common sense on the job can help improve your level of safety.
Have you ever had to put an electrical safety plan into action? Share some hints and tips to help everyone be safer.