Electrical Fire Safety – Steps to Ensuring Business Continuity

  • Tan Hian Hong, Vice President, Client Service Manager, Fm Global Asia Operations
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Electrical fire poses a serious risk for companies, with more than a quarter of all fires in Singapore electrical in nature – a sobering statistic that does not get enough attention from the business world.

We know from experience that business resilience increasingly depends on companies mitigating the risks posed by electrical fire. Over the last ten years, we have seen the largest number of property losses come from electrical arcing and shorting, causing huge businesses disturbances.

The need to take action is becoming more urgent, with the Singapore Civil Defense Force reporting a 49 per cent increase in fires in industrial buildings in 2018.

We recently discussed the risks inherent in power-distribution systems and the necessary continuity plans businesses should put in place to mitigate fire risk in a webinar hosted by Schneider Electric, a global specialist in energy management and digital automation solutions for efficiency and sustainability.  

To best mitigate these risks, we suggest that four key criteria must be met: building and fire codes, detection tools, maintenance, and culture and mindset.  

Building and Fire Codes

Building and fire codes are vital for ensuring minimum standards of safety and loss prevention are met. For example, codes that relate to combustible building materials and sprinkler systems. The challenge for such codes is staying abreast with current technologies and materials and the ability to conduct an independent risk assessment before code adoption.

Detection Tools

Automatic detection systems are also essential because people are not usually present in electrical rooms. These can monitor the health of electrical equipment, as part of a wider fire safety plan. As Schneider Electric detailed, the use of sensors and systems such as wireless battery free TH110 temperature sensor, battery powered CL110 temperature and humidity sensors and wireless alarm system HeatTag can used to detect abnormal heating, gases and particles in the air that evolve from faulty cable connections of low and medium voltage switchboards. When an abnormality is detected, a notification will be sent via email or SMS, which prompts for intervention at an earlier stage.

Maintenance

Maintenance is important to all electrical equipment functions, ensuring it is performing at peak efficiency, limiting unplanned outages, and lowering the cost of full equipment repair. Importantly, maintenance can keep the risk of electrical fires at bay. We recommend that all assets are kept cool, clean, dry and tight, in order to prevent fires.

Predictive maintenance technologies should also be implemented to reduce the risk of electric fires. Technologies such as Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure solutions predictive maintenance, enables facility managers have regular access to the current condition of the equipment, provide trending data to help anticipate and plan maintenance activities.

Continuity as a Mindset

Within our culture of compliance, businesses similarly believe compliance with local codes is sufficient to protect their systems and facilities. At FM Global, we suggest that users evaluate for their own needs, recognizing the importance of certain elements to their business continuity, considering the age, state and environment of their physical assets – and this is where maintenance beyond compliance is vitally important.

Businesses must maintain a boardroom-level awareness of exposures to the business, including the consequences of equipment loss, whether through electrical fire or mechanical breakdown, on their business continuity. Business continuity planning must include working with your OEM and service suppliers to have plans in place for replacement or repair, as necessary.

Beyond fire prevention through detection tools and equipment maintenance, there is a common yet dangerous misconception that sprinklers installed in electrical rooms can cause more damage than they prevent. Businesses that follow this belief misunderstand the nuances of today’s automated sprinkler systems. Evidence shows that sprinklers that are properly installed in electrical rooms, with precautionary measures taken to prevent unwanted activation of sprinkler systems, can preserve vital equipment from expensive and crippling fire damage.  We recommend the use of FM Approved pre-action systems or gaseous suppression systems to be installed to ensure a fire in electrical equipment room is sensed early and mitigated. Such active protection systems are the most effective means of first response in the event fire erupts.

All companies today have risk of electrical fires. It is important to start business continuity planning by recognizing the real cost of a potential disaster and work backwards to mitigate the likelihood. New detection technology, resolute maintenance patterns and a business-wide understanding of electrical fire risks can help ensure a business never faces these costs. Finally, it is important that businesses not just comply with building and fire codes but take a proactive approach to understanding the particular risks their assets face and enact thorough mitigation plans.