Learning From Loss: Electrical Fires

Last week, we learned about the most common causes of fire loss based on Society Insurance claims data from 2011-2013. View the chart. We went into detail about cooking equipment hazards and the best ways to minimize those risks. This week, we will explore electrical fire risks and prevention tips.

Electrical Equipment

Between 2011 and 2013, there were 83 electrical fires that cost Society over $14.5 million in claim settlement costs. Just like with cooking equipment, I asked Subrogation Specialist Kristina Huber, CPCU, AIC, CSRP, for her insight into the causes of these fires.

Electrical Fires Caused by Wiring

66% of the fires were caused by wiring issues that were not visible to the insured or property owner, including:
•  Overloaded wiring — connecting an appliance that has a greater electrical draw than the wiring was designed for.
•  Faulty lighting fixtures. Ensure that everyone who works on your building’s wiring is a qualified electrician.
•  Animals chewing through wires. If you have had a pest problem in the attic or walls, have you checked any exposed wiring for damage?
•  Electrical surge from outside the building.

13% of the fires were due to improper use of extension cords, such as:
•  Large appliances plugged into an extension cord. Most large appliances are not designed to be plugged into an extension cord. If they are designed to do so, the manufacturer will often provide specific guidelines regarding the type of cord that can be used.
•  Pinched extension cords, like when they run through a door opening.
•  Extension cords crushed under the weight of a heavy object.
•  Use of power strips with extension cords or for appliances. Power strips cannot be plugged into an extension cord; they can only be plugged directly into an outlet. Further, most power strips are not designed for the voltage/amperage draw of appliances.

Electrical Fire Safety Tips:

•  When purchasing used equipment, have it inspected to ensure the wiring and controls are functioning properly.

•  If you are purchasing a used heating appliance, make sure it has a high temperature limit switch that will shut the equipment down if the primary thermostat fails. If it does not have this feature, don’t make the purchase.

•  If your building’s electrical system is more than 15 years old, have it inspected by a qualified electrician to ensure there are no obvious weaknesses.

•  When purchasing new equipment, make sure your electrical system can handle the voltage/amperage needs of the new equipment.

•  Is there any appliance or circuit where the breaker trips when you turn on two pieces of equipment at the same time? If you answered yes, this is a sign of an overloaded circuit — Call an electrician and get it fixed. Constantly resetting the breaker is not a solution!

•  Read and retain the owner’s manual for all equipment and appliances. Use these to train your employees.

•  Did you hire someone to clean your duct work? Keep the receipt or invoice and make sure they are qualified to do the work. Don’t forget to get references.

•  The only person who should work on your building’s electrical system is a qualified electrician — Not your cousin’s nephew who is good with his hands!

•  Set up a preventative maintenance schedule for all appliances where a qualified technician will perform an inspection to ensure it is functioning properly. This is particularly important for equipment that is 15 or more years old.

For more information on avoiding an electrical fire at your business, download this free whitepaper.

-Tim Hoffmann

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