Electrical fire prevention and safety

3 minute read

Contrary to popular belief, electrical fires are fairly common. They account for one fifth of all fires in Canada, significant property damage and serious injuries. They’re mainly caused by faulty electrical maintenance, however, poorly installed electrical components are fire hazards as well.

Electrical systems which have built in safety margins are designed for the building occupant’s various needs. As these needs change, electrical equipment and motors change with them. As their electrical components age and deteriorate, the possibility for failure increases, making their inspection and maintenance increasingly important over time.

Check these items regularly to lower the risk of electrical fires:

  • Components that are subject to damage, heat or moisture
  • Circuit load
  • Temporary wiring that’s used instead of permanent wiring
  • Components that deteriorated due to age or conditions
  • Components that are poorly installed and maintained

Overcurrent protection

Circuit breakers and fuses are designed to restrict the amperage to electrical wiring. Too much amperage can cause high temperatures which break down insulations and start fires, so make sure overcurrent protection matches the wire size.

Wire size (A.W.G.) Maximum Current (AMPS)
14 15
12 20
10 30

Hazardous locations

Motors, lights and switches with special safety features are required in areas where flammable gas, vapours, dust or fibrous material is present. Qualified electrical contractors should be consulted to determine whether explosion proof, dust ignition proof or fibre ignition proof components are necessary for the application.

Preventive maintenance

Electrical systems deteriorate over time and require preventive maintenance. Wire insulation dries out, receptacles and switches loosen, and equipment accumulates dirt and oil. All this can lead to overheating, which is why a qualified electrical contractor should routinely inspect your system.

Thermal infrared imaging can identify hot spots which can result in an electrical fire. That’s why any abnormal condition the camera picks up in the electrical system should be investigated immediately.

General fire prevention and safety tips

  • Don’t plug several power cords into one outlet.
  • Replace broken three-prong plugs and make sure the third prong is properly grounded.
  • Never use extension cords as permanent wiring – they should only be used to temporarily supply power to areas without outlets.
  • Keep power cords away from heat, water and oil. They damage the insulation and cause shocks.
  • Don’t allow vehicles to pass over unprotected power cords. Instead, put them in conduits or place them between planks.
  • Inspect tools, power cords, and electrical fittings for damage or wear before using them. Repair or replace damaged equipment immediately.
  • Always tape cords to walls or floors when necessary so nails and staples don’t damage them and cause fires or shock hazards.
  • Use cords or equipment with appropriate levels of amperage or wattage.
  • Always use the correct size fuse. Excessive currents and fires can by caused by larger fuses.
  • Unsafe wiring may cause outlets to be unusually warm. Unplug any cords to these outlets and don’t use them until a qualified electrician has checked the wiring.
  • Always use ladders made of wood or other non-conductive materials when working near electricity or power lines.
  • Place halogen lights away from combustible materials such as cloths or curtains as halogen lamps can overheat and cause fires.
  • There’s a greater risk of electric shock in wet or damp areas. Install Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) to interrupt electrical circuits before their currents are strong enough to cause death or injury.
  • Make sure exposed receptacle boxes are made of non-conductive materials.
  • Know where the breakers and boxes are located in case of an emergency.
  • Label all circuit breakers and fuse boxes clearly. Each switch should identify its corresponding outlet or appliance.
  • Don’t use outlets or cords with exposed wiring.
  • Don’t use power tools without guards.
  • Don’t block access to circuit breakers or fuse boxes.
  • Disconnect the current before touching a person or electrical apparatus if an electrical accident occurs.