Electric fencers are handy items to keep domestic animals where they belong and to exclude wild animals from places they shouldn't be. They can, however, create a fire or electrocution hazard. Lightning strikes may follow fence wires into buildings and start a fire or electrocute people or livestock. Fencers may malfunction and start a fire as well. Fencers should be mounted at least ten feet from any structure or areas where combustible materials such as hay are stored. Electric fence wire should not be run along buildings or hay storage areas. Fencers should be properly grounded and installed according to the manufacturer's instructions. Installing lightning arrestors on fences may also help reduce fire and electrocution hazards. The attached photo illustrates one method of electric fencer installation.
Just recently, I was touring a renovation project at one of our city’s local hospitals. The building is massive, and has been built on several times. The area that was being up-fitted was actually not one of the oldest sections, but one that was built about 30 years ago. During demolition of the project, it was discovered that some of the wiring insulation (NM type cables) in the electrical wiring was thinning and brittle. Not all the wiring showed this, but a substantial percent did. The hospital had routine thermographic (infra-red) scanning of electrical equipment performed in the past, but the scanning did not include the wiring inside walls, rather mostly electrical panels and exposed junction boxes.
Electrical fires, as a source of fire, has traditionally been about 8-10% of non-residential fires per the US Fire Administration’s National Fire Incidet Reporting System (NFIRS). This is tied for third with heating equipment- after “contained trash/rubbish” and “Cooking equipment” fires (again- this is for commercial/industrial- not residential). When you look at preventing electrical fires, it usually does not get as much attention by management as the first two sources- mostly because the equipment that needs to be inspected is largely out-of-sight, behind walls, inside closets in non-frequented sections of the building, etc.
Fire prevention authorities have investigated the sources of electrical fires and have found the following (REF: Babrauskas, V. Ignition Handbook):
The approach to mitigate this equipment can be summed in two categories: Design & Installation, and Inspection & Preventative Maintenance.
Design and installation
Once wiring is installed inside building walls, etc., it is difficult to inspect it. New infrared and temperature sensing technology is becoming available to be able to penetrate walls to identify heat sources (e.g. deteriorating insulation), however, installing wiring with a built- in safety factor (i.e. is designed to handle a greater current capacity than circuit breakers and other safety hardware) will reduce the heat that “attacks” the wire insulation by carbonizing it (breaking down the insulation capabilities). Condensation to the wire (moisture inside conduit, etc.) can also effect the insulation.
Designing the electrical system to meet/exceed the latest codes- the most prevalent being the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70 National Electric Code and the International Building & Electrical Codes (International Code Council) is important- very few AHJ’s (Authorities Having Jurisdiction) require using the latest codes. Most are two or three versions in arrears. In addition, having internal quality control practices and a code representative rather than relying on the AHJ to identify problems is highly recommended.
Inspection & Preventative Maintenance
In over 19 years of working with industrial/commercial companies, I’ve found that most companies do not have formal written inspection & maintenance programs in place that adequately cover electrical equipment. Such a program can include many items (and your Westfield Risk Control Consultant can provide you assistance with this). Here are but a few:
v Regular inspection of permanent equipment: Simple observations of electrical panels; knock-out plugs; condition of exposed conduit; & fixtures; lighting (e.g. covers on HID lighting?); water leaks or high humidity; excess heat; continue to evaluate whether the proper class of electrical equipment is in use (e.g. flammable atmospheres).
v Regular inspection of working conditions and temporary equipment. Electrical chords and plugs- not just the condition of them, but asking whether they truly belong there (e.g. are temporary chords used when permanent wiring is required; are fans being used too close to a paint booth?). Housekeeping is huge- combustibles; liquids, etc. adjacent to electrical equipment can be a disaster.
v Contract maintenance on larger, more critical equipment: Some equipment, such as transformers and relay equipment- require shut-down and thorough inspections. This equipment should be identified in advance (best when it is new).
v Thermographic scanning (or “infrared inspection”) is a non-intrusive, cost effective and efficient means to evaluate the condition of an electrical system. Problem conditions such as: loose connections, high resistance connections and contacts, overloaded circuits, and imbalanced loads can be identified through the detection of the infrared energy (heat) emitted by the system as a result of these conditions. Westfield Risk Control can also assist with identifying qualified contractors.
In my introductory paragraph, I noted that the electrical system in that section of the hospital was about 30 years old. In the past 30 years, electrical codes have improved and the requirements for hardware and installation are greater, however- even with due-diligence on good design/installation and inspection/preventative maintenance, equipment wears/breaks down and a long-term building renovation plan should be considered. Should it be 30 years? Maybe or maybe not- it depends on many factors. But having strategies- both short-term and long-term- will help assure that uncontrolled electrical hazards do not “short-out” your business plans.
Jeff Hendershot is a Property Specialist with Westfield. You can connect with him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffhendershot
On October 5, 2010 OSHA's Director of Enforcement Programs, Thomas Galassi, released the top 10 violations for the 2010 fiscal year.
OSHA’s top 10 list of most cited violations for FY 2010 are:
1. Scaffolding, General
2. Fall Protection
3. Hazard Communication
4. Respiratory Protection
7. Electrical, Wiring Methods
8. Powered Industrial Trucks
9. Electrical, General
10. Machine Guarding
According to Galassi, OSHA issued 94,000 violations during FY 2010. The top 10 violations accounted vy between 48 - 49% of the total violations issued.
Are your employees exposed to any of the risk's found in the Top 10?? If so, are you doing all you can to protect your employees and avoid a possible OSHA violation? Share your thoughts with us.
Lisa Mundt is a Senior Risk Control Representative for Westfield Insurance.
The Federal Motor Safety Administration (FMSA) has recently launched a new safety video designed for cargo tank drivers. The safety video is free to watch online or you may also download the video free of charge.
The 17 minute video focuses on four main areas that lead to cargo tank rollovers: vehicle design, load effects, highway factors and driver factors. The video has been created with the help of several tank drivers and other industry safety groups.
If your organization hauls liquids or uses cargo tanks, this video would be great to use at your next driver safety meeting.
You can access the video by clicking on the link below:
Lisa Mundt is a Senior Risk Control Representative for Westfield Insurance.
I recently viewed an amazing video regarding what truly motivates employees to work....and it's not what you think! I encourage you to watch this video (it is truly worth your 10 minutes!).
I bet you and your management team will have some interesting discussions on the surprising truths about motivation.
Suzanne Coleman is a Senior Risk Control Representative with Westfield Insurance.