When it comes to fire, prevention is the best cure. Much attention has been given to building design, rules and procedures to ensure property and staff are protected once a fire has started. However, by that stage it is already too late for most businesses. According to AXA Insurance, half of all organisations that suffer a fire close within the next five years.
Fires and explosive damage are the number one cause of insurances losses for business, responsible for almost a quarter (24 per cent) of all claims. In an analysis of over 470,000 claims conducted by Allianz over a period of five years, fires caused €14bn in insurance losses alone. Yet the cost of a fire can become much greater when you consider reputational damage and the loss of market share resulting from business interruption.
Fire directly endangers life, property and the health of the business itself. It’s not enough for you to have a fire response plan, you need a comprehensive fire prevention strategy that utilizes the latest technologies for fast detection and rapid response.
A fire can spring from many sources. Current standards do a good job of ensuring buildings are properly defended against fires created by overcurrent caused by overloads and short circuits.
However, electrical fires can also result from mistakes made during the installation process, namely loose cabling or aging circuits that will not be detected by overcurrent protection. Indeed, a defective or worn insulation is the cause of 14% of all electrical fires in buildings. Large building installations with extensive cable networks are especially vulnerable.
This is a regulatory blind spot you can’t afford to ignore. The danger of building managers or consulting engineers only performing the bare minimum to protect their buildings is that, should a fire start from a source they haven’t accounted for, the loss and disruption to your business could be devastating.
For maximum protection, organisations need reliable, innovative products that excel past the minimum standards to prevent a fire starting in the first place. This means additional protection for the switchboard and the circuits at all levels of the electrical installation, underpinned by a centralized system for monitoring and pro-active action.
The risk of cable insulation faults grows over time and the consequences can be severe. Low-intensity arc faults are more likely in humid, dusty environments, causing injuring and deadly fires if precautions aren’t taken. Protection against insulation faults within cables can be assured by residual-current devices (RCD) triggered by earth leakage currents exceeding 300mA. Schneider Electric’s ComPact NSX and NSXm range now offer this earth leakage protection with the same footprint as a classical overload and short-circuit protection. This solution also offers permanent measurement of earth leakage current which, when connected to a monitoring system, allows pre-alarming and monitoring for any drift in the insulation.
Additionally, final circuits, in critical location as recommended in IEC 60364, should be protected by an arc fault detection device (AFDD). It is a circuit breaker that automatically cuts off the electricity supply when it detects an arc fault in the circuit. By immediately stopping the supply, AFDDs stop arc faults from reaching temperatures where fires can break out.
Electrical switchboards can be dangerous hotspots for fires. It’s important to stress that fulfilling design and manufacturing rules for a switchboard does not eliminate the risk of connection failure. A critical sequence of events can still occur: increased electrical contact resistance accelerates deterioration, causing a rise in temperature. Higher temperatures deteriorate the connection surface even further, creating a vicious circle where contact resistance is increased even more. The resulting thermal runaway will cause complete connection failure, with a strong likelihood of fire and explosions.
However, several options are available to those who want to ensure the performance and safety of the equipment during its lifetime:
- The improvement of power connections by adding tested and pre-fabricated accessories to the switchboard, such as Schneider Electric’s Linergy system or special terminals on devices that prevent creep like EverLink.
- The use of continuous thermal monitoring for the early detection of faulty connections and temperature alarming. When installed at critical areas of the switchgear, Schneider Electric’s Easergy TH110 and CL110 thermal sensors perform accurate connection and ambient temperature measurements.
- Schneider Electric is developing smart sensors can detect gas particles emitted by cables to alert operators to dangerously high temperatures before they turn critical.
The risk of fire increases as components and equipment age, so choosing the ideal time for maintenance becomes very important. Cloud analytics can help provide asset health analytics to interpret the status and history of your most critical assets, with preventive notifications and 24/7 support. Solutions like EcoStruxure™ Asset Advisor can also provide analytics with condition-based, pro-active recommendations through periodic reports.
Fire is never an inevitability. When you follow the right approach with the best tools, a fire can be put out before it even has a chance to begin, saving lives and your business. The key is to follow a connected approach that makes use of innovative products that deliver continuous monitoring and data collection across all your electrical estate. This way you can identify where the greatest fire risk is, and rapidly move in to resolve it. A connected, professional fire prevention strategy helps ensure your business continuity.
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