The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) designates the month of May as National Electrical Safety Month. It is a reminder that we need to remain diligent in our efforts to increase awareness, follow regulations, and implement technology to reduce electrical hazards. Electrical safety is crucial to reducing fires that can harm lives and business continuity. According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), 100,000 fires occur in commercial buildings every year in the USA, causing an estimated $3 billion in damage.
As a leading manufacturer of electrical equipment and power monitoring solutions, it is the duty of Schneider Electric to help train and educate electrical professionals on the best practices and technology available to prevent fires before they start. Below are five top tips for electrical professionals to help protect your customers from the devastating effects of an electrical fire:
1. Stay current on the latest code updates. It is important to stay compliant with the NFPA 70 code – also known as the National Electrical Code (NEC) – in your state and local jurisdiction for proper design and installation of electrical systems. Adherence to outdated codes limits the potential for the prevention of hazards by not leveraging current best practices and technologies. More importantly, many do not refer to NFPA 70B ‘Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance’ and NFPA 70E ‘Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace’ for continued safe operation of electrical systems.
2. Protect against arc faults. There are protective devices that can help reduce the risk of arc faults, by interrupting the current before a fire has a chance to start. An arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) will protect a portion of a circuit from parallel (hot to neutral) and series (hot to hot) arcs. For greater protection, a combination arc fault circuit interrupter (CAFCI) can safeguard the entire circuit. Many factors can determine which product is the best fit, including regulations, costs and ease of use. CAFCI circuit breakers remain the choice to provide the best protection, lower installation costs and easily meet all NEC requirements. Read “7 Frequently Asked Questions about Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters.”
3. Protect against arc flashes. In the USA, an explosion involving an electric arc occurs on average 5 to 6 times a day. Beyond the risk of causing serious physical injuries to personnel (e.g. damage to eyesight, lungs, skin, body impact from the blast), the severe heat and splashes of molten metal from an arc flash can start fires. The best protection against arc flashes are devices that provide ultra-fast detection using a combination of current inputs and light via arc sensor channels. Should a fault occur, the device severs the current to reduce the arc energy released. This not only helps protect people and the availability of the installation, it can also improve the reliability of power distribution protection.
4. Take advantage of continuous thermal monitoring technology. As equipment ages, faulty electrical connections in MV and LV installations can increase contact resistance, accelerate deterioration, and eventually create thermal runaway, which can cause a fire, flashover, or explosion. Infrared (IR) thermography has traditionally been used to inspect the highest-risk areas and catch abnormal busbar temperature rises. However, as this is only done when scheduled (e.g. every 12 months) it can miss a connection point that might be deteriorating faster or that was not accessible at the time of inspection. Continuous thermal monitoring technology offers a safer, more comprehensive, and more cost-effective way to detect thermal risks. Wireless thermal sensors are permanently installed on busbar connections, cable connections, and other high-risk points. Temperature data is continuously collected and uploaded to an onsite or cloud-based power management system or power analytics platform, with mobile alerts sent to operations and maintenance teams to help them respond before damage or fire occurs.
5. Use predictive, conditions-based maintenance to avoid risks. Studies show that poorly maintained switchboards are 62 percent more likely to fail. The traditional preventive maintenance approach is typically implemented on a scheduled basis. A more efficient and effective strategy is to employ a conditions-based or predictive maintenance approach, with which equipment conditions are continually monitored to determine when maintenance is required. This can save time and money, as well as catching the risk conditions missed by scheduled checks. Examples can include thermal monitoring, breaker aging analysis, and continuous monitoring for circuit and equipment overloading. Managed services take the approach further, providing expert insight and prescriptive recommendations to facility teams.
By designing and installing electrical systems in compliance with all applicable standards, choosing the appropriate protective devices, vigilantly monitoring for potential risk conditions, and following maintenance best practices, the occurrence of electrical fires can be significantly reduced. Schneider Electric offers leading technology, solutions, and services to support you at every step. Gain access to a series of new digital tools and resources to support you on and off the job. Join the Schneider Electric Partner Portal for support relevant to you.