How to Fireproof Your Office Building and Prevent Short Circuits
Electrical fires in commercial buildings are more common than you might imagine, and short circuits are one of the many possible causes. These dangerous electrical events happen when an electrical current takes a pathway that hasn’t been designed to accommodate it. The result is a discharge of energy that can start a fire or even cause an explosion.
Preventing short circuits is a key element of fireproofing an office space. And while it’s always important to consult a professional fire protection engineer when designing any fireproofing system, knowing some basic facts about short circuit prevention can make it a more streamlined effort. The following tips will help you prevent short circuits in an office building or any other commercial space.
- Use a licensed, bonded, and insured electrician for all electrical work.
There’s no such thing as DIY electrical work when it comes to a commercial space. A professional electrician should perform all of your wirings, from wiring up a metal enclosure for your breaker panel to installing a circuit for the fridge in your break room. Make sure that any electrician you hire is insured, covered by a surety bond and licensed to work in your state.
If possible, it’s preferable to develop a working relationship with an electrician service so you don’t have to call someone different for every job.
- Make sure your office is outfitted with short circuit prevention devices.
Numerous safety devices have been developed to prevent short circuits, and a commercial building should be equipped with all of them. Two of the most important devices for short circuit prevention are:
- Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters: GFCIs are safety devices that prevent ground faults, a dangerous type of short circuit that can cause severe electric shock and/or fires. They’re most commonly installed on outlets in bathrooms, kitchens, break rooms, outdoor areas and rooftops.
- Circuit Breakers: Your building’s main power supply system should include a breaker on every circuit. Breakers prevent short circuits by automatically interrupting the flow of electricity when they sense a dangerous condition. Typically, they’re housed in an aluminum enclosure or steel enclosure and mounted in a basement or utility area.
Install dedicated circuits wherever necessary.
When too many devices with high current draws are connected to one electrical circuit, the result can be a fault condition as the circuit attempts to draw more current than it’s able to handle. To counteract this, it’s important to have dedicated circuits that can supply power-hungry devices with enough current without overloading.
A commercial building may need numerous dedicated circuits for devices like copiers and break room refrigerators. Depending on the number of computers and electronic devices in your office, you might well need dedicated circuits for other areas, too. Consult an electrical engineer to discuss the power load needs of various areas of your office.
Keep an eye out for common office wiring hazards.
You’d be surprised how many offices operate every day with fire hazards lurking in the background. One particularly common hazard is overloaded outlets and extension cords, which can cause fires when they draw more power than a circuit is rated for. In an age when almost every office employee has several personal devices, this can be tough to avoid, so consider adding more outlets if you frequently notice this problem.
Outlets and wiring that aren’t working properly form the other major type of office wiring hazard. Keep an eye out for cables and wires that have become frayed, as these are a major source of short circuit incidents. Never use outlets that produce smoke, make popping noises or otherwise malfunction. Have an electrician come to look at them as soon as possible.
Schedule an electrical inspection at least once a year.
Don’t take chances with unforeseen electrical problems. A yearly electrical inspection will help identify potential trouble spots and how to address them. Even if the inspection finds nothing, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that a professional has given your building a clean bill of health.
Electrical inspectors can help clue you in to wear and tear on key components so you can replace them before they start to fail. An inspector can also alert you to code violations you might otherwise miss, and they have the knowledge to guide you on what steps you’ll need to take to retrofit your system if you have an older building.
Remember that you need the services of an inspector who is familiar with commercial electrical systems, not just residential. In addition, most local governments require that a commercial building receive an electrical inspection, so check your local laws.
Create a plan for preventing, containing, and suppressing short circuit fires.
Preventing short circuits and fires should always be your first choice. However, in the event that one does occur, your building also needs fire containment and suppression features to mitigate the impact of a fire and allow it to be extinguished more quickly. Thus, a three-part plan that incorporates each element looks something like this:
- Prevention: Follow the tips we’ve discussed above to help prevent short circuit fires from happening in the first place.
- Containment: Your office building should be designed according to NFPA passive fire protection standards, including features like firewalls and compartmentalized design to prevent the fire from spreading.
- Suppression: If a fire does start, tools like fire extinguishers, sprinklers, and foam-based suppression systems should be available to extinguish it quickly.
All too often, short circuits are a hazard that no one sees coming, especially in environments like office buildings. By taking the right precautions and staying vigilant about electrical safety, you can make sure your office isn’t taken unaware by a potentially devastating electrical fire.
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