How to mitigate the risk of electrical fires

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A substantial number of fires each year are caused by the use of electrical equipment and installations. It is almost impossible to eliminate the risk completely, as electrical equipment is a vital part of most workplaces, but the risks can be mitigated in a variety of ways.

In addition to their duty to reduce the fire risk under fire safety legislation, employers also have a duty under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 to ensure that they are not exposing employees to danger and are providing a safe working environment.

Electrical leads and adaptors – some tips for safe use:

All too often there are not enough sockets for the appliances in use. Where possible the one socket, one plug, rule should be in force with extra sockets installed as required.

Where the provision of additional socket outlets is not practicable or possible or there is a temporary need to use an appliance or appliances, an extension lead may have a part to play, but the correct device should be employed, and it should be used safely.

Always ensure the extension is the correct rating for the load.  Some lightweight leads are only intended for low loads such as lights and have a maximum 5A rating and should only have a 5A fuse.

Extensions can have a variety of sockets – from as little as one to as many as ten or even twelve. By not having any more sockets than is absolutely needed this reduces the chance of misuse.

Cable length should also be appropriate to the task. Too long and there is a risk of tripping, damage, or coiling.  Too short, and there can be a strain on the internal connections.

The total current load should be calculated to ensure there is no overloading – e.g., a typical 13A extension should not have a combined load exceeding 3000W.

Cable damage should be avoided by not running it around sharp corners and providing cable protectors as required.

Extensions should not be daisy chained to each other as this increases the risk of overload.

Coiled reels should be unwound fully before use to avoid overheating . A part wound reel has a much lower maximum load.

Block adapters should be avoided where possible and unfused ones never used.

Electrical installation safety

Fixed permanent installations can be a risk too. All should comply with BS 7671 (The IET ‘Wiring Regulations’) the latest version of which requires arc fault detection devices (AFDDs).  The purpose of these is to mitigate the risk of fire in final circuits of a fixed installation due to the effect of arc fault currents not being picked up by RCDs.

Fixed installations should be subject to regular testing and inspection and an Electrical Installation Condition Report produced. Depending on the type of premises this can be required 1, 3, 5 or 10 yearly. Where unsatisfactory, remedial action should be carried out as per the report.

Rooms and cupboards used for electrical installations should be free from combustibles and electrical consumer units be of a non-combustible material or otherwise protected by a fire resisting enclosure. Even metal electrical boards should be clear of combustibles as whilst the casing won’t burn it can conduct heat.

Portable appliances

A Portable Appliance Testing regime should be in place for all equipment.  This involves regular visual inspection for signs of damage, overheating, incorrect fuses, etc and at a suitable interval a combined inspection and test also using a PAT machine to test earthing, continuity, and insulation.

Not all appliances require a full combined inspection and test and both visual inspection and combined test intervals vary by appliance and environment. HSE publication INDG236 provides useful guidance on this issue.

Ideally new equipment should be inspected and, where appropriate, tested due to the increase in faulty electrical equipment supplied in recent years.

An asset list of appliances and individual pass/fail labelling of appliances is normally a key part of the PAT regime.

 PV installations

Solar panels are becoming far more common in the bid to provide more sustainable energy. However, these installations can themselves present a fire risk and then an ongoing risk to firefighters due to the voltages associated with these facilities.

Any planned installation should ideally follow the detailed guidance in the RICS Authority guide RC62: Recommendations for fire safety with photovoltaic panel installations to ensure that most risks are designed out during the design and build process with facilities for isolation in an emergency.

Once in place hot works should be prohibited near the PV installation and maintenance should be undertaken on the installation in accordance with the installer’s instructions on an annual basis by competent electricians who are familiar with the form of installation and with appropriate access equipment.  This should ideally include thermographic surveys.

 What to do should fire occur with electrical equipment

Sounding the alarm, evacuating occupiers, and summoning the fire service are all essential steps. The electrical supply, if safe to do so, should be isolated – this makes fire fighting safer and can even contribute to extinguishing the fire as this can remove a source of heat.

When using an extinguisher, only one rated for direct use on electrical fires should be used such as CO2, Powder or Water Mist.

Fire Depot has been the UK's favourite fire safety supplier for over 50 years, we know the fire protection and prevention business inside out. Our experienced team can offer advice and guidance about any of our fire safety products. For expert help and advice, please contact the Fire Depot team on 0330 999 2233, email us at or visit to see our full range of fire safety products.

The information contained within this blog is provided solely for general informational and educational purposes and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. Before taking any actions based upon this information, we advise the reader to consult any and all relevant statutory or regulatory guidance and where felt necessary to consult a qualified fire or industry regulation professional. The use or reliance on any information contained herein is solely at the reader’s risk.