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Preventative measures Electrical fires make up a large proportion of all UK fires each year, so John Newbury looks here at how new technology is tackling them


A


CCORDING TO Home Office figures, around 25,000 electrical fi res occur in the UK each year. In fact, over 70% of all fi res


are electrically related, causing injury to 8,890 people and over £41m of damage to homes and businesses. Electrical fi res occur for a variety of reasons including issues with house wiring or appliance failure, as well as overloading in electrical outlets, sockets, distribution boards and extension cords. Other common causes of electrical fires are loose connections and faulty appliances. With around half of all accidental domestic


fi res in the UK caused by electricity (and over half of these starting in the kitchen due to faults with cooking appliances), it sometimes feels as though none of us are safe in our own homes. One thing that electrical fi res have in common


is resistive heating. This is where generation of excessive heat results in the ignition of adjacent combustible materials and, ultimately, fire. This abnormal heating of connections and components can develop long before a fi re even starts, and is the root cause of so many avoidable and potentially life threatening electrical fi res.


24 MAY 2019 www.frmjournal.com Step change


A report by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)1


estimates that only 20% of all


electrical fires could be prevented by the presence of a residual current device (RCD), which still allows the majority of electrical fires to occur, with devastating effects. The source of ignition in electrical fi res within low voltage installations is excessive heat. Circuit breakers, RCDs and residual current breakers with overcurrent (RCBOs) are unable to detect this heat, which is generated at points of connection, and these therefore fail to respond to this major cause of fi re until ignition has occurred. RCDs are designed principally to prevent a person from being electrocuted, though they can reduce the incidence and severity of fi re associated with earth faults in electrical systems, equipment and components by limiting the magnitude and duration of current flow. A common mode of failure of insulation is surface tracking, resulting in fire ignition.


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