We’ve all heard tragic stories of a house or business going up in flames due to electrical wiring issues. Sadly, incidents like these are all too common. In fact, the National Fire Prevention Association found that electrical fires or malfunctions were the second leading cause of fires in residential homes from 2012-2016. Imagine what that means for an industry like ours that works with highly combustible and flammable materials like wood dust, glue and more on a regular basis. In the wood industry, electrical safety requires regular attention to prevent fatalities and injuries, as well as property damage and business interruption.
Attention to electrical safety is particularly critical in the winter months, as the NFPA reported that nearly 40 percent of electrical fires occurred between November and February. In the colder weather, the use of generators and alternative heating sources at workplaces only exacerbate the problem. That said, we figured now was an ideal time to go over some tips for electrical and heating system safety. First, let us deliver a reminder that electrical installation, service and repairs should be conducted only by trained and qualified electricians to prevent the risk or electrocution and other injury.
Three key areas to review when evaluating the safety of electrical system and heating sources are electrical panel boxes, extension cords and generators and alternative heating sources.
Electrical Panel Boxes:
- Allow plenty of clearance around panel boxes – at least 36 inches – and do not allow inventory or other items to lean against the box at any time.
- Keep panel doors closed to prevent wood dust accumulation. If sawdust is present in your facility, panel boxes should be cleaned daily.
- Clearly label the box and the circuit breakers inside. Use blank cartridges to fill open space on the panel.
- Be sure to look into the root cause of any circuit breaker trip and correct the problem. Do not tape breakers or leave the box open to cool.
- Use extension cords only temporarily. Equipment that is used on a regular basis should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. Extension cords should never be “piggy-backed” on to another extension cord.
- Make sure extension cords are UL listed and approved for their application whether indoor or outdoor etc. Heavy duty extension cords should be used in industrial and commercial applications.
- Minimize the use of extension cords on the facility floor, particularly in high-traffic areas. Cords should be unplugged from outlets when not in use. Overhead retractable extension cord reels are often a good alternative for these areas.
- Ensure cords are in good working condition, without frays or other damage. Damaged cords should be replaced and not repaired.
Generators and Alternative Heating Sources:
- Use only heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cords with generators and only outdoors.
- Make sure to allow plenty of space for airflow around a generator.
- If needed, operate the generator under a canopy-type structure to keep the generator from getting wet.
- If using a wood stove, maintain a 36-inch clearance or more and place a layer of sand or firebrick in the bottom of the firebox.
- If using a space heater, use only heavy-duty extension cords.
- Never substitute the specified fuel for your device.
- Warming barrels should be prohibited.
For more information on electrical and heating safety, review the safety and loss prevention guides in our Loss Control Center. You can also contact your local PLM loss control representative, who can schedule a call or visit, if appropriate, to provide a safety and loss prevention assessment of your business.