As electrical faults are a common cause of fires, organisations are legally required to maintain their electrical systems and equipment in a safe condition. Bill Sulman, Chairman of the Public Sector Practice at Aon, explains how thermographic testing can help organisations meet these legal requirements and manage their fire risk.
Whether it’s a faulty appliance, an overloaded circuit or badly maintained wiring, electrical faults are a major factor in many of the serious fires that happen each year in the UK. Ensuring the correct risk management system is in place is essential.
A key part of this is periodic inspections and tests of any fixed wiring and equipment. While these will help to identify any faults before they cause a fire, these inspections can be supplemented by thermographic testing to ensure a robust approach to managing the risk of fire.
What is thermography?
Thermography, which is also known as infrared scanning, is a method of inspecting electrical and mechanical equipment by obtaining heat distribution pictures.
Electrical systems generate heat as a result of electrical resistance. But, when there is a fault within the system, for instance loose connections, poor insulation or a worn bearing in the case of mechanical equipment, this resistance will increase, pushing up the temperature.
Therefore, by observing the heat patterns in operational system components, faults can be identified and their seriousness evaluated.
When it is undertaken by suitably qualified personnel using the latest equipment, and in conjunction with an effective management system, it can play a major part in fire risk management.
There are many benefits of thermography. First and foremost, detecting electrical faults early can reduce the risk of fire. This will help to create a safer working environment but will also improve insurers’ perception of the organisation’s risk, potentially resulting in improved terms.
Detecting faults in electrical systems and appliances can also help to improve performance and extend their life. Left undetected, the increase in resistance caused by a small fault can lead to other components failing too.
There can also be financial benefits as a result of the savings in energy. A faulty electrical system won’t function efficiently, potentially affecting performance and pushing up energy consumption.
Thermographic testing is also non-destructive. Tests can be conducted without physical contact so there’s no interruption to operations. Similarly, trend analysis can be used to enable deterioration in condition to be monitored and remedied in a timely manner, avoiding unexpected downtimes.
The following steps are recommended to benefit from thermographic imaging as part of your fire risk management programme.
- Undertake appropriate surveys of your key premises’ electrical distribution systems. The suggested frequency of thermographic imaging inspections depends on the age and condition of the wiring installation and equipment, the electrical load placed on the system and the advice of the inspecting electrician. As a minimum, annually is recommended.
- Identify and prioritise areas of concern. Reports can often be produced while the inspecting electrician is on site.
- Work with thermal imaging experts to implement required changes and manage on-going monitoring.
Making thermographic testing part of the risk management programme alongside periodic inspections will help to reduce the risk of fire, making the workplace safer as well as driving savings and efficiencies.