What you need to know about electrical fires

Apr 23, 2021

What is the most common cause of electrical fires in the workplace?


One of the most common causes of workplace fires is electrical faults.

Electrical fires tend to be caused by defective wiring, overloaded sockets or plugs, and equipment that is old and malfunctioning, which leads to equipment being overused and overwhelmed, leading to sparks that start a fire on combustible materials.

The reason that electrical fires are so common is that they can happen anywhere; be it offices, workshops and/or warehouses, factories, etc.

Sometimes the issue of cost comes into play, as businesses can be put off replacing technically functional but worn-out equipment.

Poorly installed and maintained electrical equipment can be a significant cause of accidental fires.

All electrical equipment should be installed and maintained in a safe manner by a competent person. If portable electrical equipment is used, including items brought into a workplace by staff, then your fire risk assessment should ensure that it is visually inspected and undergoes portable appliance testing (PAT) at intervals suitable for the type of equipment, and its frequency of use.

What are the main causes of fire?

  • Overheating cables and equipment
  • Incorrect installation or use of equipment
  • Damaged or inadequate insulation on cables or wiring
  • Combustible materials placed too close to electrical equipment
  • Sparking by electrical equipment
  • Lack of maintenance or testing

How do you put out an electrical fire?

The correct way to put out an electrical fire is to use a Co2 fire extinguisher. If there are no fire extinguishers handy, you can use a heavy fire blanket to smother the fire, depriving the fire of oxygen.

What class are electrical fires?

Electrical fires do not have a formal classification, as they can fall into any of the classifications - instead they display the symbol of an electric spark, which means that this particular extinguisher can extinguish fires which are caused by electrical equipment.

Electric fires are caused by electricity burning surrounding material that has been set alight by the electric current.

What do you do if an electrical appliance catches fire?


The procedures you should follow should a fire break out in your workplace are:

  • Raise the alarm
  • If possible, and safe to do so - turn off the electrical current
  • If not safe to do so, turn off the main switchboard
  • Use Co2 fire extinguisher if trained to do so on the electrical fire

It is worth noting that certain electrical apparatus maintain a lethal charge for some time, even after they have been switched off.

How can you avoid electrical fires?

To avoid electrical fires breaking out in the workplace, follow the fire safety tips:

  • Ensure all appliances are unplugged when not in use, to avoid overheating
  • Don't overload electrical equipment
  • Ensure the correct fuse ratings
  • Check insulation, earthing and electrical isolation requirements
  • Use extension cords temporarily; they are not designed to be used for prolonged periods
  • Make sure your office's electrical system is up to date
  • Don't plug in devices with damaged power cords
  • Check electrical products have the British/European safety mark
  • Ensure smoke alarms are fitted and checked regularly
  • Follow manufacturer's instructions when using a device or equipment
  • Don't leave appliances running overnight

All electrical installations should be regularly inspected by a competent electrical engineer appointed by you, or on your behalf, in accordance with the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EAW regulations). The use of low voltage equipment should conform to the requirements of the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994, including the requirement to be CE marked.

What are the signs of an electrical fire?

The signs to watch out for to indicate there is an electrical fire are:

  • Sparking, crackling, or buzzing outlets
  • Flickering lights
  • Loose receptacle connections
  • Electrical shocks
  • Hot, scorched outlets

Who should be trained in fire safety?

All employees in a workplace should ideally be trained in fire safety.

If you have fire extinguishers on the premises, your employees should be trained on how to use them in the situation of a fire.

Employers are legally required by law (The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005) to provide information, instruction and training to employees about fire precautions in the workplace.


For more information on fires in the workplace, and how you can protect your Northamptonshire business here:


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