In the era of WFH manpower in facility management, just a simple undetected electrical spark can destroy your warehouse and business.

Pandemic control measures such as lockdowns have raised questions of how we design and build more resilient, efficient, and sustainable infrastructures.

Facility managers, building owners and other stakeholders continue to be challenged due to restrictions on the amount of manpower that can visit sites. With fewer people on-site, one of the most critical risks in such situations is electrical fires.

In Singapore, for example, the Civil Defence Force recorded 2,862 fires in its 2019 annual report, citing the second highest cause of those fires as electrical in origin. Statistically that amounted to 23.1% of all the fires in the country that year—roughly equal to two electrical fires happening every day.

For some business owners, fire safety may not rank high on their list of priorities and may just seem like a set of regulations to be followed perfunctorily. But the overall number of fire incidents in Singapore have increased by 7.8% in 2019 compared to 2018: 241 of the 496 fire incidents across non-residential premises occurred at commercial facilities.

Consider this: according to one insurance firm, from 2013 to 2018 across 470,000 global insurance claims, the largest financial losses came from fires and explosions.

Especially now, with much of the workforce working from elsewhere, it will be too late once a fire happens. Fire safety must be taken seriously.

Causes of electrical fires

In commercial and industrial settings, the causes of electrical fires often boil down to deteriorating equipment. As equipment degrades, faults start to occur, which may then escalate into serious electric fires or even arc flash explosions.

Vibrations or the improper installation of cabling, bus bars, and withdrawable circuit-breakers can all cause the breakdown of equipment. Apart from equipment wear and tear, connection surfaces can also be damaged over time due to corrosion, excessive pressure, and friction. These may result in the faulty power connections in medium- and low- voltage installations.

Fires, arc flashes and explosions can occur, with the potential to seriously damage surrounding equipment. The loss of business continuity can lead to lost opportunities and delayed production as well as a damaged reputation.

While financial losses can be a major blow, having employees getting hurt due to fires can be catastrophic. Some companies may not be able to recover from this setback.

Modern fire-prevention solutions

Many companies are that the first step towards reducing electrical fires is educating and training employees about this risk. Implementing a proper maintenance schedule is another vital step, and businesses should ideally be working towards preventive maintenance rather than reactive maintenance.

Reactive maintenance seeks to resolve the issue after it has occurred, which can lead to loss of business continuity; preventive maintenance will help to ensure the problem is resolved before it can cause any serious issues.

For businesses that want to be truly prepared for electrical fires, a robust preventive maintenance plan can be implemented by adopting a data-based, system-wide approach. This approach aims to mitigate electrical failure risk and reduce downtime by proactively identifying issues inside your equipment in real-time. This can be achieved with a network of sensors within the equipment that sends data back to a central monitoring hub.

Some IoT solutions that we have developed can provide continuous real-time thermal monitoring of critical electrical infrastructure: they empower facility managers with 24/7 insights into the condition of valuable corporate assets. This reduces the need for operators to constantly be on-site, thereby lowering manpower requirements and providing a constant stream of updates that immediately alert the operators should any abnormalities arise.

The benefits of investing in such monitoring solutions are considerable, with businesses recovering the cost of the investment within three to five years. But most importantly, these solutions can help with increasing personnel safety and preventing loss of life, which is priceless.