Over 40% of fire accidents in buildings are caused due to electrical issues, says M.A. Siraj

Electricity is making forays into ever newer sectors of our lives. New appliances, gizmos and gadgets are increasing the load on the electrical infrastructure installed when the buildings were constructed. Lack of upgradation of their capacity leads to fire accidents due to short circuit. Statistics on fire accidents in buildings attribute 40% of these accidents to electrical issues. With urbanization set to expand and embrace wider areas and more people in its fold, issues of safety and efficiency need to be addressed both in old buildings and upcoming housing enclaves.

According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in 2015, 2,255 persons died due to accidental fires caused by electrical short circuits, a 25% rise from the previous year and a 48 per cent jump from 2011. As per the data provided by the Indian Copper Association India (ICA-India), the year 2016-17 witnessed 11,444 electrical accidents. Of this, 4,799 caused deaths while 2,309 resulted in injuries and yet others involved deaths of 4,296 animals.

Workplace accidents report nearly 13 electrocution deaths on an average day in India. This is the highest in the world. The annual average of electric-related deaths in workplaces in the United Kingdom and the United States is 8 and 82 respectively. The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) data attributes nearly 40% of deaths at the workplace to electrical issues.

Defective systems

The CEA data relates 42% of fires to defective electrical systems. Most short-circuit fires are triggered by loose or improper wiring, substandard electrical fittings, and poor maintenance of wiring. The National Building Code 2016 tackles the issue of fatalities caused due to short circuits and lists regulations to prevent electrical hazards. But inadequate awareness about the code and general laxity in its implementation has been responsible for the apathy towards safety norms while laying down electrical installation which are generally the last among the stages taken up during development of properties. Even more galling is the fact that compliance with the National Electrical Code is voluntary rather than mandatory.

According to Amol Kalsekar, Chief Manager, Building Wire of the International Copper Association-India, the situation is more serious with regard to old buildings in cities where electrical infrastructure has not been upgraded in sync with new load for manifold uses. While old homes generally had fans, fridges, geysers, stoves and iron-boxes, the new age households within the same premises have acquired computers, cellphones, cameras, hot-water bags, hair dryers, massagers, which all need to be plugged in for frequent charging.

Even microwave ovens and treadmills and possibly air-conditioners and humidifiers are also becoming commonplace, putting additional burden on the system.

Degraded insulation

According to statistics from ICA-India, among all the structures in which fire accidents were reported, about 35% occurred in old buildings. Last January, the Regional Transport Authority premises, an Asaf Jahi era structure, in Hyderabad was gutted in a fire that broke out due to short circuit. Apparently, the edifice, more than a century old, had not seen upgrading of the wiring. The mishaps are generally caused due to increase in load, fatigued installations, degraded insulation and poor maintenance.

However, these are not the only issues when it comes to short circuits. ICA-India says a quarter of the mishaps could be attributed to code violation, inadequate wire sizing, and incompetent circuit designing. An untrained workforce and unskilled workers too account for 20 per cent of such incidents while a similar percentage is responsible for poor maintenance and obsolescence of components. Some of them coming as they do from subcontractors keen on cost-cutting, completely ignore the safety norms.

No headway

The Central Electrical Authority lays down appointment of State Chief Electrical Inspectors and came out with regulations in 2016 which requires States to appoint a group of chartered electrical safety engineers to check the health of electrical installations in buildings. But till date not a single State has appointed them. It also provided for inspection of high-rise buildings at least once in a year by the Chief Electrical Inspector. A Standing Committee was also constituted early last year to immediately take up the inspection work. Yet no headway has been reported in this direction.

Workshops

The ICA-India, set up in 1998, has been propagating safe wiring practices in the building construction sector with increased awareness of power quality through the Asia Power Quality Initiative platform. Workshops are held across India in collaboration with several bodies. It has also been publishing training manuals for in-depth knowledge on the benefits of copper and its use in technology.

It has so far trained 15,000 electricians and electrical contractors through 245 seminars on “Electrical Safety in Buildings” in local languages. It has also completed familiarisation campaign for the National Electrical Code of India in 16 cities.

The intervention by the ICA-India was instrumental in the Union government specifying copper wire with minimum 1.5 sq. mm. size for internal wiring in standard Bill of Material (BOM) under the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana for providing free electricity conection to one crore households in one lakh villages.

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