Opinions Wed, 17 Feb 2010

Fighting Electrical Fire Outbreaks is a collective responsibility

Electricity has become an essential part of our daily lives to the extent that sometimes we feel we cannot live without it. Take a look around your home, work place, church and recreational centres and you will realise how we have inadvertently made electricity an integral part of our whole life.

One should not therefore be surprised that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of our country is significantly tied to power supply. It is the lifeline of our industries and all other commercial activities.

Despite the significant role electricity plays in our daily lives, we rarely do think about how destructive it could be when not well taken care of. If one takes a look at the house or the office right now, one will realise the number of things being run on electricity without appropriate or close monitoring. The fact is, though we pay less attention to such items, it takes one of those items to spark an electrical fire and put the whole house or office in danger.

Current Fire Outbreak Statistics from the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) for the year 2009 reveals that as at January 25th 2010, electrical fires totaled 218, constituting 8.4% of 2,584 total fire outbreak.

It is my personal belief that the 218 electrical fires could have been prevented if we had done the right things because these sort of fires do not just happen instantly without prior warning signals. Sam Sowah Oblejumah, Head of Public Relations at the GNFS agreed with me that with a little bit of caution on our parts, we can all help minimise or possibly eliminate such fire outbreaks since they do not just happen.

Preventing electrical fire outbreaks should be everyone’s responsibility instead of hoping that the government will come out with policies and frameworks to guide us in that direction. We have become so much used to depending on the government to the extent that some people now want to rely on the government to organise clean up campaigns before they will clean their own backyards and surrounding gutters. This kind of attitude will not take us far.

The Ghana Electrical Contractors’ Association (GECA) took upon itself the responsibility of alerting the general public, particularly those who may require the services of electrical technicians to ensure that they deal with qualified technicians. Individuals or corporate bodies with little or no knowledge on electrical materials have also been advised to seek the assistance of electrical engineers or consultants in purchasing electrical materials.

The directive from GECA I believe addresses the major cause of electrical fires in our homes and offices. It is even now more relevant looking at the dramatic growth of the building industry within the last decade in this country. Admittedly, the increase in the construction of new buildings has resulted in demand for artisans, electrical engineers and other technicians identified with the building industry.

We should therefore not be surprised to see the influx of untrained and unqualified artisans, technicians and a host of others who are ready to take advantage of unsuspecting customers. Let us not be surprised that some customers willingly go for such persons to cut cost though they know very well such persons are not qualified.

Some of the devastating results of the shoddy work and the related use of inferior materials and contracting of unqualified contractors could definitely be the cause of many fire outbreaks in the country.

Studies of electrical fires in homes show that many problems are associated with improper installation of electrical devices by do-it-yourselfers or unqualified persons. Common errors that can lead to fires include the use of improperly rated devices such as switches or receptacles and loose connections at these devices. Both can lead to overheating and arcing that can start fires.

I think corporate bodies should begin to give much attention to their electrical connections and appliances. One suggestion I will put across here is that corporate organisations must possibly employ trained electricians who will solely be in charge of electrical connections, gadgets and accessories. These officers must regularly check all appliances before, during and after work and write reports. The cost of this preventive measure cannot be compared to the damages electrical fire could cause. So why not consider this?

It is also in place for our religious bodies to adopt the same approach. Faulty electrical instruments can cause electrical fires or even electrocution in the course of church activities. Need we wait to see several deaths in this regard before our religious organisations task well trained and qualified persons to examine their electrical gadgets and connections before, during and after church activities?

Back at home, it will be very helpful for all of us to adopt some practical steps that will help in preventing electrical fire outbreaks.

One practice I have become used to and can share here is that anytime I am about to step out of the room, I stand by the door and consider what could cause electrical spark in the room in my absence. By so doing, I make sure every electrical gadget is put off and unplugged from the socket taking into consideration the recent spate of power outage. The only gadget that is kept on is the fridge which has its own socket. You will be amazed how this works.

Sometimes you may have to use an extension cord to plug things in. If you have to use one, be sure not to plug too many things in it at once. Overloading an extension cord with too many appliances can cause it to become overheated, which can cause an electrical house fire. Extension cords are a common cause of electrical fires. You must be careful to use only extension cords that are rated for the power used by the device they are powering. Extension cords should never be used as a long term solution to the need for another receptacle. Extension cords must never be run inside walls or under rugs or furniture. Extension cords can get warm in use and must be able to dissipate this heat or they can start a fire.

Also, whenever you are removing an electrical cord from a wall socket, remove it carefully. Be careful you do not pull it out of the socket by pulling on the cord.

Do not make the mistake of running electrical cords under carpet. They may get trampled and become overheated. Please take note that when the electrical cords are starting to look worn with cracks, and wires are frayed, it is time to get rid of them.

One major area I know the government can step in with respect to this battle against electrical fires is by devising mechanisms to halt the influx of cheap and inferior electrical cables and gadgets into the country. This action apart from helping the fight against electrical fires will also boost our indigenous businesses in the electrical and telecommunication cables manufacturing sector.

Currently, there are three companies in this country that produce high quality electrical and telecommunication cables and other electrical accessories which can match all form of international standards. The advantage is that these companies, namely Nexans Kabelmetal (GH) Ltd., Tropical Cable and Conductor and Reroy Cables Limited can tailor their products to suit our local electrical demands.

So long as there are inferior electrical cables and accessories on the market, government has a leading role in the fight against electrical fire outbreaks.

Frank Agyemang.
Columnist: Agyemang, Frank