Can a Short Circuit Cause a Fire?

It’s no secret that electricity is one of the most dangerous resources, be it in your workplace or your home. Electrical issues can result in disaster, damages, and even injury.

To mitigate these risks, it’s important to follow OSHA guidelines regarding electrical equipment in your workplace and other buildings. This includes using proper safety equipment, adhering to wire color codes, and labeling certain areas as hazardous for untrained personnel.

Even seemingly minor issues, such as a short circuit, can have major consequences. Short circuits can result in fires and even minor explosions. In fact, Industrial Safety Review revealed in a 2022 study that short circuits are “one of the leading causes of structural fires around the world.”

What Is a Short Circuit?

A short circuit occurs when a ‘hot wire,’ or a wire carrying electricity from the breaker panel to the switch, comes into contact with a ‘neutral wire,’ causing the current to jump from the hot wire to the neutral one. A neutral wire is a wire that takes the unused electricity and current, then sends it back to the breaker panel.

Common Causes for Short Circuits

There are several reasons why short circuits occur, and many can be out of your control. A few examples include:

  • Pests or vermin chewing through wires
  • Other equipment (nails, screws, etc.) come into contact with the wires
  • Electrical cable sheathing deteriorates
  • Surges or build-up of electricity
  • Water or other fluids come into contact with the wiring

Some of these situations can be avoided with proper workplace precautions, consistent and thorough maintenance, and up-to-date training.

How to Avoid Short Circuits

Short circuits aren’t inevitable–while there are situations that can occur out of your control, there are several practices you can implement to lessen your chances of a circuit shorting in your workplace.

Maintain the Circuit Breaker

Your circuit breaker is designed to protect your electrical system from short circuits when currents become unstable. To keep them fully operational, they need to be maintained and in good condition.

To maintain your circuit breaker, understand what each breaker controls, clean the panel regularly with dry cloth, and check for any cracks, loose fits, or other damages regularly.

Check Your Appliances

Whether it’s your break room microwave or your manufacturing equipment out on the floor, always check your appliances and electrical equipment before plugging them in. Check your appliance to see if there is any of the following:

  • Exposed circuitry
  • Cracks in the appliances
  • Damaged wires, casings, or cords

If you notice these damages, have a professional repair them before attempting to plug in the appliance.

Check Outlets Before Use

Just like appliances, your outlets can also cause a short circuit. Behind each outlet is a box filled with wires, and short circuits can be caused by faulty wiring, loose box connections, and an aging outlet. Even a burnt outlet can cause a fire, so examine your outlets before each use.

Conduct Yearly Electrical Inspections

Conducting annual electrical inspections is one of the top wiring safety basics your workplace can follow. These inspections allow qualified professionals to fully examine your electrical system, prevent short circuits, and provide solutions to resolve any other issues they may identify.

Short circuits are a common issue in both workplace and residential settings, but that doesn’t mean the risk of these electrical issues is lessened! Short circuits can be extremely dangerous, but they can be avoided.

By maintaining your circuit breaker, checking any and all appliances and outlets, and conducting annual electrical inspections, you can keep your workplace safe and operational. For more tips and tricks on keeping your workplace safe, including free training, resources, and more, contact Creative Safety Supply today!


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