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Living with an Electrical Fire Risk

Discuss all things fire related.

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Messy
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Living with an Electrical Fire Risk

Post by Messy » Sun Apr 07, 2019 11:35 am

I have a difficult issue that's dropped on my lap

It's been discovered that 800 light fittings across all multiple staircases of a huge office building have corroded and crumbling insulation. A sample of 10.fittings suggests 100% of the light fittings are not fit for purpose and a fire risk. Some of the sample showed evidence of heat possibly by electrical tracking thru the brittle insulation

Each of the 10 staircases are needed for the occupancy of the building with no capacity for losing one at a time to allow replacement work during the working day

Add to that, access will not be possible using towers as the odd shaped staircases need conventional scaffolding to get to some fittings. So even night working might be problematic as build and strike times will be long. In any case, this building is in use 24/7 (to a lesser extent out of hours).

I cannot sanction a staircase being taken out during working hours and it will take about 6 months of weekend working - a long time to live with these risky fittings

Reducing the occupancy of the building is not an option, so we may just have to wait until nearly Xmas before the works are complete

Any views? Have i missed an option?

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Re: Living with an Electrical Fire Risk

Post by Jack Kane » Sun Apr 07, 2019 2:15 pm

I don't think there's an easy option for this Messy. I realise you're saying reducing the occupancy or closing a staircase aren't options, but it sounds to me like this could be a necessity. If there was one light fighting in this condition, we would expect it to be isolated and repaired or replaced without delay. Now that it's known that 100% of the fittings need fixed, surely the same should be done?

Can some of the workforce operate from home or a temporary office space?

What about increasing fire detection systems / processes?

It does sound a nightmare situation. One of those where accepting that the fix will likely cause significant disruption and costs.

I'm interested to hear other comments.
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Re: Living with an Electrical Fire Risk

Post by Andyblue » Sun Apr 07, 2019 3:47 pm

An interesting scenario. We know something has to be done to replace the fittings etc. Whether that is done today or next year is less of an issue compared to how it is done. I'd agree with Jack Kane, in parallel, to increase the temp protections such as additional electrical monitoring through fuses, trips or other devices, increasing fire monitoring, evacuation systems etc.
At time stage we will have to isolate some or all of a stairwell. It may overload another stairwell in the short-term, but that seems inevitable as the alternative to a full closure of the building.
Have you identified why the failures have occurred across the whole system? Inappropriate fittings, environmental, operational or other causes. If not, then we run the risk that our newer fittings will suffer the same fate. Interested to read on other solutions.

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Re: Living with an Electrical Fire Risk

Post by Messy » Sun Apr 07, 2019 4:21 pm

Thanks for your replies.

The building houses 5,500 staff, so it will not be possible to find temporary office spaces for more than 20% of them. Plus, some are involved in processes that cannot easily be set up elsewhere.

The fire alarm system is already cat L1 so full detection everywhere, so no improvements possible.

These staircase lights are on 24/7/365 (as i wouldnt let them be on PIRs) and have been in place decades. So it's just wear and tear worsened by the fact they are never off

I have decided today to remove 5 of the more accessible light fittings and replace them (if they need replacement is necessary ) with temporary lighting and wiring. I will send the 5 sample light fittings to an ex colleague who is a competent electrical engineer and fire investigator. Plus I may invite him to site. His brief will be to determine the level of fire risk and timeline/timescale for the entire job to be completed

This will enable us to plan the speed of replacement and control measures, presumably up to evacuation of the building or reduction in the occupancy.

Phew. It's going to be an interesting week!!

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Re: Living with an Electrical Fire Risk

Post by bernicarey » Sun Apr 07, 2019 6:58 pm

How about isolating the affected circuits, thus removing the fire risk, and install temporary surface mounted lighting?
Even if some or all of the temporary lighting is fed from the Ring Main... this'll be the point where you tell me there's no sockets in the corridors/stairwell :lol:
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Re: Living with an Electrical Fire Risk

Post by Messy » Sun Apr 07, 2019 8:05 pm

bernicarey wrote:
Sun Apr 07, 2019 6:58 pm
How about isolating the affected circuits, thus removing the fire risk, and install temporary surface mounted lighting?
Even if some or all of the temporary lighting is fed from the Ring Main... this'll be the point where you tell me there's no sockets in the corridors/stairwell :lol:
It does sound a bit like an exam question doesn't it with all the problems all on one site!? :roll:

There are sockets on the staircases and that may well be an option. Perhaps 110v festoon lighting used on building sites draped up each staircase. There would be a few issues in a small area as that part of the building is listed, and provision for emergency lighting would be required.

If this was the way forward I would want the transformer for temporary lighting wired directly into the ring main rather than on sockets. Its a pain, but a much more inexpensive method of keeping people safe and the business going clapclap

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Re: Living with an Electrical Fire Risk

Post by Essex » Wed Apr 10, 2019 12:17 pm

This is a very simple fix.

Install new lighting circuits at a height that can be installed from ground level. I would install steel conduit from the switch room all the way up the staircase at about 2000mm fffl.

Throughout these works the existing lighting could stay on until the new lighting was commissioned then it could be isolated and stripped out.

This will save you a fortune on scaffolding and leave you with an installation that is actually maintainable rather than at silly heights.

I would be checking the last electrical inspection to see if these staircases were actually tested properly. Cables do not corrode overnight.
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Re: Living with an Electrical Fire Risk

Post by Essex » Wed Apr 10, 2019 12:19 pm

bernicarey wrote:
Sun Apr 07, 2019 6:58 pm
How about isolating the affected circuits, thus removing the fire risk, and install temporary surface mounted lighting?
Even if some or all of the temporary lighting is fed from the Ring Main... this'll be the point where you tell me there's no sockets in the corridors/stairwell :lol:
This would be risky. The emergency lighting would still need to comply and doing so as a temporary install would be very difficult.
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Re: Living with an Electrical Fire Risk

Post by bernicarey » Wed Apr 10, 2019 3:20 pm

Essex wrote:
Wed Apr 10, 2019 12:19 pm
bernicarey wrote:
Sun Apr 07, 2019 6:58 pm
How about isolating the affected circuits, thus removing the fire risk, and install temporary surface mounted lighting?
Even if some or all of the temporary lighting is fed from the Ring Main... this'll be the point where you tell me there's no sockets in the corridors/stairwell :lol:
This would be risky. The emergency lighting would still need to comply and doing so as a temporary install would be very difficult.
Why would it be risky?
Are you talking about the main lighting or choosing to introduce the EL into the equation ?
Messy hasn't mentioned EL circuits, and yes of course those would need to comply.
What's difficult about installing temporary EL equipment?
There's plenty of choice on the market.
We had an issue with EL circuits in a building I worked in around 15 years ago; they installed temporary units connected to the ring main until proper works could be planned. They just used those "battery pack with flood lamps" type of units. All installed in a couple of days, while proper works were put out to tender and financed.

I'm assuming at this point that the problem has been discovered during a scheduled inspection, unless the 1st one was noticed on a random lamp unit change.
I do wonder what the rest of the wiring in the building is like though. .scratch
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Re: Living with an Electrical Fire Risk

Post by Essex » Wed Apr 10, 2019 4:55 pm

bernicarey wrote:
Wed Apr 10, 2019 3:20 pm
Essex wrote:
Wed Apr 10, 2019 12:19 pm
bernicarey wrote:
Sun Apr 07, 2019 6:58 pm
How about isolating the affected circuits, thus removing the fire risk, and install temporary surface mounted lighting?
Even if some or all of the temporary lighting is fed from the Ring Main... this'll be the point where you tell me there's no sockets in the corridors/stairwell :lol:
This would be risky. The emergency lighting would still need to comply and doing so as a temporary install would be very difficult.
Why would it be risky?
Are you talking about the main lighting or choosing to introduce the EL into the equation ?
Messy hasn't mentioned EL circuits, and yes of course those would need to comply.
What's difficult about installing temporary EL equipment?
There's plenty of choice on the market.
We had an issue with EL circuits in a building I worked in around 15 years ago; they installed temporary units connected to the ring main until proper works could be planned. They just used those "battery pack with flood lamps" type of units. All installed in a couple of days, while proper works were put out to tender and financed.

I'm assuming at this point that the problem has been discovered during a scheduled inspection, unless the 1st one was noticed on a random lamp unit change.
I do wonder what the rest of the wiring in the building is like though. .scratch
I thought it a sensible assumption that the staircase would have emergency lighting also. I cannot see any reason why it would not have. That would be an interesting FRA to read if so.

It would be risky as the temporary installation would still need to meet BS5266. Yes you can just chick up some battery back up flood lights but I would bet my mortgage it would not comply. I certainly would not recommend anyone installing an emergency lighting system not to BS5266. Then if the worst happens the authorities would be then looking for the person that said it would be fine.

Wasn’t the lack of compliant emergency lighting an aggravating factor at Grendfell?
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Re: Living with an Electrical Fire Risk

Post by bernicarey » Wed Apr 10, 2019 7:49 pm

Messy never mentioned the condition of the EL.

However, if you wish to go down that route, even though it wasn't part of the question, and we assume the EL is also an issue for whatever reason.....
If we decide the existing installation is dangerous, then we must do whatever is reasonably practicable to mitigate the hazard.

Having a properly designed, costed and installed system will take a relatively long period, eg, many weeks/months or years.
Installing temporary units could be done in hours/days, whilst waiting for the final solution.

A lot of BS5266 is generic, and you'll be hard pushed to find anywhere where it says, 'must'; like most other BS it says 'should'. But I'm not going to analyse 160 pages of BS here.

So what's best to fix the problem NOW? To make it safe to carry on using the building. ...
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Re: Living with an Electrical Fire Risk

Post by Jack Kane » Wed Apr 10, 2019 8:14 pm

[smilie=ot.gif]

Back on track please ;)


Messy wrote:
Sun Apr 07, 2019 4:21 pm
Phew. It's going to be an interesting week!!
Messy, how's that week been going then? :D
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