The main causes of fires originating from the use of electrical equipment are:
overheating cables and electrical equipment due to overloading;
damaged or inadequate electrical insulation on cables or wiring;
flammable materials being placed too close to electrical equipment which may give off heat when operating normally or become hot due to a fault;
arcing or sparking by electrical equipment; and
the use of inappropriate or unsafe electrical equipment in areas where flammable atmospheres might be present, such as flammable liquid stores.
Explosions can occur if switchgear, power cables or motors are subject to a flow of electrical current which exceeds the maximum they were designed to work with. All electrical systems must be designed, installed and maintained to prevent placing people in danger. There are a number of British Standards which offer guidance on how electrical systems and electrical equipment should be constructed and maintained. British Standard 7671 also offers practical advice on systems operating at up to 1000 V. Only suitably trained/qualified people should be allowed to install, maintain or otherwise work on electrical systems or equipment.
Make sure that individual heating appliances, particularly those which are portable, are used safely. Common causes of fire include:
failing to follow the manufacturer's instructions when using or changing cylinders of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG);
placing flammable materials on top of heating appliances;
placing portable heaters too close to flammable materials; and
careless refilling of heaters using paraffin.
Supplementary heating used during power failures or in exceptionally cold weather should be checked before being used and regularly serviced. If you use such appliances on a regular basis, it is better to use fixed convector heaters rather than portable heaters.
Smoking and the provision of ashtrays
It is better to allow people to smoke in places specifically set aside for that purpose rather than attempting to ban smoking in the workplace entirely. This can help to avoid unauthorised smoking in hidden or unsupervised areas such as store cupboards; this has led to serious fires. However, you should identify those areas where it is unsafe to smoke because there are materials which can be easily ignited. These areas should be clearly marked as no smoking areas. The careless disposal of smokers' materials is one of the main causes of fire. Make sure that metal waste bins, ashtrays etc are provided in areas where smoking is permitted, and that these are emptied regularly. Ashtrays should not be emptied into containers which can be easily ignited; nor should their contents be disposed of with general rubbish.