Danger lurks in innocent nooks
Watch out, that wobbly plug you have always ignored holds the potential to spark off a mighty disaster
You usually need a match to start a fire. Sometimes it only takes some carelessness.
How many times do we end up taping up a frayed iron box wire, only to have it spark a few days later? How many times have you run screaming at your child just in time to stop him from putting his curious fingers into the electrical socket?
When the day's newspaper lands in your lap and you read of a fire at a house that killed someone, you tend to sit back and reassure yourself: "This will never happen to me."
But watch out. That innocent-looking wobbly plug or that vague smell of burning plastic you can't trace may be danger lurking in your own home. There's no need to panic. But there is need for some precaution.
"On the home front, it is a widely known fact that the two biggest causes of accidents are poor electrical factors and LPG-related problems," says R.A. Venkitachalam, MD, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) India Pvt. Ltd. UL, a product safety certification organisation, tests over 18,000 categories of products ranging from laptops and table fans to medical equipment and building material to fire protection gear. Post 9/11, their lab also tested the World Trade Center's building material and floor replica to find out why the towers didn't hold up.
"Most often fires and other accidents occur because of the poor quality of electrical products, or because products are poorly used and precautions not taken," he further explains. In a city such as Bangalore where people are building and buying apartments a dime a dozen, checking out the safety of what will be your home is important. In most cases, basics such as a wide staircase are not in place, making escape in case of a fire almost impossible. "We haven't done a formal audit in Bangalore, but from observations I would say that there has been an improvement in Bangalore's large apartments in terms of compliance to the National Building Code. But I would still give a maximum of four on a scale of 10." All underground parking spaces mandate that sprinklers be installed. But how many such parking spaces, even in shopping malls, have them?
Bangalore has seen a spate of fires in the last few months the most recent being the blaze at a pub on St. Mark's Road and the fire at the airport. The memories of the ghastly circus fire years ago keeps revisiting us too.
Glassy façade buildings have sprung up all over the city to house modern office complexes especially of the IT and BPO industry where wiring is a key component. "Most of these buildings are of good quality with a good level of compliance. But that's probably because the MNCs operating them have put pressures to comply. It may not be from awareness as much as from a demand," says Venkitachalam.
But he does admit that call centres and other MNCs are perhaps the only ones that even practise fire drills and teach employees the usage of fire extinguishers. Of course maintenance is the key question and constant checks need to be done of fire fighting and detecting equipment, he says, or it may be the case of the fire-fighters reaching a disaster site on time only to discover that the hydrant doesn't have water! "All fire detection and abatement equipment must be activated and checked every six months. Evacuation must be practised. It's also not surprising that in many offices there will be a fire exit, but with a filing cabinet stacked against it!" Theatres, marriage halls, shopping malls, schools and colleges, factories all places where people gather in large numbers need adequate number of exits and large ones at that.
The ISI mark often indicates the compliance for electrical products, says Venkitachalam, but this often indicates a product performance standard rather than a safety standard.
UL's listing has been predominantly for the North American market, but Indian manufacturers who export to the U.S. and manufacturers of IT equipment and fire protection equipment have been insisting on being UL-listed.
Now the company is busy conducting awareness campaigns about safety in schools, where all learning begins.
Watch out if this happens
If the TV screen or computer monitor shrinks or wavers or the lights flicker when a large appliance is turned on, it means the house needs additional electrical capacity.
The power goes off every time the clothes dryer starts to spin. There may be a circuit overload.
Anytime you get a shock at any one point, it means the grounding is inadequate and there may be more to come.
An extension cord in one of the bedroom socket emits sparks. Remember that extension cords are only for temporary use.
If too many appliances are plugged into a single outlet, it means there aren't enough in the house that are spaced out at regular intervals, and you have an overload.
Hot discoloured receptacles, switch plates, cords or plugs may also indicate an overloaded circuit.
If there is an unusual smell of burning metal or plastic it may be a loose connection, overheated components, sparking inside the walls.
If the plugs are wobbling, the outlet must be dated and worn. Replace the outlet.
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