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As part of our series of expert views on the threats to commercial property posed by fire, Melissa Boyes, Account Director at Vulcan Inspection Services, a trusted NFU Mutual partner, explains why thermography is such an important tool.  
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Electrical faults

One of the biggest fire risks that commercial properties face is the threat caused by faulty electricsBetween 2017 and 2018, according to the Home Office Incident Recording Service, there were over 3,680 such fires in businesses throughout the UK. Most of those could have been prevented if a simple thermography survey had been carried out to highlight any potential danger spots.

Over 75% of thermography surveys detect defects that pose an electrical fire risk.

Based on surveys conducted by British Engineering Services (2014 to 2018)

Thermography works by having specialist cameras analysing heat patterns in wiring systems. The images produced alert engineers to discrepancies such as overloaded connections or circuit arcing. Worryingly for commercial property owners, over 75% of thermography surveys detect defects that pose an electrical fire risk, with 25% of those requiring urgent attention.

The risk isn’t confined to older buildings. One of our inspection teams recently carried out a thermography survey on a new-build retail premise which was fully stocked and due to open imminently to the public. Every single component in the electrical infrastructure was new and had passed regulatory testing. Yet the survey detected four critical hotspots, all of which would almost certainly have caused a fire if left unchecked.

Minimum disruption

The good news is that a thermographic survey is an affordable and unobtrusive technique that can be carried out with little or no disruption to everyday business. Although it is not a replacement for statutory maintenance, inspection and testing, thermography is an invaluable supplement, helping your business detect and repair any issues before they escalate.

High-risk areas 

Your business should consider thermography surveys no matter which sector you operate in. However, there are certain situations and circumstances that present particular vulnerabilities and where the use of thermography should be prioritised.

New builds and extensions. The constant pressure that contractors face to complete projects sometimes leads to mistakes and carelessness, with serious consequences. New extensions can also be susceptible to error, and cause excessive strain on existing electrics. We suggest that you carry out a thermography survey once your system is operational but before any contractor warranties expire. 

Construction. It would be advisable for any building project that involves flammable construction materials, such as composite panels, to seek the reassurance of an annual thermographic survey, or as directed by their insurer.

Nature of use. The purpose a building is used for is a significant factor in the risk of fire. Annual thermography surveys are recommended for:

  • any commercial property, including offices
  • dusty environments (e.g. flour dusts), where there is a higher risk of explosion
  • locations with large numbers of people, either employees or the general public.  

In conditions where there are round-the-clock operations, or heavy engineering or manufacturing present, an acceleration in the deterioration of electrical systems should be expected. Under these circumstances, initial survey cycles of three months would be advisable, before reverting to annual surveys, depending on the number and severity of defects detected.

High-value contents. Expensive stock, specialist parts, bespoke machinery – while insurance can cover the initial cost of any damage, the long-term loss of these assets can prove highly detrimental. In these days of market uncertainty, many businesses are stockpiling, which makes them particularly vulnerable should an incident occur.

Historical buildings. The unique nature of these properties, and the irreplaceable contents they contain, mean risks must be minimised, with every possible precaution taken.

Cold stores. It’s not all about hotspots. Thermographic surveys can be used in any climate-controlled environment to detect dangers and identify inefficiencies, for example in refrigerated areas to pinpoint where cold air is leaking, and to prevent system failures.

A sensible precaution

Thermography should form part of every commercial property manager’s risk reduction strategy. It’s a highly effective, non-disruptive way of enhancing the maintenance of your business’s electrical systems, which will help safeguard your staff, your property, and also your business reputation.

An initial survey by Vulcan Inspection Services will lead to recommendations for a bespoke schedule based on the outcomes and the specific needs of your business.

For more information on how NFU Mutual can help safeguard your business, get in touch with your local office.

Vulcan Inspection Services is part of the British Engineering Services Group, working in partnership with NFU Mutual since 1997 to provide statutory inspections of our customers' plant and machinery.

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