Have your electrical switchboards ever overloaded and tripped? Here’s how to recognise risks and mitigate the hazards

Electrical switchboard fires can happen unexpectedly and strike at any moment. They often occur as a result of a failing or faulty component in electrical equipment, posing significant risks to both property and life safety.

Insurance Australia Group (IAG) 2020 Claims Data shows that 25% of commercial insurance fire-based losses are caused by electrical hazards. In fact, many large loss claims have occurred as a result of electrical switchboard fires.

A 2017 IAG claim saw a client suffer a whopping $2.5 million dollar loss, and as a result, they had to mitigate business interruption costs for many months after the event. Instances like this are just one of the reasons to understand the factors that lead to this type of loss.

Below is a case study to help raise awareness and gain an understanding of important risk management and mitigation strategies that may assist in future-proofing your business.


Case Study: What went wrong?

The claimant’s property consisted of multiple constructions and tenants, including two commercial towers and an underground carpark. On the morning of the event, at 10am, a fire started in the switchboard room, located on the ground level of one of the towers.

Thirty minutes prior to the event, electrical maintenance works had been carried out in the tower. Afterwards, Centre Management received a call notifying them that the lifts weren’t working within the tower. A tenant also notified Centre Management via SMS that lighting on their floor was flickering on and off. One minute later, three loud bangs were reportedly heard throughout the tower, followed by the power shutting off completely.

Electrical maintenance staff attended the switch board room to investigate and observed black smoke blanketing the room. The fire alarms in the switch room activated, notifying Fire and Emergency Services, while all tenants evacuated the area.

Once the area was deemed safe, investigators carried out forensics on the site and discovered the damage was limited to the incoming electrical supply to the switchboard and was deemed an electrical fire.


What was the damage and how was it caused?

The switchboard was severely burnt from an electrical short circuit, with severely charred cabling above the board. These cables were responsible for providing power to the building’s essential services, such as fire pumps and dewatering pumps. Due to the loss of power, temporary generators were sourced to return power to tenanted premises, with repairs and replacements taking over ten weeks.

The forensic report indicated that the electrical failure and fire was as a result of loose joints between the incoming supply cables and the busbar assembly to which the cables were connected. None of these joints were adequately tightened.


Safety tips to reduce risk

To help reduce risks and prevent accidental events from happening, businesses should consider operational activities to mitigate exposures presented by electrical fires, as part of a wider holistic risk management strategy. To find out more about IAG Risk Partners and how we can help make your world a safer place, contact us today.