Electricity can be the cause of numerous kinds of accidents and fires within Churches and Places of Worship. Some serious accidents involving electricity can be fatal and fires can be started by faulty electrical equipment or wiring.
Fixed Installation and Wiring
Electrical wiring works should only be completed by a competent person, who will certify the works as complying with an industry standard (usually British Standard 7671, previously known as the IEE Wiring Regulations). The certificate is issued to show that the installation has passed a number of safety tests and is in a generally safe condition. Ideally, the certificate should be issued from a contractor registered with the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting.
It is recommended that electrical installations should be inspected periodically for safety by a competent person. For some premises, this might need to be as much as every year, but for many premises, where the installation is in a good state of repair and the risk is lower, a five yearly inspection is common. The electrician performing the inspection and test will produce an inspection certificate and this needs to be kept for future reference.
Some simple checks can be routinely made on the electrical installation to ensure safety. This includes a visual inspection of socket outlets for damage or scorch marks and the operation of the test button on all RCDs. Any defects should be repaired as soon as possible.
The term 'portable appliance' can be used for many pieces of equipment that are fitted with a mains plug, not just those that are moved about.
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 set out specific requirements on electrical safety, requiring that electrical installations and equipment are maintained in good working order. Although not compulsory, it is highly recommended that Portable Appliance Testing (or PAT for short) is undertaken, and many insurers will require this to be carried out.
In addition to a visual inspection, the Portable Appliance Test includes a series of electrical tests that ensures the electrical integrity of the appliance. This testing is performed using equipment designed specifically for testing portable appliances. Portable Appliance Testing should be carried out at suitable intervals according to type, use and/or environment. This is normally every 1 to 3 years. Some appliances need only a 'formal visual inspection' by a ‘competent person’ while others require a series of electrical tests to check the integrity of the appliance.
A label is usually applied to the appliance or plug to show it has passed the test. Any failed appliances should be either repaired or disposed of, and the plug should be taken off so that the appliance cannot be used.
The majority of faults on electrical equipment are visual defects, such as a damaged flexible cord or incorrectly wired mains plug or a mains plug that does not have plastic 'sleeving' on the Live and
Neutral pins. In some situations, a quick check might be needed to look for damage, the correct fuse and secure wiring.
Most Places of Worship will have a heating system powered by gas, electricity or fuel oil stored in an external tank. Both gas and oil installations require an annual service by a suitably qualified engineer, which means they are registered with CORGI or its replacement body, Gas Safe – or, for oil systems, OFTEC. Records of these inspections should be kept.
The most common problem with heating systems in Chapels and Churches is water leaks. Pipes burst in cold weather as the water inside them freezes and expands; when the ice thaws, water pours into the building damaging the fabric of the building as well as furnishings, books, carpets and electrical equipment. In order to prevent this, it is recommended that annual inspection of the plumbing system be undertaken by an engineer registered with the Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineers.
All pipes should be insulated to protect against the cold and it’s a sensible idea to find the building’s stopcock and make sure other building users know of its location too. A froststat is another good investment: this device will turn on the heating should the temperature drop too low, thus preventing pipes from freezing.
During recent years the dangers of Carbon Monoxide poisoning has been regularly brought to our attention. Ill-maintained heating systems can produce Carbon Monoxide fumes. This gas is particularly dangerous as it is odourless. Installing a carbon monoxide detector is a simple way of managing this risk – they’re quite common in homes and are relatively inexpensive. One is probably sufficient for most Chapel buildings.
Portable Gas Heaters
Some Places of Worship supplement their heating with portable heaters powered by cylinders of liquid petroleum gas (LPG). These are not recommended as they pose a fire risk and, should a fire break out in the church, the emergency services will be wary of entering if they know there are LPG cylinders inside which could explode. There is also the risk of children or vandals entering the church and interfering with the cylinders. If your Chapel does need to use them, think carefully about where you site them.
Under current legislation, an oil tank is required to have a drip tray or a bund – a protective wall or embankment – beneath the tank to capture any oil that leaks. The law also specifies how large these should be; if in doubt, speak to the installation or service engineer.