Fire prevention and case studies

There are many causes of fire, and the University is not immune to them. Learn how to minimise the possibility of a fire.

The Fire Service has put together a great resource for preventing fires at home and at work. We recommend that you:

  • Read the guide
  • Put some basic fire prevention measures in place
  • Sort out your smoke alarms
  • Make a fire escape plan.

Look now: New Zealand Fire Service safety guide. 

Prevention

Electrical causes

The main causes of electrical fires are:

  • Old equipment
  • Incorrectly modified/wired equipment
  • Overloaded multi-plug boards.

Note: Multi-plug boards must not be connected to other multi-plug boards as the wiring is only designed to cope with the plugs that are provided for (i.e. a four point multi-plug board can only provide power to four other devices).

Heaters and other high-draw current devices must not be plugged into multi-plug boards as they will overload the wiring.

Housekeeping

Keeping things nice and tidy assists in preventing fires. If we don’t, stuff may drop on heaters or hot objects may drop on to combustible items.

Domestic causes

Again, heaters can be a problem. Fan heaters are really bad as they may have turned off, so people are unaware that they will start up after they place an item in front of them.

In other cases, heaters may be on a separate circuit that energises unexpectedly. 

Some electrical equipment, and in particular older electronic equipment, has fans designed to prevent overheating. Never block or cover the vents on such equipment.

Hot work and equipment

If you are buying or using items that heat up in normal operations, you need to think about how and where they are being used. 

In some cases (e.g. when using laser-cutting booths) fires are anticipated, so you need to have a fire blanket or other means of extinguishing a fire nearby.

Never set up equipment that is designed to produce heat, sparks or flame (for example if soldering, grinding, burning) in an area where flammable materials might be present. A risk assessment or Hot Work Permit will be required. If in doubt, speak to your HSW
manager.

At the very least, hot items need to be placed in an area where they cannot set things alight.

University case studies

Since we banned smoking, the frequency of fires has significantly reduced. That said, we still have at least two a year.

In most cases, the fires have been small with little residual damage. However, every now and then we have fires that cause significant disruption.

All fires are investigated, and as with other incidents, the aim is to identify causes and not assign blame to any particular person.

The following are real examples of fires at the University.

Electrical

A 'daisy-chained' multi-plug board overheated and caught fire due to overloading. The building owner was unaware of the danger involved.

Housekeeping

A plastic chopping board was placed on a stove element in student accommodation as the bench was cluttered.

Someone leaning against the stove accidentally turned on the element, and the board melted and caught fire.

Domestic causes

A student moved into halls of residence in summer, and to get some fresh air, he moved his bed next to the window.

Prior to semester two, the heating circuits were energised and the wall-mounted heater turned on.

A major fire broke out and gutted his room. Everyone in the hall was evacuated and no one was hurt.

Hot work and equipment

A portable kiln was placed on a wooden bench and was left to fire pottery overnight. 

A security guard on a late shift smelled smoke, discovered a smouldering fire, and managed to put it out before major damage could occur. 

Document Control
Version: 1.0
Last Updated: Dec 2019
Next Review: Dec 2022
Owner: hsw@auckland.ac.nz
Approver: Associate Director, Health Safety & Wellbeing