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11 September 2023 in Commercial, Construction

Transformer Fire Protection: Step Up Your Fire Suppression

Electrical transformers, like the famous toys sharing their name, convert one thing (voltage) into another (higher or lower voltage). Energy conversion also creates heat, making transformer fire protection critical for fire prevention. Learn more about transformer fire safety and how ERF fire suppression systems help you protect your equipment.

What is a transformer (and why do we use them)?

A transformer is an electrical device that changes the voltage from one AC circuit to another (or from one circuit to many). 

Transformers are necessary because electrical voltage must vary according to conditions. For example, a step-down substation transformer in domestic energy supply changes high-voltage power to lower-voltage electricity supply for your home or business.

Electronic devices of all sizes, from mobile phones to industrial equipment and machinery, use transformers to ensure stable, correct voltage. 

What are the hazards of transformers? Faults, fires, and leaks

Transformers’ hazards make risk management crucial. Core risks in their operation and maintenance include:

  1. Fire and explosion. Many transformers contain insulating mineral oils that are highly flammable. Overheating caused by a fault, surge, or extreme weather conditions may cause catastrophic fire damage without adequate transformer fire protection solutions. 
  2. Arc flashes and blasts. Connection between a live conductor and another conductor or the ground may release sudden heat and light. The resulting arc blast generates exceptional heat and releases shrapnel, posing severe injury risks. Causes of arc flashes include worn or damaged insulation, incorrect installation, and equipment failure due to poor maintenance. 
  3. Oil leaks. Older transformers that use oil for insulation and cooling may leak coolant if not maintained. Leaked fluids create slipping hazards and fire hazards if oil ignites.
  4. Electrical shocks. Transformers may expose technicians to high-voltage electrical currents. In addition to power transformer fire protection, operators and technicians must wear protective equipment and keep to safety regulations.  

Common causes of transformer fires

The three most common causes of transformer fires are electrical faults, mechanical failure, and severe weather conditions. 

Electrical faults often result from power surges and overload, a hazard in energy-scarce operating environments such as South Africa. 

Poorly designed or insulated transformers carry higher fire risks, too. You only need to search ‘transformer fire explosion’ on YouTube to see examples of how quickly a transformer can go up in flames.

Another common cause of transformer fires is damage to core insulation by corrosion. With sufficient maintenance, core insulation may maintain cooling efficacy. Transformers’ internal temperatures then rise, which may ignite combustibles. 

Lightning strikes also pose fire risks, as the electric spark may ignite combustibles. Damage to surrounds may be expensive to repair if a transformer fire protection system is out of service or absent.

How to avoid a transformer fire: Protection guidelines

Transformer fires are rarer when operators follow strict safety, quality, and maintenance plans and protocols. Even then, you can’t always account for severe weather, surges, and human error. To reduce transformer fire risks:

Maintain regulatory compliance for design, installation, and inspection

Like the transformer toys, there are many moving parts to electrical transformer operation. Faults and errors may occur from design and manufacturing to installation, maintenance, and inspection. Always follow the Occupation Health and Safety Act (1993) guidelines governing electrical installations. 

Install a fire suppression system designed for transformers

A purpose-built fire suppression system for transformers provides immediate mitigation in the event of a spike in internal temperatures. 

An ERF-installed sprinkler system floods the transformer simultaneously with water should internal temperatures rise above the normal operating range. Correctly maintained systems release water at a constant rate onto the envelope of the transformer, for at least sixty minutes. This provides rapid and sustained cooling. 

An alarm system automatically triggers when temperatures exceed the maximum operating range. This provides immediate cooling that may avert catastrophic damage to equipment and avoid endangering lives. 

ERF supplies and maintains transformer fire protection systems providing top-, middle- and bottom-level protection. Rapid, system-wide cooling and containment are as crucial as protective gear for technicians. 

Stay up-to-date with transformer design innovations

Modern improvements in transformer fabrication and design (such as improvement to cooling systems and using fire-resistant materials) make investing in system upgrades worthwhile. 

Keep to maintenance plans

The best protection against fires is prevention. Follow recommended maintenance schedules to know that when a fire risk situation unfolds, you can rely on well-maintained transformers and instant suppression that will prevent or limit equipment damage and personal danger. 

Keep up to date with fire safety training and education

Ensure training for technicians and personnel who work with transformers. A fire suppression system is a strong first defence line, and fire safety awareness further reduces risks. Bookmark the ERF blog for fire safety and prevention tips across many industries and scenarios.  

Do you need power transformer fire protection or custom installations for industrial facilities? Contact East Rand Fire today.

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