NT WorkSafe recently issued a safety alert highlighting the risk of fire in old power factor correction assemblies, which are used by large business and factories to mitigate the electrical network effects of inductive machines, such as electric motors, refrigeration systems and air-conditioning.
The alert was issued following a recent fire at a factory in Darwin which involved a number of old power factor correction assemblies installed in 1999.
The capacitors contained within the assemblies have a rated life of 130,000 hours, however, investigation of a fire in one such assembly found the capacitors had been in constant use for 150,000 hours, and had exceeded their design life.
Multiple protective devices were installed within the assembly to guard against catastrophic failure, however these were unable to prevent an explosion in a capacitor resulting in a cascade failure and conflagration causing massive damage to factory infrastructure.
The safety alert recommended a number of required actions:
Audit power factor correction assemblies to ensure operation only within designed life expectancy.
Arrange for an electrician to inspect capacitors annually for signs of bulging or leakage.
Replace capacitors which appear to be failing or have reached their life expectancy.
If possible locate power factor correction assemblies away from critical infrastructure.
Disconnect the power factor correction assemblies from supply if urgent repairs may be delayed.