Risk Management: Reducing Risk with Preventive Maintenance

Risk Management

by Ed Schirick

I have a friend who maintains his own vehicles as much as he can, although he's had to use the car dealership's service department more and more in recent years. Automobile engines have become more complicated, and they now require expensive electronic equipment to maintain and service them. As a result, it is no longer practical for him to perform certain service tasks.

In spite of this, he still maintains his philosophy of preventive maintenance and applies it whenever he can. This means monitoring mileage and dates when brakes, belts, hoses, fuel filters, ignition switches, batteries, and other components are put into service. He replaces these items after a certain number of months, or miles, as a means of reducing the risk of mechanical breakdown. He has a knack for doing this, plus he enjoys working with his hands. The result, as you might guess, is his automobiles run better and last longer than most, and he has never been stranded because of a mechanical problem. I admire him for his discipline and foresight.

Managing your camp property takes similar discipline and foresight, not to mention money. Here are some thoughts about risk reduction and preventive maintenance in the camp environment.

Electrical Hazards

American Camping Association (ACA) Standard SF-7, Electrical Evaluation, requires an annual review of the camp electrical system conducted by "qualified personnel." The standards offer the following rationale:

"The evaluation should include at least a visual observation of areas and facilities to check for damaged or loose wires or fixtures, electrical equipment needing repair or replacement, face plates and panel fronts in place, correctly sized fuses and circuit breakers, and appropriately grounded receptacles. Particular attention should be paid to facilities that have little or no use during some seasons or where damage from rodents or weather may occur or have occurred."

How important is this? Very! Most fires at camp are electrical in origin! This annual review presents a great opportunity to do preventive maintenance and reduce risk. In my opinion, the qualified person who does the annual review should be a licensed electrician. The expert's knowledge and experience are critical to identifying items in need of attention that an untrained eye might miss. This electrical review represents risk identification - the first step in risk management. Don't cut corners here. You want the very best resource available to do this evaluation.

Consider upgrades
Consider the age of the electrical system. If you are still using fuses, investigate upgrading the electrical service to circuit breakers. Why is this important? Electrical systems still using fuses may work just fine. Unfortunately, there is risk that the wrong size fuse may be used unintentionally. This increases the risk of fire. Circuit breakers eliminate the risk of fire caused by using the wrong fuse.

If you haven't installed ground fault interruption electrical outlets in your kitchens, by your pools, waterfronts, or other areas near water, put this upgrade on your list for next spring. These new outlets may protect you or one of your staff from serious injury, or death by electrocution!

Evaluate wiring
Be sure to use the proper gauge wiring in extension cords. Keep extension cords out of high traffic areas. Run them along walls whenever possible. This practice will help avoid liability from trip and fall injuries and reduce the possibility that extension cords will be damaged by people stepping on them. Never use damaged or frayed extension cords. Ditto for cords on personal appliances, power tools, or cooking appliances. Sometimes wires just wear out and electrical arcing becomes a concern. Wiring may look okay to the untrained eye, but electrical wiring that is arcing is dangerous and can start fires. Train counselors to identify faulty electrical cords on the personal appliances used by campers in cabins.

Electrical service can be taken for granted. We expect the lights to come on each time we flip the switch. This may be changing, especially in states that have deregulated their electrical utilities. In early 2001, some states experienced brownouts and blackouts. Each time the electricity goes off, turn off and unplug electrical equipment to avoid damage and reduce the risk of fire when the electricity is restored. Install surge protection on computers and sensitive electronic and communication equipment.

Fire Hazards

Besides electrical hazards at camp, insurance underwriters and risk managers are concerned about fire in sleeping areas and kitchens. ACA Standard SF-4 addresses a Fire Equipment Examination that requires "qualified personnel to annually conduct a safety examination of fire equipment and applicable areas." This examination includes evaluating smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, fireplaces, chimneys, storage of flammables, and cooking areas.

Some states now require "hard-wired" smoke detectors in all sleeping areas. These systems replace battery-operated detectors. Hard-wired smoke detectors run off regular electric service. As long as there is electrical service to the building, the smoke detector will operate. These units also have a battery back up system in case electrical service is interrupted for any reason. These hard-wired smoke detectors reduce the risk that a fire in a sleeping area will go undetected.

Protecting cooking areas
Some camps have taken the necessary steps to control cooking hazards and the risk of fire. These steps include the installation of stainless steel hoods over all cooking surfaces and stainless steel ducts to vent and remove the heat and vapors from the kitchen.

Filters are also installed in the hood to catch grease and prevent accumulations in the ductwork. Without these filters, accumulated grease could ignite from cooking activities and cause a fire. The National Fire Protection Association produces the standards applicable to the installation of these hood and duct systems. These standards are revised periodically. Your preventive maintenance program should include a review of the latest National Fire Protection Association standards in pamphlet NFPA 96 to insure that your system is still in compliance. If your system needs improvement, make plans to upgrade your cooking protection systems to the new code as soon as you can. A specialist in the field should perform any new installations or upgrades to hood and duct systems over cooking surfaces.

Hood and duct systems typically include a Dry Chemical Extinguishing System over all cooking surfaces. This is the first line of protection if a cooking fire should occur. If you don't have a hood and duct system over all cooking surfaces with grease filters and a dry chemical extinguishing system, consider installing one before next summer. While some underwriters may write property insurance without these protective devices, you'll get a better rate if you have them. Keeping them clean is also a critical part of preventive maintenance. Check with the contractor who installs your system for instructions on periodic cleaning.

Using fire extinguishers
Other risk reduction and prevention steps include having portable fire extinguishers in the dining hall/kitchen. Portable fire extinguishers are often considered "first aid" fire equipment. They are designed to be used by trained staff in an attempt to put out a fire while waiting for the fire department to arrive.

Extinguishers should be suitable in type, size, and number for the type of materials and the degree of hazard. ABC type fire extinguishers are the most versatile and can be used on all fires except those involving combustible metals. Extinguishers should be periodically inspected, tested, and certified (tagged). Knowledgeable fire-service-equipment contractors should maintain them on a regular basis. Having the right size, number, and type of extinguisher is not enough. The extinguishers must be readily accessible and properly distributed. Consult your local fire equipment service company for your camp's specific requirements.

Make plans to replace, repair, and rejuvenate your camp property in the spring of 2002. Take the time to reduce risk. Take advantage of newer, better technology by upgrading electrical systems. Anticipate problems and incorporate the philosophy and discipline of risk reduction and preventive maintenance into your risk management plan.

Originally published in the 2001 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.

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