Safety tip: safe use of extension cords

Dec 3, 2020
Written by wpengine

Improper use of extension cords can easily cause appliances to overheat and can lead to fire, according to Underwriters Laboratories Inc (UL). Lots of people pull them out during the holidays to plug in lights and trees.

When selecting an extension cord for use with a power tool or high-powered machine, cord length is not the only thing that should be considered.

Before choosing a cord, UL reminds users to check the gauge. The gauge of a wire relates to its thickness and the total wattage rating the cord can handle. Thicker cords can power higher wattage appliances and will be marked with a lower number gauge rating (10 gauge can handle more power than 16 gauge). The wattage necessary to power a tool should be available either on the tool itself or in the manufacturer’s booklet.

Also, be sure that the extension cord you select is suitable for outdoor work, if necessary. Using an indoor cord outdoors could lead to electric shock and create a fire hazard.

Additional extension cord safety tips:

  • Always look for an independent testing laboratories (UL) certification mark on the extension cord, which indicates it has been tested for safety.
  • Inspect extension cords before use, discarding any that are cut or damaged. Even a single exposed wire can lead to severe burns and is a fire risk.
  • Unplug extension cords when not in use. The cord will continue to conduct electricity as long as it is plugged into the wall.
  • Most cords have polarized plugs – one blade that is wider than the other. These are designed to prevent electric shock by properly aligning circuit conductors. If a plug does not fit, do not force it. Have a qualified electrician install a new outlet.
  • Store all cords indoors when not in use – outdoor conditions can lead to deterioration over time.
  • Do not circumvent the ground plug by using an adapter or cutting the round prong off. If there was a chance to get shocked, the ground absorbs most of that so that you don’t become the ground.

Also look at:

  • Cover plates on outlets and switches in good shape?
  • Frayed wiring on any cords?
  • Overloading outlets-know how much your outlet can handle at a time and not to overburden it with too much wattage.
  • RS SafetyTV has several videos on electrical safety.

WR employs Rick Means as Director of Safety and Education who is available to members to help draw up safety plans and suggest topics for safety meetings. Contact him at 360-943-9198, Ext. 118 or [email protected]