Occupational Health & Safety

Tips: Extension Cord Safety

AN extension cord can be a handy, temporary way to place electrical equipment wherever you'd like it. But if used improperly, extension cords can cause fire and injury, or even death.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that each year, about 4,000 injuries associated with electric extension cords are treated in hospital emergency rooms. About half of the injuries involve fractures, lacerations, contusions or sprains from people tripping over extension cords. Thirteen percent of the injuries involve children under five years of age; electrical burns to the mouth accounted for half the injuries to young children. CPSC also estimates that about 3,300 residential fires originate in extension cords each year, killing 50 people and injuring about 270 others. The most frequent causes of such fires are short circuits, overloading, damage and/or misuse of extension cords.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) offers these tips to reduce the likelihood of electrocution or fire from improper extension cord use:

  • Use extension cords only when necessary and only on a temporary basis.
  • In locations where furniture or beds may be pushed against an extension cord where the cord joins the plug, use a special "angle extension cord" specifically designed for use in these instances.
  • When using outdoor tools and appliances, use only extension cords labeled for outdoor use.
  • Use polarized extension cords with polarized appliances.
  • Insert plugs fully so that no part of the prongs are exposed when the extension cord is in use.

To download ESFI's free booklet, "Use Extension Cords Safely," go to http://www.esfi.org/esfi-library.html.

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