Extension Cord Safety Toolbox Talk

Learn how to properly use extension cords on the construction site in a way that prevents accidents.

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Extension Cord Safety Talk

When working in construction, there are many different things that pose a threat. You work with potentially harmful materials and chemicals. You are constantly around heavy and moving machinery.

These all pose great risks to you and the people around you. When dealing with risks like these, it can be easy to overlook the seemingly “smaller” risks. For example, extension cords. If not handled properly, extension cords can cause bodily damage.

How Dangerous are Extension Cords?

Before we get into the proper precautions, it’s important that you understand what it is that makes extension cords dangerous. You may not look at extension as a threat, which is what makes them dangerous. Here are some relevant statistics pertaining to extension cords and the threat they can pose:

  • About 4,000 injuries each year are treated in hospital emergency rooms. Half of these injuries involve fractures, lacerations, contusions, or sprains from people tripping over extension cords.
  • Roughly 3,300 home fires originate in extension cords each year, killing 50 people and injuring about 270 more.
  • What’s sad about these injuries is that they can almost always be avoided. Unfortunately, most people are simply unaware that they should take proper precautions when dealing with extension cords.

    What to Avoid when Working with Extension Cords

    Perhaps the most important thing when dealing with extension cords is knowing what it is you shouldn’t be doing. This is the easiest way to avoid any injuries. Here are some things you should be avoiding:

  • Don’t plug one extension cord into another unless it’s allowed by the manufacturer.
  • Never let an extension cord sit in water or snow.
  • Never run extension cords through walls or holes in a ceiling.
  • Don’t remove the ground prongs of an extension cord and do not use a cord if it is missing a ground prong.
  • Don’t use indoor cords outdoors.
  • Never cover extension cords with rugs or carpet.
  • Don’t place cords in a walkway where they can be tripped over.
  • Don’t use extension cords in place of permanent wiring.
  • When it comes to extension cords, use your common sense. If it feels like it may be dangerous, avoid it. If you are unsure as to whether or not you can do something with the cord, refer to the manufacturer. This will ensure that you’re not doing something that will place you and your co-workers at risk.

    What to do When Using Extension Cords

    Now that we have established what it is you should be avoided when using extension cords, let’s go over the things you should be doing. Again, it almost always reverts back to common sense. Here are some of the best practices to employ with safety in mind when using an extension cord on the worksite:

  • Inspect cords prior to use. Look for broken prongs as well as damage to the protective cover that encapsulates the wires inside the cord.
  • Only use extension cords that have gone through independent testing such as by the Underwriters Laboratory. These cords will have a “UL” marked on them.
  • Place cords out of the way and out of conditions that could result in electrocution or damage to the cord.
  • When the cord is not being used, unplug it and store it neatly out of the way of foot traffic.
  • By following these simple guidelines, you can ensure you and your co-workers are as safe as possible. Again, many people ignore the dangers of working with an extension cord. Don’t let this happen to you.

    Designations

    Extension cords often come with designations, especially in the workplace. These designations are the manufacturer’s way of telling you how you are supposed to operate the cord. It lets you know what’s safe and what’s to be avoided. Here are some of the designations and what they mean:

  • S: Designed for general Use
  • W: Rated for Outdoor Use
  • J: Standard 300 Voltage Insulation
  • T: made from Vinyl Thermoplastic
  • P: Parallel Wire Construction (Air Conditioner Cords and Household Extension Cords)
  • O: Oil-Resistant
  • E: Made from TPE
  • Many times, there will be many different designations together. For example, SJTW would imply that the extension cord is designed for general use, rated for outdoor use, standard 300 voltage insulation, and made from vinyl thermoplastic.

    Some Other Things to Avoid

    Here are some of the other things you should be looking to avoid when working with an extension cord:

  • Use extension cords only when necessary and only on a temporary basis. Do not use extension cords in place of permanent wiring.
  • Do not remove the prongs of an electrical plug. If plug prongs are missing, loose, or bent, replace the entire plug.
  • Do not use an adapter or extension cord to defeat a standard grounding device. (e.g., Only place three-prong plugs in three-prong outlets; do not alter them to fit in a two-prong outlet.).
  • Use extension cords that are the correct size or rating for the equipment in use. The diameter of the extension cord should be the same or greater than the cord of the equipment in use.
  • Only use cords rated for outdoor use when using a cord outside.
  • Do not run cords above ceiling tiles or through walls.
  • Keep electrical cords away from areas where they may be pinched and areas where they may pose a tripping or fire hazard (e.g., doorways, walkways, under the carpet, etc.).
  • Always inspect the cord prior to use to ensure the insulation isn't cut or damaged. Discard damaged cords, cords that become hot, or cords with exposed wiring.
  • Never unplug an extension cord by pulling on the cord; pull on the plug.
  • In locations where equipment 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.
  • Conclusion

    The best way to avoid accidents involving extension cords is by acknowledging that extension cords pose a threat. Most accidents happen because people are simply unaware of how dangerous they can be. By acknowledging the threat, you can protect yourself and your co-workers from accidents.

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