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Extension cords are one of the most extensively used construction electrical products. If they are not used with caution, extension cords pose risks ranging from overheating at the least to becoming a fire hazard at the most, which may result in property damage and even loss of life.

Following are five simple yet effective rules that can be implemented to enhance site safety.

Rule 1

The simplest rule that can help avoid the most common mistake made with extension cords is not letting them become trip hazards. Placing cords under carpets or rugs can increase the risk of people tripping over them. Also, don’t let them run through doorways. This area is usually the busiest and the combination of high foot traffic and extension cords is a surefire recipe for trips and falls.

Rule 2

Don’t affix electric extension cords to ceilings or walls using staples or metal nails, as such sharp objects can damage the safety jacket of these cords. Extension cords come with a soft jacket covering that offers flexibility but also makes them susceptible to damage. If the nails or staples run too dip and pinch the wire, the jacket gets damaged. Also, if the extension cord being installed using these sharp objects is pulled, there is the risk of the jacket’s soft material becoming worn.

Rule 3

Different extension cords are not supposed to be plugged together—it can lead to equipment failure, electrocution or fire. Length determines the ratings of the power cord. Even if two identical power cords are plugged into each other, their current capacity is reduced in half, which, in turn, may result in a drop in the voltage, overheating or even a serious fire hazard. As a general rule, extension cords should not exceed 10 feet in length. Instead of plugging cords together, get an appropriately sized cord based on the requirement.

Rule 4

All extension cords come with wattage limits that must be followed. If the cord is overloaded, it increases the risk of a fire hazard. For instance, a typical space heater of 1,500-watt capacity will draw 12.5 amps of current. If used for equipment, cheaper extension cords using internal wiring of size 16 gauge will result in overloading of the cord—as it is rated for only 10 amps. In this case, it would be wise to plug the heater directly into the wall by avoiding the use of a power strip or an extension cord altogether.

Rule 5

To meet the OSHA requirements with respect to extension cords, there are two options.

  1. The Assured Equipment Grounding Conductor Program (AEGCP). This option requires multi-point cord inspection on every work day. Due to its time-consuming nature, it is often ignored by the users. Even with strict implementation methods, there is no protection available in case of a dangerous situation.
  2. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI). They compare the current flow and disconnect the power if there is a ‘leak’ or difference of 4 to 6 mA. To put it simply, they disconnect the power if there is a potentially dangerous situation. GFCIs are inexpensive and save time that would have otherwise been spent on lengthy cord inspections, and they eliminate the risk of possible electrocution accidents in case of power leakage. The outlets in which the extension cords are plugged can also be protected by the GFCIs, which can be done in two ways. The outlet can be GFCI protected as the ones used in accident-prone areas such as kitchens and bathrooms. Alternatively, a GFCI circuit breaker can be used to protect the circuit.

Electrical safety can be simplified by following a few simple rules regarding the use of extension cords. These rules are easy to implement and greatly enhance the safety quotient of jobsites.


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