Several Workplace Safety Hazards-3
Several workplace safety hazards-Extension cords
National Safety Council consultants identify what they see repeatedly when auditing worksites
Electrical – Extension cords
Blocked breakers aren’t the only electrical hazard NSC consultants frequently see. Many electrical hazards spotted are related to inappropriate use of extension cords.
Dankert often witnesses “daisy-chaining” – using multiple extension cords or power strips for a device. At one manufacturing facility Dankert visited, she saw as many as five extension cords chained together.
“It was almost like Christmas tree lights,” she said. “All you really saw were all these electrical cords everywhere.”
Because the employer is a developer of prototype equipment, the layout of the manufacturing floor was regularly being changed. And in most other aspects, the employer was conscientious about safety – the extension cords being used were new and heavy-gauge, and the facility was very clean.
“They were trying to do the right thing, but it also made me think it’s not really temporary,” Dankert said.
And that’s the point: Although extension cords can be useful for temporarily supplying power for certain operations, the key word is “temporarily.” When a cord is used for several weeks or months, Dankert said, OSHA doesn’t consider the use temporary. This opens the door for a violation.
Beyond that, extension cords lying on the ground for extended periods of time are a trip hazard. They also can be subject to traffic abuse if run over by forklifts or feet, which can wear down insulation and create shock hazards. When cords are daisy-chained, they can easily overdraw electricity from the circuits, causing the wires to heat up and potentially result in a fire.
Employers should assess whether extension cords are truly being used for temporary measures – perhaps to power a fan on an especially hot day. In such an event, Dankert said, the cord should be gathered up at the end of the shift and stored. She recommends establishing a system to periodically inspect extension cords, and training employees on that system to ensure the cords stay in good working condition and worn-out cords are placed out of service.
Workers need to ensure they’re using the right extension cord for the job. Typically, a more expensive cord has a heavier gauge, which allows it to take more power without getting hot. The same applies for using a single power strip to plug in several different devices – the power strip may not be rated for the combined wattage needed for all the high-draw appliances being plugged in.
If the extension cords are not being used for a temporary fix, employers should consider bringing in an electrician to drop in a line and outlet.