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9 ways to improve your electrical cord safety

Hand holding a plug next to a wall outlet.

With all of the electrical devices we have today, it can feel like your workspace is being overrun by cords. Before you start tucking all those cords out of sight, double check your electrical safety. Cords need to be kept in good condition and plugged in properly to avoid causing a fire.

Prevent electrical overload

Overloaded outlets are a cause of building fires. When electrical wires and circuits carry more amperage than they can handle, they overheat and can start a fire.

Circuit breakers and fuses are designed to prevent electrical overload, but they aren’t always reliable. A good rule of thumb is to use just one plug per outlet. Or if you’re using a high-demand appliance like power tools, an air conditioner, or electric heater, restrict yourself to one device for each duplex wall outlet.

If you need more outlets for smaller tools and appliances, use a power strip that’s plugged directly into the outlet. But be power smart! Plug only one power strip into a standard duplex outlet. Don’t use an extension cord to plug your power strip in, and never string multiple power strips together.

Surge protectors protect your equipment

If you’re shopping for a power strip, consider upgrading to a surge protector. Surge protectors help safeguard your electrical appliances from surges in your electrical lines.

Power spikes can be caused by storms or even sudden shifts in electrical demand. Surges can send extra voltage to your sensitive electronics, causing irreparable damage.

Shop carefully, because not every power strip is a surge protector. Look for the words surge protection, and only choose those carrying the UL (Underwriter’s Laboratories) or ELT (Electrical Testing Laboratories) seal.

Extension cords should be temporary

Extension cords are another significant source of electrical fire. Long-term use can cause the insulation in the cord to deteriorate, creating a risk of shock or fire.

If you find yourself relying on extension cords regularly for extended periods of time, you need more electrical outlets. Consult an electrician and have additional outlets installed.

Other electrical safety tips

  • Replace or repair damaged electrical cords.
  • Buy a longer extension cord rather than connecting multiple cords together.
  • Don’t run extension cords under carpets or rugs. It prevents the cord from releasing heat and can melt the cord’s internal insulation. The same lesson applies when bundling cords — wrap them loosely.
  • If small children are present in your business, install tamper-resistant outlets.
  • Heed the warning signs. If an outlet feels warm, buzzes, or snaps, or if you have frequent problems with blown fuses, consult an electrician.

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