Practice safe use of extension cords

As the holidays quickly approach many are beginning to decorate their offices and homes with lights, upon lights, upon lights.  Often strung together using multiple extension cords.

However, improper use of extension cords is a common cause of fires and workplace electrical accidents.  The most frequent causes are short circuits, overloading, damage, and/or misuse of extension cords.

General safety recommendations for extension cords

  • Use polarized extension cords with polarized appliances.
  • Replace cracked or worn extension cords with new. #16 gauge cords that have the listing, of a nationally-recognized testing laboratory, safety closures, and other safety features.
  • If not in use for a period of time, then they should be unplugged and coiled up.  (Vehicle heater cords are the exception).
  • Cords should always be uncoiled before use.  Otherwise, they can heat up and the insulation can be damaged.  Avoid kinking and excessive bending.
  • Extension cords should always be used with ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection.
  • Only heavy-duty extension cords, 14 AWG or larger, should be used in the workplace.  Ungrounded “zip cords” should not be used.
  • Care must be taken not to pinch cords with equipment, furniture, vehicles, or allow excessive foot traffic over them.  Never run extension cords under rugs.
  • Insert plugs fully so that no part of the prongs are exposed when the extension cord is in use.
  • When disconnecting cords, pull the plug rather than the cord itself.

    Disconnect using the plug, not the cord

Prohibited uses for extension cords  

Safety standards prohibit certain uses for extension cords.  They are:

  • Use in lieu of permanent wiring.  If a cord is used as a “permanent” fixture in your workplace, then you need an electrician to install more receptacles!
  •  Through holes in walls and ceilings.
  •  Concealed behind walls or ceilings.
  •  Attached to building surfaces.
  •  Through doors and windows or against sharp surfaces.

For more tips on fire safety check out this talking points memo from the National Fire Prevention Association, or the video below.


Be safe this holiday season!