Don't Overextend!

In the shop, the field, or the office, a common tool you’ll see in use is an extension cord. Before we plug one up and go about our task, we need to consider potential hazards and safety factors.

Most important to remember is extension cords are for temporary use only. If a need becomes more than temporary, permanent wiring needs to be installed.

Approximately 4,000 extension cord-related injuries are treated in hospitals each year, about 50 of which result in death. Half of the reported injuries are lacerations, contusions, sprains, etc., from people tripping over extension cords. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, in 2014, electrical fires accounted for 6.3%, nearly 24,000 fires, of all residential fires, 11% of the fires where someone died and 7% of the fires where someone was injured. And the months that see the greatest percentage of these fires...December and January.

It pays to follow best management practices when using extension cords:

  • Inspect an extension cord for damage before use.
  • Check the wattage rating on the appliance or tool that the extension cord will be used with; do not use an extension cord that has a lower rating.
  • Make sure all equipment and extension cords bear the mark of an independent testing laboratory such as UL (Underwriter’s Laboratories).
  • Make sure the plug on an extension cord is fully inserted in the outlet.
  • Replace an outlet if a plug is too loose in the outlet.
  • Match up the plug and extension cord on a polarized cord (one hole on the plug is larger than the other).
  • Always use GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) protection when using extension cords in wet or damp environments.
  • Unplug extension cords when not in use.
  • Keep extension cords away from children and animals.
  • Pull on the plug, not the cord when removing an extension cord from the outlet.
  • Store extension cords indoors.
  • Unplug extension cords when not in use.
  • Allow slack in extension cords to prevent tension on electrical terminals.
  • Put safety covers on the unused receptacle outlets on extension cords.

Ensure you do not make these common mistakes when using extension cords:

  • Don’t use an extension cord marked for indoor use outdoors.
  • Don’t plug one extension cord into another.
  • Don’t overload cords with more than the proper electrical load.
  • Don’t run extension cords through doorways, holes in ceilings, walls, or floors.
  • Don’t move, bend, or modify any of the metal parts of the extension cord plug.
  • Don’t plug a three-prong into a two-hole extension cord.
  • Don’t force a plug into an outlet.
  • Don’t use an extension cord when it is wet.
  • Don’t overheat an extension cord.
  • Don’t cover an extension cord with anything.
  • Don’t drive over an extension cord.
  • Don’t drag an extension cord.
  • Don’t attach extension cords to the wall with nails or staples.
  • Don’t run extension cords under rugs or carpets.
Sources used for this bulletin were compiled from: Naval Safety Center, Texas Electric Cooperatives, Inc., National Electrical Safety Foundation, Electrical Safety Foundation International and the Texas Department of Insurance.

For more information about extension cord safety, please see this edition of Wachs Weekly!