Protect your home and family by following extension cord guidelines

Extension cords are a convenient and widely used means for powering holiday lights, tools and appliances but improper use can result in injury and fire hazard.

Whether using an extension cord to provide temporary power or as a long-term means of powering an appliance in your home or work place, follow simple safety guidelines to avoid personal injury and to prevent fire that can occur when undersized cords overheat.

The March 2012 Safety newsletter published by the University of Tennessee Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) department notes that extension cords can be hazardous in a variety of ways. Not only can improper use result in shock or fire, cords placed in walkways also present trip and fall hazards. They cite statistics provided by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) who estimates that annually emergency rooms treat about 4,000 injuries associated with extension cords. About half of these injuries occur when people trip over unsecured cords located in walkways. Another sizable number of emergency room visitors suffer electrical shock from extension cord use that does not follow established safety guidelines.

The CPSC also states that approximately 3,300 residential fires result from extension cord use annually. The most frequent causes of these fires were due to short circuits, misuse, overloading, or damaged cords. The EHS newsletter offers simple safety hints for using extension cords and provides several useful websites to assist extension cord users with determining the proper cord for their situation.

Another excellent resource for learning more about the proper type and size of extension cord is Underwriters Laboratories (UL). This organization maintains a website that offers several online articles on home safety. Be sure to read the one about proper selection and use of extension cords.

 It may seem overly simple to suggest it, but their recommendations include reading the manufacturer’s instruction booklet for devices you are connecting via extension cord and checking the label on the cord to determine the use, size, and wattage rating. The label on an extension cord will clearly state whether it is rated for indoor or outdoor use. Never use an extension cord, indoors or outdoors, if the third prong, i.e., grounding prong, is broken off.

Extension cords need to be placed correctly. Never cover them with rugs or heavy furniture. Do not tack them to walls, use staples or tape to secure them in place. To prevent injuries caused by tripping and falling over extension cords, avoid placing them in walkways and doorways.

Use extension cords properly so that you can protect your home and family while safely using power tools, appliances, and holiday lights.

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