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Safety Tips | Electrical safety

Extending electrical safety

January 1, 2009

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When selecting an extension cord for use with a power tool or high-powered machine, cord length is not the only thing that should be considered. Improper use of extension cords can easily cause appliances to overheat and can lead to fire, according to Northbrook, IL-based Under-writers Laboratories Inc.

Before choosing a cord, UL reminds users to check the gauge. The gauge of a wire relates to its thickness and the total wattage rating the cord can handle. Thicker cords can power higher wattage appliances and will be marked with a lower gauge rating. The current capacity of the cord also diminishes with length.

The wattage necessary to power a tool should be available either on the tool itself or in the manufacturer’s booklet. If you are using one extension cord to power two tools, be certain to add the wattage rating of both tools together to determine the necessary gauge for your cord.

Also, be sure that the extension cord you select is suitable for outdoor work, if necessary. Using an indoor cord outdoors could lead to electric shock and create a fire hazard.

Additional extension cord safety tips:

  • Always look for an independent testing laboratory’s certification mark on the extension cord, which indicates it has been tested for safety.
  • Store all cords indoors when not in use – outdoor conditions can lead to deterioration over time.
  • Always unplug extension cords when not in use. The cord will continue to conduct electricity as long as it is plugged into the wall.
  • Inspect extension cords before use, discarding any that are cut or damaged. Even a single exposed wire can lead to severe burns and is a fire risk.
  • Most cords have polarized plugs – one blade that is wider than the other. These are designed to prevent electric shock by properly aligning circuit conductors. If a plug does not fit, do not force it. Have a qualified electrician install a new outlet.

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