Power Cord Safety: Mistakes to Avoid
Power cords, simply put, can be dangerous. Now when you think of the word “dangerous”, a power cord is probably not the first image that jumps into your head. And granted, a regular power cord is not as dangerous as something like a high voltage line at a substation. But while you may not need to be a licensed electrician to plug something into a wall outlet, it is important to remember that accidents do happen.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), roughly 4,000 people treated in emergency rooms are injured each year by power cords. Half of these injuries alone include fractures, contusions, lacerations, and sprains from people tripping over power cords. It is also estimated that roughly 3,300 home fires start each year due to power cords, with an estimated 270 people injured and 50 killed from the fires. Be safe, not a statistic.
The number one cause of injury for power cords is tripping. A power cord should never be stretched across a room where people walk, even if it has enough slack to sit flat on the floor. Try to keep cords behind furniture or other fixtures to keep them out of the way. If a cord absolutely must go through an area with foot traffic, cover it with something like a speed bump to remove the danger of tripping.
On a similar note to tripping, make sure to keep cords out of the way if they are stretching upwards. You do not want a loose cord that a swinging elbow could accidentally catch, sending your electronics crashing to the ground. Making sure a cord is not within grabbing range of any curious children is also a good policy.
Securing Cords Correctly
If you need to cover a power cord, be sure to use something rated and tested for that application. For example, never run a power cord under a regular rug. A rug holds in the heat that the cord releases, causing overheating. This can lead to performance issues, damage to the cable, or even an electrical fire.
Cables along the floor, even when covered, should be in places where they will not be stepped on. Power cords are not designed to be stepped on constantly. Over time, it leads to wear-and-tear such as cracked jackets, damaged insulation, and frayed wires. This also includes cords being crushed between two surfaces, like having the cord between a wall and headboard.
If a cord needs to run up a wall, never use something that could pierce the cord like staples or a nail. Anything that could stab into the cord can hit the insulation. Since things like staples and nails are typically made of metal, this could electrocute someone or start a fire.
Using Power Cords as Intended
Different power cords can have different voltage ratings. If you try to use a 125-volt cord with a 250-volt appliance, the cord could be damaged or even start an electrical fire. Each and every power cord is rated for a certain number of volts, watts, and amps. Stick to those numbers and treat them as law.
Power cords transmit electricity, which generates heat. In turn, power cords give off heat. They must be kept in areas that are properly ventilated or the cords will not be able to let off the excess heat. Keep power cords out of enclosed spaces like walls and ceilings and away from heat-producing equipment like furnaces or space heaters. If a cord feels hot, it needs to be unplugged and moved to a new area.
When using extension cords, make sure not to plug too much into one outlet. The more cords you plug into a single outlet, the more wattage running through that one connection. Eventually, it will get to be too much. It could just blow a fuse, but it could also start an electrical fire.
If a power cable is being used outdoors, make sure it is an outdoor-rated power cable. Indoor-rated cables are not designed to stand up to things like rainwater, sunlight, or extreme temperatures. These factors and others can damage a cable and cause it to function incorrectly. If a cable is damaged in this or any other way, the safest thing to do it replace it.