Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Untangling Extension Cord Usage

Extension cords are a common sight on both Construction and General Industry jobsites. When used properly, they provide convenience and flexibility. Improperly used, they pose serious health and physical hazards to the work.

When using extension cords, the first step is to ensure that the cord chosen is appropriate for the task. Both the General Industry and the Construction standards require that only ‘hard service’ or ‘junior hard-service’ cords may be used on the jobsite. In practical terms, this means the cord type should be SO or SJ. The type will be embossed on the outside cable jacket, so make sure it contains those letters. Flat-style extension cords, like the ones commonly used to connect decorative, holiday lighting are not approved for use at work.

The next step is to make sure that the cord has the appropriate current-carrying capacity to safely connect the load. Check the tool or appliance for its amperage-rating, then select a cord that has conductors large enough for the application. Consult the manufacturer, or consult with a qualified person if there is any question about the appropriate size.

The cord must be inspected before use to determine that it is safe to put in operation. Some examples of inspection points are the strain relief, making sure the prongs are in good condition, and checking the cable jacket for any burns, cuts, or abrasions that could affect the integrity of the insulation. Employees must receive training from the employer regarding the safe use of extension cords on the jobsite, and regarding the inspection process that is required. It is never a bad idea to document the inspections. If the cord is in any way deficient, then it must be removed from service and replaced or repaired by a qualified worker.

Lastly, the cord must be used in a safe manner. This includes making sure the cord is not damaged while in use. Employers should take care to see that cords are not subject to physical hazards on the jobsite such as sharp corners, having doors and windows closed on them, and heat damage from welding, cutting, or brazing operations on the jobsite. Cords should also be routed in such a way as to reduce the trip hazard they can cause. When the work is finished, the cord should be rolled up and stored safely.

Cords may not be used as a substitute for the fixed wiring of a structure, so make sure that extension cords are only used in a temporary fashion. Choose the right cord for the task, inspect them before use, and repair or replace any damaged cords. These steps will help reduce shock and physical hazards associated with extension cord use on the jobsite.


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