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GuideOne Risk Resources for Health Care
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Electrical Safety

A fire to your building can be a major loss to your organization. In an attempt to prevent a fire loss, one of the easiest precautions you can take is to adequately identify and control electrical hazards. The following list identifies electrical hazards and how to control them.

Missing Covers

All junction boxes, switches and outlets should have proper covers installed in order to prevent arc flash and electrocution hazards. Without any covering over these electrical items, dust, dirt and debris are allowed into the interior of the enclosure. Additionally, missing covers could allow metallic objects to fall into the circuits that could potentially arc or lodge in a way that presents a hazard when the enclosure is opened.

Circuit Breakers

Circuit breakers are designed to protect the circuit and equipment when it becomes overloaded. Be sure to follow safety precautions to prevent an electrical fire or damage associated with circuit breakers, such as:

  • Equip all electrical breaker panels with an appropriate cover and keep it closed;

  • Replace any missing breakers and other openings between breakers with plastic spacers that snap into the electrical panel;

  • Ensure breakers are never taped or physically secured in the "ON" position; and

  • Index the electrical panel to identify each individual circuit breaker.

Extension Cords

Use of extension cords is an easy and less expensive alternative than having additional electrical services installed, however, this usually becomes a permanent solution and can lead to electrocution, short circuit, overloading and fire. If temporary wiring is necessary, the following safety precautions should be followed:

  • Never cut off the ground pin to connect a three-prong appliance cord to a two-wire extension cord or receptacle. Use only three-wire extension cords for appliances with three-prong plugs.

  • If an extension cord's insulation has been damaged, remove the cord from service. Never try to repair a damaged extension cord with electrical tape.

  • Never plug multiple extension cords into each other. If the cord feels hot or if there is a softening of the plastic, the cord is drawing too much power and the plug wires or connections are failing, which could present a fire or shock hazard. The extension cord should be discarded and replaced.

  • Extension cords should never be nailed down, stapled, run through walls, under rugs or across doorways.

  • Never use an extension cord while it is coiled, looped or tied in a knot.

  • Use special, heavy-duty extension cords that are designed for high wattage appliances, such as air conditioners and freezers.

  • Purchase extension cords from reputable distributors and retailers, and check the product to ensure that a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has certified the product.

Power Strips

Power strips are really an extension cord with multiple receptacles. These are most commonly used where multiple outlets are needed, such as for office and audio/visual equipment. The safety precautions outlined for extension cords also should apply for power strips. Additional precautions for power strips include:

  • Only use power strips that have a built-in circuit breaker that will trip if overloaded or shorted.

  • Do not plug high power demand appliances, such as refrigerators, microwave ovens or wall air conditioning units, into power strips. These types of appliances should each have a separate electrical outlet.

  • Do not locate a power strip in any area where the unit would be covered with a rug, furniture, or any other item that would inhibit air circulation.

  • Under no circumstances should one power strip be plugged into another power strip, also known as daisy chaining. If the electrical demand gets to that point, it is definitely time to call an electrician.

Multiple Adapters

Multiple adapters also allow for plugging in several appliances at once, and more often than not are not protected with a built in breaker. This can cause overloading and overheating of the circuit. Multiple adapters are not recommended for use.

Housekeeping

Ensure electrical equipment storage areas are organized in a manner that will reduce the likelihood of items being ignited after an arc flash. This includes:

  • Limiting access to electrical rooms to authorized maintenance or operations personnel;

  • Keeping electrical equipment areas dry and protected from moisture;

  • Keeping electrical equipment areas clean and protected from dust and dirt; and

  • Placing storage items at least 36 inches from electrical panels and equipment to ensure proper air circulation and cooling.

Controlling each of these items in your building requires little time and effort. By taking time each month to review electrical hazards in your building, fire prevention measures will become routine to your organization. For additional information please review the Electrical: Common Hazards and Electrical: Temporary Wiring fact sheets.

 
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