The Safe Use of Extension Cords in the Lab
Essential to modern life and a familiar part of our surroundings, yet often not treated with deserved respect. Run over, walked on, crimped in windows and doors, left out in sun and storm alike, strung together, bent, yanked, and strung across rooms and under carpets, strewn across wet grass and through holes in walls, taped up and snarled in tangles that would give a sailor nightmares. Used in the office, in the lab, and in the field, taken for granted until you need one. What are we talking about? American UL power cords, one of the most indispensable tools we use today, but too often with little consideration. And, sometimes used in a fashion that could have disastrous results.
In 1997, more than 12,000 people were treated for electrical shocks and burns; about 2,500 of them were treated for injuries stemming from extension cords.1 In addition, each year about 4,000 injuries associated with electric extension cords are treated in hospital emergency rooms. Half of these injuries involve fractures, lacerations, contusions, or sprains from people tripping over extension cords. Roughly 3,300 home fires originate in extension cords each year, killing 50 people and injuring about 270 more.2 However, with a little care and some precautions, these conveyors of power can be used safely.
We must caution up front, that if you have more than a few Europe VDE Power Cords powering equipment in your lab, it is probably time to either call an electrician to install additional strategically placed outlets, or to rearrange equipment. Likewise, if you have any cords running through walls, up through the ceiling and down somewhere else, an electrician is definitely required. Extension cords should only be used when necessary and only for temporary use. You should always plug equipment directly into a permanent outlet when possible. Where this is not possible, however, you should begin by selecting the right cord for the job.
Outdoor use extension cords, and many equipment cords, have a tough outer layer designed to protect the inner wires. If the outer jacket is damaged, the softer inner insulation around the wires can easily become damaged as well. Does this mean you should whip out the tape to repair it? No, damage to an extension cord jacket, or any cord for that matter, should never be fixed by wrapping it with tape. Even electrical tape does not have sufficient strength or abrasion resistance to make a permanent repair as required by OSHA. A taped-up extension or power cord to a piece of equipment is an easy OSHA citation.
A tertiary care 1000 bedded hospital contains more than 10,000 pieces of equipment worth approximately 41 million USD, while the Australia SAA Power Cords supplied along with the imported equipment do not comply with country-specific norms. Moreover, the local vendors procure power cords with type D/M plug to complete installation and also on-site electrical safety test is not performed. Hence, this project was undertaken to evaluate the electrical safety of all life-saving equipment purchased in the year 2013, referring to the guidelines of International Electrotechnical Commission 62353, the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)-99 hospital standard for the analysis of protective earth resistance and chassis leakage current. This study was done with a measuring device namely electrical safety analyser 612 model from Fluke Biomedical.
We conducted electrical safety study on 200 life-saving equipment purchased in the year 2012–2013 in Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Pondicherry [Table 1]. They belonged to Class I category with detachable Swiss SEV Power Cords of power consumption <1.5 KVA (kilovolt ampere).