Even the most planned workspaces can lack enough power outlets to suit users, and that’s where extension cords come in handy. They supply electric power to everything from computers and printers to power drills when you need to power them but far from an outlet.
However, extension cords can go from helpful to a workplace safety hazard instantly when handled poorly. According to the Occupation Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), electrical hazards are the leading cause of workplace fatalities. Therefore, you should prioritize safety, performance, and practicality when shopping for a cord, whether the 100 foot extension cord or any other cord for your workplace. Here are some of the important factors to consider:
1. Choose the Right Wire Length and Width (Wire Gauge)
Extension cords may seem like low-involvement purchases alongside paper clips and other office supplies. However, seemingly simple factors like the extension cord’s length dictate its performance capacity and safety.
Extension cord lengths vary from 10ft to 100ft; however, when choosing the correct length for a workplace extension cord, longer isn’t always better. The extension cord’s length and its electrical resistance are directly proportional. Longer extension cables have higher electric resistance because the electric current collides with more ions as it moves from the power outlet to the connected device.
The high electrical resistance also causes a voltage drop whereby one part of the extension cord has a higher voltage than the other. Voltage drops cause the extension cables and the plugged devices to overheat.
However, buying shorter extension cords and linking them in a daisy chain creates a potential fire hazard due to power overload and overheating elements. For safety reasons, OSHA prohibits forming extension cord daisy chains and using cords longer than 100ft. Therefore, survey your work area and select the optimum extension cord length to meet your needs.
2. Determine the Wire Gauge (Cross-section Size) and Amperage
An extension cable’s diameter is also a primary consideration when selecting an extension cord to use at your workplace. The cord’s diameter is its gauge, and the standardized unit for measuring a power cable’s gauge is the American Wire Gauge (AWG).
The AWG number system measures the number of wires put together in an extension cord’s cable to reach the standard cross-sectional diameter for electric cables. However, the AWG number excludes the cord’s insulation jacket while calculating the wire gauge diameter. The AWG wire gauge chart features 40 different gauge sizes so that every electric cable bears a number between 0 and 40.
A low AWG number means fewer wires bundled together, while a higher number means more wires in the extension cable. The most common AWG sizes for extension cables range from 14AWG to 2 AWG.
Extension cords with high AWG numbers feature many thin wires but have high electrical resistance because they have fewer electrons to carry electric current. But, cables with a low AGW rating deliver better performance due to lower resistance as they have an ample number of electrons to facilitate efficient current flow.
An extension cord’s wire gauge goes hand-in-hand with its amperage or electric power carrying capacity. Different conductors have different power-carrying capabilities and so do cables with varying AWG ratings. Extension cables with a high AWG rating have lower amperage (10-20amp) and are ideal for light-duty electric applications.
In contrast, Extension cords with a low AWG number have higher amperage and can carry up to 60 amps of current. This makes them ideal for heavy-duty power applications at the workplace.
3. Consider Your Work Environment
Extension cords are helpful at formal workplaces like offices and in outdoor work sites like construction sites. However, there is no one-size-fits-all for extension cords at the workplace as they are being put to different uses. The key is knowing the ideal extension cord to deliver optimal yet safe performance in your work environment.
When focusing on the environment, there are two things to consider. First, you need to consider your workspace surroundings and classify it as either indoor or outdoor. Second, you also need to consider the magnitude of the power needs at the workplace.
Regardless, you cannot use an indoor-rated extension cable outdoors because it does not have the ideal ingress protection (IP) rating for outdoor use. Not only will such cables not last outdoors, but they can cause potentially hazardous incidents, including electrocution and electric fires. However, an outdoor-rated extension cord works just fine indoors.
When it comes to work intensity, outdoor extension cords feature heavy-duty construction, low AWG, and high amperage; hence are ideal for heavy-duty use. While indoor-rated extension cords power computers and phone chargers, outdoor-rated ones power heavy machinery like power tools. The designation letters imprinted on each extension cord define the different uses and applications for various extension cords.
However, regardless of your work environment, only put extension cords to appropriate uses. For instance, OSHA prohibits substituting permanent wiring with extension cables or nailing them to walls and ceilings.
4. Look For Extension Cords With Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI)
Choosing the ideal extension cord is the first step toward creating a safe workplace for all parties involved. The perfect extension cord for office or on-site use should have safety features to protect staff and visitors from potential electric hazards. A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is arguably the safest feature any workplace extension could have.
GCFIs are circuit interrupters that monitor current flow and break the circuit immediately when they sense a potential power leak. They also disrupt the electric flow to avert electrocution and other potentially dangerous electric hazards.
Therefore, an extension cable featuring an integrated GFCI goes a long way in ensuring workplace safety. However, responsible extension cord use and maintenance also go a long way in ensuring workplace safety.
5. Choose Extension Cords Featuring Quality Certifications
There are many extension cable manufacturers, yet not all of them meet industry standards for efficient and safe extension cords. Luckily, independent testing organizations promote product quality by conducting rigorous testing on submitted extension cords according to the extension cord’s specifications and purported applicable settings.
The Underwriter’s Lab (UL) is arguably the most popular certification listing for electrical appliances. Other quality standard certifications include the European Commission Mark (CE) and the Federal Communications Commission mark (FCC). Such certifications of quality guarantee you high product performance and safety.
Regardless of your extension cord applications, safety, optimal performance, and durability are top considerations when choosing an extension cord. Thankfully, you can follow these simple tips to identify perfect extension cords that meet your work needs.