Electrical Safety 101: Overloading Circuits

March 23, 2016 – An overloaded electrical outlet is more common than not. It’s easy and inexpensive to find quick electrical solutions when your facility is in a pinch. However, oftentimes, these practices become commonplace and puts your organization at risk.

An electrical circuit overload occurs when more electrical demand is placed on a circuit than it can handle. In your facility, this can happen for a number of reasons, but is primarily related to not having enough electrical outlets available for use. For example during pot lucks, holiday meals, etc., the use of slow cookers, coffee makers or roasters is needed.  These generally are all plugged into outlets in the kitchen, or into power strips being used in the kitchen, and are most likely all on the same branch circuit.  This overloads the circuit and causes nuisance tripping of the breakers or blowing of fuses.  Frequent tripping of breakers or blown fuses may be an indicator of other more serious electrical issues, including loose or corroded wires and connections, short circuit or a ground fault.  All of these issues can lead to a serious fire.  Please follow the safety guidelines outlined below to help prevent a large loss at your facility.

Electrical Inspection

If the breakers are continually tripping or the fuses are blowing, a certified electrician should be hired to inspect the electrical system. This inspection will identify the electrical demands needed and any corrections that are necessary.

Fuses

The presence of fuses in the electrical system indicates older wiring, and every attempt should be made to replace fuses with circuit breakers. Where fuses still exist, an all too common practice to stop a fuse from continually blowing is to install a higher-rated fuse in the circuit (i.e., installing a 15-amp fuse with a 20-amp fuse). This is a recipe for disaster, as this allows for more current into the circuit than it was designed for. This can lead to overheating of the wire and probable fire.

To prevent mismatching or over fusing of the circuit, type “S” tamper-proof fuses should be installed for all screw-in fuse panels. These come in different amperage sizes, and each tamper-proof fuse will only screw into the correct tamper-proof base.

Loose Connections or Corroded Wires

Circuit overloads also can be caused by loose or corroded wires and connections. This could be at the service panel circuit connections or a splice in a junction box from moisture or a missing wire nut. Again, if you are experiencing tripping breakers or blown fuses, contact a certified electrician.

Circuit Breakers

  • All electrical breaker panels should be equipped with an appropriate cover and remain closed. Missing covers expose the circuits to dust and physical damage which could lead to an arc or short circuit.
  • There should not be any missing breakers or other openings between breakers. These openings allow for the potential of electrocution, physical damage, and dust and dirt to accumulate in the circuits. Spare clips should be installed in any openings in the breaker panel.
  • Breakers must never be taped or physically secured in the “ON” position. If the breaker is not allowed to trip, or cannot be manually tripped, the wiring could overheat, increasing the chances of a fire.

Temporary Wiring

Temporary wiring includes the use of extension cords and power strips.  The use of extension cords and power strips indicate that additional electrical services are needed. They are not designed to be installed in a permanent manner, and if this becomes the case, a licensed electrician should be hired to install additional electrical platforms. The following safety precautions should be followed if temporary wiring will be used:

  • If the cord’s insulation has been damaged, never try to repair it with electrical tape. Remove the cord from service.
  • Never plug multiple 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 cord should be discarded and replaced.
  • Cords should never be nailed down, stapled, run through walls, under rugs or across doorways.
  • Only use power strips that have a built-in circuit breaker that will trip if overloaded or shorted.

Multi-tap Electrical Adapters

Multi-tap electrical adapters allow for plugging in several appliances at once into the outlet. This can cause overloading and overheating of the circuit. Multiple adapters are not recommended for use.

Electrical Preventative Maintenance Program

An electrical preventative maintenance program conducted by a certified electrician once every three years will identify hidden electrical hazards and reduce your chances of an electrical fire.

For further information on the items listed above and other electrical safety resources, please visit SafeChurch.com; and click on the Facility Safety/Electrical Resources tab.