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Electrical Outlet Safety

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fire departments respond to nearly 26,000 fires caused by electrical problems each year resulting in $1.1 billion in damages. While electrical fires can occur throughout the year, fires are most common in the winter months due to more indoor activities taking place and increased use of electricity for lighting, heating, and appliances.

Outlet Overload

Many electrical fires are caused by outlets and extension cords being overloaded. With the increasing number of electrical devices like televisions, computers, DVD players, charging equipment for cell phones, iPods, and MP3 players, it can be easy to overload electrical outlets and increase the chances of a fire.

To help prevent fires, properties include a circuit breaker or a fuse box that cuts power to a circuit if an outlet is being used beyond its capacity to safely supply current. Keep in mind, however, that most circuit breakers or fuses are connected to multiple outlets in perhaps more than one room, not just to an individual outlet.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter Breakers and Outlets

To help safeguard against fires or electrocution, it’s a good idea to take the following precautions:

  • Install a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). This device is especially important for outlets near a water source that could cause a short circuit, such as receptacles located outside, in the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room or in a damp basement. A GFCI is a reliable way to ensure the circuit shuts down quickly if it is overloaded or shorted with electrical current.
  • If an appliance has three prong plugs, hire a qualified electrician to replace two prong outlets with three prong grounded or GFCI outlets.
  • Never remove the grounding prong on an appliance cord.
  • Unplug any appliance or tool that gives even the slightest shock and have it checked by a qualified electrician or repair person.

Preventing an Electrical Outlet Fire

The number one thing you can do to prevent an electrical fire is to make sure that all electrical appliances have the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) standard for safety sticker. If the product does not, reconsider your purchase.

The following is a checklist of additional things you can do to prevent an electrical outlet fire:

  • A light bulb that burns out quickly and often usually means the wattage is too high for the particular outlet you are using. It is important to decrease the wattage immediately.
  • Replace wires and cords that are frayed, old or damaged in some other way.
  • An electrical cord that is warm to the touch could indicate a defective cord or overload.
  • Keep all flammable materials, such as clothing and home décor at least three feet away from lights, warm surfaces or outlets.
  • Extension cords are a temporary, not permanent, wiring solution.
  • Avoid overheating by using extension cords of the proper size for the load they will carry and by using cords as short as practical.
  • Don’t use an extension cord with a portable heater. The current from the heater could melt the cord and cause a fire.
  • Regularly check cords for damage and never repair by splicing. Avoid using “octopus plugs,” which allow many cords to be plugged into a single receptacle.

Preventing Outlet Overload

  • Are there plugs and cords that run every which way in your organization? When one or two outlets might not suffice in a room, contact a local electrician to install more outlets if you’re running out of room. Don’t just buy an extension cord or power strip, as these can cause overloading problems.


© 2024 GuideOne Insurance. GuideOne® is the registered trademark of the GuideOne Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.