Plug Into Electrical Safety


The National Electrical Safety Foundation was organized in July 1994. One of its goals is to build public awareness through ongoing education.

One program highlighted is National Electrical Safety Month in May. Many companies, trade associations, unions, and consumer leaders have contributed to this effort.

This page is designed with "mini messages". Each of these sections can stand alone as a news story, an article, or an informational piece. Together the sections complete the "Plug Into Electrical Safety" message.

You are encouraged to use this page in spreading the message on electrical safety.

Extension Cords

Extension cords are often used in homes and offices around the United States. They offer convenience and adaptability on a temporary basis.

But if used improperly or carelessly, extension cords can be dangerous. the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that approximately 3,000 injuries associated with electrical extension cords are treated annually in hospital emergency rooms. In 1992, extension cords were involved in about 3,100 residential electrical fires resulting in approximately 50 deaths and about $45 million in property loss.

Potential Hazards Involving Extension Cords

Be on the look out for overloaded cords and worn or damaged cords. Make sure you don't cover cords with carpets, furniture or appliances. Replace any older cords that are non-polarized and don't have safety closures; these cords expose young children to chock hazards and mouth burn injuries. Do not use extension cords as permanent substitute for inadequate housing wiring. Keep cords out of the reach of children, if possible, keep cords out of high traffic areas where people could trip over them. Only use extension cords that have been listed by a recognized certification organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL).

Sizes & Types of Cord

Make sure the total number of watts connected to the extension cords in no more than the cord rating. Replace overloaded cords with cords of the proper size. Extension cords used outdoors should be specifically marked for such use. Indoor-use-only cords will not withstand outdoor use, which could result in a fire or shock hazard.

Grounding Pins

When using plugs with grounding pins (the third pin on the plug), only use the proper grounding type of extension cord (one with three prongs). Polarized electrical products (with one blade of the plug being wider that the other) should be used only with polarized or grounded extension cords.

Never remove the third prong or cut down a blade of a plug to fit an unpolarized receptacle.

Heavy Duty Extension Cords

Use special heavy duty extension cords with high-wattage appliances, such as:

  • Air conditioners
  • Freezers
  • Microwave ovens
  • Portable electric heaters
  • Refrigerators


Everyone knows what a plug is. But do you know how a plug works? You should, because, according to CPSC, plugs and cords are involved in about 20% of all home electrical wiring system fires each year.

Inside the body of the plug the cord's wires are fastened to the blades so the electric power passes to the cord from the receptacle. The typical plug consists of a live and neutral blade at one end, a crimp connection attached to the cord wire at the other, and a molded plastic body holding the two blades apart. When inserted into a receptacle, the blades become energized. Electricity flows through the blades, through the blade/cord connection and to the cord, this energizing the appliance.

Different Types of Plugs

Three-prong plugs incorporate a ground pin that connects exposed metal parts to the wiring system ground. Two-prong plugs do not have a grounding pin. Two-prong plugs are often used on "double-insulated" appliances that do not rely on grounding to provide shock and fire safety. Such appliances include power tools.

If you are using a three-prong plug in a room with two-conductor outlets, do not cut off the ground pin. Removing this pin could lead to electrical shock. The simplest solution may be to properly use a three-to-two prong adapter, approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.

Polarized & Non-Polarized

Plugs also come in "polarized" and "non-polarized" varieties. Polarization is primarily used to reduce the potential for shock. Consumers can identify polarized plugs by one blade being wider than the other. (Three conductor plugs are automatically polarized because they can only be inserted on e way.)

Older homes may not have polarized receptacle outlets. If not, the receptacles will not accept polarized plugs. A qualified electrician should replace the old receptacles and put in wiring consistent with polarization. Do not risk injury or fire by modifying or forcing the plug blade to fit into the outlet.

Receptacles / Switches

The switch is the point where two worlds meet-human and electrical. Switches are used to turn power on and off. Receptacles are outlets, usually mounted on a wall or in the floor, the supply electricity to appliances through a cord or plug.

According to CPSC, in 1992 (the most recent year for which data is available), there were about 4,800 electrical fires involving switches and receptacles. Such fires accounted for about 12% of the total number of electrical distribution system fires for that period.

Safety Precautions to Take with Switches & Receptacles

  • Many outside receptacles, as well as bathroom, kitchen, basement, garage and crawl space receptacles, should be protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI).
  • If plugs seem to fit loosely in a particular outlet, the outlet may be worn and could overheat; a qualified electrician should check it.
  • Outdoor receptacles should have waterproof covers to help protect against shock hazards. Close the covers on all unused outlets.
  • All switches and outlets should be checked periodically to make sure they are not hot to the touch. If switches and outlets don't work properly, are hot to the touch, spark or arc when used, or if the switch or outlet blows a fuse or trips a circuit breaker, this could indicate an unsafe wiring condition. Have an electrician check the switch or plug.
  • All outlets should have a faceplate to prevent consumer exposure to wiring.
  • If receptacles or switches are wired with aluminum wiring instead of the more traditional copper, write to CPSC Washington DC 20207, for a booklet on this subject called "Repairing Aluminum Wiring". The CPSC has received reports of overheating at outlet terminals and connectors associated with aluminum wiring.