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Electrical Hazards Often Found in the Office

The high volume of electrical equipment in a typical office work environment can expose workers to serious electrical hazards, including shocks, burns and fire.

Tangle of electrical cords and surge protector commonly found underneath an office desk.

In the office, electrical safety at work is important. Electrical incidents and injuries that occur in an office environment are usually the result of faulty or defective equipment, unsafe installation, or misuse of equipment like extension cords, power strips and surge protectors.

Regularly inspect electrical cables to ensure they are not frayed, cracked or otherwise damaged. Damaged wires and cables can cause electric shocks and present a fire hazard. Any electrical cables, power cords or extension cords that are damaged, or are not functioning properly, should be removed from service immediately. This includes any electrical cords that are frayed or have exposed wires, even if they still seem to be working.

OSHA Standard 1910.334(a)(2)(ii) If there is a defect or evidence of damage that might expose an employee to injury, the defective or damaged item shall be removed from service, and no employee may use it until repairs and tests necessary to render the equipment safe have been made.
Office worker tripping on an electrical cable laying across the floor.

Electrical cables and extension cords can easily become trip and fall hazards if not routed carefully. Keep all cords close to a wall and away from foot traffic to prevent tripping and cord damage.

OSHA Standard 1910.334(a)(1) Flexible cords may not be fastened with staples or otherwise hung in such a fashion as could damage the outer jacket or insulation.

Any flexible cord may be damaged by activities on the job, by door or window edges, by staples or fastenings, by abrasion from adjacent materials, or simply by aging. If the electrical conductors become exposed, there is a danger of shocks, burns, or fire. Do not bind, kink or knot electrical cords. Never run power cords under rugs or where chairs can roll over them. Do not run electrical cords through high-traffic areas, under carpets, across doorways or through windows. Do not secure any power cables to surfaces with staples or nails.

Office worker pushing an electrical plug into a wall socket.

Overloaded power strips and wall outlets are the most common electrical hazards in any office. Electrical circuits that are overloaded pose both an electrocution hazard and a fire hazard. Overusing an outlet can lead to overheating or a power shortage. If you must use a power strip, use a high-quality product from a reputable retailer. Low-quality or counterfeit power strips may contain wiring that isn't adequate to carry the load.

Even when using a surge protector, make sure the electrical load is not too much for the circuit. Place power strips where there is plenty of air circulation to disperse heat. Consider charging battery-operated devices in another area.

Overloaded circuit warning signs include:

  • flickering, blinking or dimming lights
  • warm or discolored outlet wall plates
  • burning odor coming from outlets, wall switches or equipment
  • frequently tripped circuit breakers or blown fuses
  • cracking, sizzling, or buzzing coming from an outlet
  • mild shock or tingle from equipment, outlets or switches

Do not use an extension cord or a power strip with portable heaters or fans, which could cause cords to overheat and result in a fire. These devices should be plugged directly into a wall outlet.

Damaged electrical cord that appears to have ben cut.

Fully insert the electrical cable plug into the outlet and never force a plug into an outlet if it does not fit. Do not plug or unplug anything while your hands are wet. Avoid overloading wall outlets. Do not plug in too many items that require power at once.

Keep all non-critical electrical items unplugged until you need to use them. Never remove the grounding pin on an electrical cord or extension cord plug to try to fit it into a two-prong outlet. When unplugging any device, power strip or extension cord from a power outlet, make sure to firmly pull the plug out of the outlet and never yank on the cord to attempt to pull the plug out.

OSHA Standard 1910.305(g)(1)(iv)(A) Unless specifically permitted otherwise, flexible cords and cables may not be used as a substitute for the fixed wiring of a structure.

Extension cords should only be used on a temporary basis, they are not meant to be a permanent solution to a shortage of electrical outlets. Do not use indoor extension cords on outdoor projects. Do not use multiple extension cords connected together, use a longer extension cord instead. Store extension cords indoors when not in use.

Damaged cord on a power strip that looks like maybe an animal chewed on it.

If you notice any of the following hazards, report immediately.

  • electrical cables that are frayed, damaged, kinked or have exposed wires
  • rattling plugs or loose outlets
  • electrical outlets that do not work
  • electrical equipment, outlets or switches that give off a strange or burning odor
  • equipment that seems to be overheating or is hot to the touch
  • overloaded outlets or power strips
  • missing or damaged light switch or outlet face plates
  • equipment that is not working properly
  • extension cords that have been in use for an extended period and haven’t been replaced by a more permanent, safer solution
Malfunctioning power strip that should be removed from service.

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