CPSC Document #16
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSO) estimates that each year, about 4,000 injuries associated with electric extension cords are treated in hospital emergency rooms. About half the injuries involve fractures, lacerations, contusions, or sprains from people tripping over extension cords. Thirteen percent of the injuries involve children under-five years of age; electrical burns to the mouth accounted for half the injuries to young children.
CPSC also estimates that about 3,300 residential fires originate in extension cords each year, killing 50 people and injuring about 270 others. The most frequent causes of such fires are short circuits, overloading, damage, and/or misuse of extension cords.
Following are CPSC investigations of injuries that illustrate the major accident patterns associated with extension cords, namely children putting extension cords in their mouths, overloaded cords, worn or damaged cords, and tripping over cords:
- A 15-month-old girl put an extension cord In her mouth and suffered an electrical burn. She required surgery.
- Two young children were injured in a fire caused by an overloaded extension cord in their family's home. A lamp, TV set, and electric heater had been plugged into a single, light-duty extension cord.
- A 65-year old woman was treated for a fractured ankle after tripping over an extension cord.
The National Electrical Code says that many cord-connected appliances should be equipped with polarized grounding type plugs. Polarized plugs have one blade slightly wider than the other and can only be inserted one way into the outlet. Polarization and grounding ensure that certain parts of appliances that could have a higher risk of electric shock when they become live are instead connected to the neutral, or grounded, side of the circuit. Such electrical products should only be used with polarized or grounding type extension cords.
Voluntary industry safety standards, including those of Underwriters Laboratories Inc.(UL), now require that general use extension cords have safety closures, warning labels, rating information about the electrical current, and other added features for the protection of children and other consumers.
In addition, UL-listed extension cords now must be constructed with #16 gauge or larger wire, or be equipped with integral fuses. The #16 gauge wire is rated to carry 13 amperes (up to 1560 watts), as compared to the formerly-used # 18 gauge cords that were rated for 10 amperes (up to 1200 watts).