Of all the scintillating topics to discuss when it comes to cleaning equipment, perhaps none rises to the top faster than the subject of power cords. All kidding aside, while this may not be the most interesting topic we will ever discuss, it is an important topic when it comes to the safety of the operator and your pocketbook.
Let’s begin with a quick primer on electricity and power cords. Looking at a standard 120-volt outlet, you will see two slots and a round hole. On the left, the slot that is slightly larger, you have the “neutral” slot and on the right, the slightly smaller slot, you have the “hot” slot. The hole in the middle is the “ground” slot.
The way electricity works is by creating a circuit. For example, when you plug in a blender and turn it on, the electricity flows into the blender through the “hot” slot on the right, powers the blender motor, and then exits through the “neutral” slot. The ground plug is there to keep any metal parts from becoming electrified in the event that the “hot” wires somehow become exposed and make contact with any parts in the unit. In fact, if you were to trace the wiring off of an electrical outlet you would discover that both the “neutral” and the “ground” wires run to the same place.
The ground is simply there to protect that operator and any other people who may come in contact with the machine.
Let’s deal with the most important issue first: the safety of the operator. Power cords should never be used if they are missing the ground plug on the cord. The ground plug must be intact so that the machine is grounded safely; otherwise the operator is at risk of electrical shock. Using a plug or extension cord with the ground plug removed is a violation of OSHA code 1926.404(f), which states that electrical equipment shall be grounded.
As for the safety of your pocketbook, penalties for using ungrounded equipment will vary depending on the number of infractions and repeat infractions, but are generally over $1,000.
Keep your workers safe, and make sure that all the power equipment and cords you use have the ground plug intact.
Another common safety issue when it comes to cords is the use of cords that have a frayed area that exposes the wires inside. This can create a very dangerous situation, especially if the cords are being used in a wet environment. Using a frayed, cut, or worn power cord is a violation of OSHA code 1926.416(e)(1), which states that “worn or frayed electrical cords or cables shall not be used.”
Penalties for this violation also vary, but are generally over $1,000 per incident. OSHA has provided interpretations of this standard that allow for cords with nicks or cuts in the outer sheathing to be used as long as the internal wires are not exposed or damaged. These nicks can be covered by taping, as long as the original flexibility is not affected and the affected area of the cord is monitored for further damage.
The final item is cords that “pig-tail” over time and with use. We have all seen cords that twist and curl and ultimately need replaced. This is due to the heat that builds up in the metal wires as electricity flows through the cord. When the cord is unplugged and the user grabs the unplugged end of the cord and begins wrapping the cord as they walk back towards the machine the “twist” that has been created by the heat is locked into the cord as it cools.
The best thing to do is to unplug the machine, drop the cord, walk back to the machine, and begin wrapping the cord while standing next to the unit. This will allow the “twist” to work its way out of the cord as it is wrapped.
Finally, do not over-use extension cords. Most manufacturers of equipment recommend using an extension cord that is no more than approximately half the length of the cord supplied with the machine. That means if your machine comes with a 40-foot cord, you should use no more than about 20 feet of extension cord. Using longer lengths of extension cords will burn up motors in your equipment, as it causes them to work much harder to draw the electricity to the unit.
For more information on OSHA regulations, please visit their website at www.osha.gov.