Electrical Safety 101: Overloading Circuits

planning ahead // Eric Spacek, JD, ARM on Thursday March 24, 2016

An overloaded electrical outlet is more common than you might think. While it’s easy and inexpensive to find quick electrical solutions when your facility is in a pinch, oftentimes, these practices put your organization at risk and tend to become tong-term solutions.

An electrical circuit overload occurs when more electrical demand is placed on a circuit than it can handle.  This can happen for a number of reasons, but is primarily related to not having enough electrical outlets available for use. For example during potlucks, the use of slow cookers, coffee makers and roasters are all plugged into outlets in the kitchen, and are most likely all on the same branch circuit.  This overloads the circuit and causes nuisance tripping of the breakers or blowing of fuses.  Frequent tripping of breakers or blown fuses may be an indicator of other more serious electrical issues, including loose or corroded wires and connections, short circuit or a ground fault, which are all issues that can lead to a serious fire.  To help avoid a serious situation at your organization, follow the safety guidelines outlined below.

Electrical Inspection

If the breakers are continually tripping or the fuses are blowing, hire a certified electrician to inspect the electrical system. This inspection will identify the electrical demands needed and any necessary corrections.

Fuses

The presence of fuses in the electrical system indicates older wiring, and every attempt should be made to replace fuses with circuit breakers. Where fuses still exist, an all too common practice to stop a fuse from continually blowing is to install a higher-rated fuse in the circuit (i.e., installing a 15-amp fuse with a 20-amp fuse). This is a recipe for disaster, as this allows for more current into the circuit than it was designed for, which can lead to overheating of the wire and probable fire.

To prevent mismatching or over fusing of the circuit, install type “S” tamper-proof fuses in all screw-in fuse panels. These come in different amperage sizes, and each tamper-proof fuse will only screw into the correct tamper-proof base.

Loose Connections or Corroded Wires

Circuit overloads also can be caused by loose or corroded wires and connections. This could be at the service panel circuit connections or a splice in a junction box from moisture or a missing wire nut.  Again, if you are experiencing tripping breakers or blown fuses, contact a certified electrician.

Circuit Breakers

  • Equip all electrical breaker panels with an appropriate cover and keep it closed. Missing covers expose the circuits to dust and physical damage, which could lead to an arc or short circuit.
  • There should not be any missing breakers or other openings between breakers. These openings allow for the potential of electrocution, physical damage, and dust and dirt to accumulate in the circuits.
  • Install spare clips in any openings in the breaker panel.
  • Never tape or physically secure breakers to the “ON” positions. If the breaker is not allowed to trip, or cannot be manually tripped, the wiring could overheat, increasing the chances of a fire.

Temporary Wiring

Temporary wiring, including the use of extension cords and power strips, indicates that additional electrical services are needed. They are not designed to be installed in a permanent manner, and if this becomes the case, a licensed electrician should be hired to install additional electrical platforms. The following safety precautions should be followed if temporary wiring will be used:

  • Never try to repair damaged cord insulation with electrical tape. Instead, remove the cord from service.
  • Never plug multiple cords into each other.
  • Discard and replace the cord if it feels hot or if there is a softening of the plastic. This indicates the cord is drawing too much power and the plug wires or connections are failing, which could present a fire or shock hazard.
  • Do not nail down, staple, or run cords through walls, under rugs or across doorways.
  • Only use power strips that have a built-in circuit breaker that will trip if overloaded or shorted.

Multi-tap Electrical Adapters

Multi-tap electrical adapters allow for plugging in several appliances at once into the outlet. This can cause overloading and overheating of the circuit. Multiple adapters are not recommended for use.

To help identify hidden electrical hazards and reduce your chances of an electrical fire, have a certified electrician conduct a preventative maintenance inspection every three years. For further information on the items listed above and other electrical safety resources, please visit SafeChurch.com and click on the Facility Safety/Electrical Resources tab or GuideOne.com.

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Space, JD, ARM is the Director of Risk Management and Loss Control at GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, Iowa.  Before joining GuideOne, he served as Minister of Operations for a large Methodist church in Raleigh, N.C., and was a liability litigation trial attorney in Washington, D.C.

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