May is National Electrical Safety Month! This annual campaign is sponsored by the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) to provide education and awareness about the steps that can be taken in order to reduce the number of electrically related fires, fatalities, injuries, and property loss. This is a great time to raise awareness about electrical hazards in your workplace.

In laboratories, in particular, there can be an elevated risk of electrical fires and electrical shock due to the many types of electrical equipment used including vacuum pumps, electrophoresis devices, hot plates, heating mantles, centrifuges, UV lamps, refrigerators, and freezers. This equipment can pose a significant electrical hazard if not properly used and maintained.

Laboratory employees should be trained on the risks associated with electrically energized equipment including the importance of adhering to the following practices:

  • Inspect equipment cords before each use; replace any frayed or damaged cords immediately
  • Use only equipment with three prongs (ground connector); all three-prong plugs must be connected to electrical outlets that can receive a three-pronged plug
  • Limit the use of extension cords to temporary operations (less than 3 months); if additional outlets are required have them installed by an electrician
  • Ensure that extension cords used for temporary purposes are appropriately rated for the intended load and that they are plugged directly into an outlet and are not connected in a series (daisy-chained)
  • Confirm that power strips/surge protectors have been approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as Underwriter’s Laboratories Inc. (UL) and have a built-in circuit breaker to protect against overloading; plug them directly into an outlet
  • Plug electrical equipment with moderate to high current draw (refrigerators, heating elements, motors, etc.) directly into a wall outlet rather than into an extension cord or surge protector
  • Avoid using electrical equipment in close proximity to flammable materials; this is particularly important around volatile solvents and inside of chemical fume hoods
  • Ensure that ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets are installed and used when water is present within 6 feet, including within 6 feet of safety showers
  • Do not store flammable materials in standard lab use refrigerators/freezers; store them in explosion-proof/explosion safe models
  • Know the location of shut-off switches and/or circuit breaker panels and how to operate them so equipment can be shut off in the event of a fire or electrocution
  • Do not block access to electrical panels; allow three feet of unobstructed clearance in front of breaker panels and switch boxes

Following these practices will help ensure the safety of your employees and protect your valuable equipment, and research, from damage from electrically related fires. For additional information on managing electrical hazards in your workplace please email info@safetypartnersinc.com.

This blog was written by Beth Graham, our Associate Director of Quality, Research, and Training who has been with Safety Partners Inc. for the last 11 years.