Since the start of COVID, the home has become a workplace for many of us. That means that in addition to general use, we are now relying on our residential electrical system to handle the needs of our home offices.

While at our actual workplaces safety policies and occupational safety laws and regulations help to protect us from electrical hazards, most people aren’t as on top of it at home. But as it is National Electrical Safety Month, we urge you to turn your attention to your home office.

According to Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), an estimated 51,000 residential fires involving electrical failure and malfunction occur each year. On an annual average, these destructive fires are responsible for 500 civilian deaths, 1,400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in damage to property. The most common causes of electrical fires are incorrectly installed wiring (often DIY wiring), overloaded circuits, and misuse of extension cords, and the home office is prime real estate for electrical fire risk.

Prevention Tips

Just like in your regular workplace, electrical accidents and fires, are preventable with some care. Here are some basic electrical safety tips for those of us working from home.

  1.  Avoid overloading outlets and power strips. Electrical outlets are designed to carry a certain power load. When several devices or appliances draw electricity from a single outlet, it adds to its total load. An electrical outlet overloads when more power is drawn from it than it can handle.  This causes the circuit breaker to trip.  In the absence of a circuit breaker, circuit wiring will overheat and potentially cause a fire.

  2. Unplug appliances when not in use to save energy and minimize risk of shock or fire.

  3. Regularly inspect extension cords for damage.

  4. Use extension cords only on a temporary basis. Over time, extension cords can wear out an pose a fire hazard.

  5. Don’t plug space heaters into power strips or extension cords.  Power strips are often not designed to handle the load of a space heater.

  6. Never run electrical cords under rugs, carpets, doors, or windows.  This covers up any possible damage to the cord from sight and can make the cord overheat.

  7. Keep paper and other combustible materials away from space heaters.

  8. Make sure electrical cords are placed so they do not become a tripping hazard.

  9. Make sure to use proper wattage lamps and lighting.

  10. Have smoke detectors installed in your home.  Check batteries yearly and replace the units every 10 years.

As you work from home, be aware of your surroundings and always keep an eye out for the warning signs of an overloaded electrical system:

  • Frequent tripping of circuit breakers or blowing of fuses
  • Dimming of lights when other devices are turned on
  • Buzzing sound from switches or outlets
  • Discolored outlets
  • Appliances seem under-powered

Wherever you work, it is always important to be safe. Develop a home office safety plan and avoid electrical hazards.