Fact Sheet

Electronic Office Equipment Safety

Electricity is essential to the operations of a modern automated office as a source of power. Electrical equipment used in an office is potentially hazardous and can cause serious shock and burn injuries if improperly used or maintained.

Nature of the Hazard

Types of electrical hazards found in an office environment include the following:

Ungrounded Equipment

Grounding is a method of protecting employees from electric shock. By grounding an electrical system, a low-resistance path to earth through a ground connection is intentionally created. When properly done, this path offers sufficiently low resistance and has sufficient current-carrying capacity to prevent the build-up of hazardous voltages. Most fixed equipment such as large, stationary machines must be grounded. Cord and plug connected equipment must be grounded if it is located in hazardous or wet locations, if operated at more than 150 volts to ground, or if it is of a certain type of equipment (such as refrigerators and air conditioners). Smaller office equipment, such as typewriters and coffee makers, would generally not fall into these categories and therefore would not have to be grounded. However much of the newer office equipment is manufactured with grounded three-prong plugs as a precaution. In such cases, the equipment should be used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. In any case, never remove the third (grounding) prong from any three-prong piece of equipment.

Overloaded Outlets

Insufficient or overloading of electrical outlets should be avoided. A sufficient number of outlets will eliminate the need for extension cords. Overloading electrical circuits and extension cords can result in a fire. Floor mounted outlets should be carefully placed to prevent tripping hazards.

Unsafe/Non-Approved Equipment

The use of poorly maintained or unsafe, poor quality, non-approved (by national testing laboratory) coffee makers, radios, lamps, space heaters, etc. (often provided by or used by employees) should be discarded. Such appliances can develop electrical shorts creating fire and/or shock hazards. Equipment and cords should be inspected regularly, and a qualified individual should make repairs.

Defective, frayed or improperly installed cords for electrically-operated office equipment

When the outer jacket of a cord is damaged, the cord may no longer be water-resistant. The insulation can absorb moisture, which may then result in a short circuit or excessive current leakage to ground. If wires are exposed, they may cause a shock to a worker who contacts them. These cords should be replaced. Electric cords should be examined on a routine basis for fraying and exposed wiring.

Improper Placement of Cords

A cord should not be pulled or dragged over nails, hooks, or other sharp objects that may cause cuts in the insulation. In addition, cords should never be placed on radiators, steam pipes, walls, and windows. Particular attention should be placed on connections behind furniture, since files and bookcases may be pushed tightly against electric outlets, severely bending the cord at the plug.

Electrical Cords Across Walkways and Work Areas

An adequate number of outlet sockets should be provided. Extension cords should only be used in situations where fixed wiring is not feasible. However, if it is necessary to use an extension cord, never run it across walkways or aisles due to the potential tripping hazard. If you must run a cord across a walkway, either tape it down or purchase a cord runner.

Live Parts Unguarded

Wall receptacles should be designed and installed so that no current-carrying parts will be exposed, and outlet plates should be kept tight to eliminate the possibility of shock.

Pulling of Plugs to Shut Off Power

Switches to turn on and off equipment should be provided, either in the equipment or in the cords, so that it is not necessary to pull the plugs to shut off the power. To remove a plug from an outlet, take a firm grip on and pull the plug itself. Never pull a plug out by the cord.

Working on "Live Equipment"

Disconnect electrical machines before cleaning, adjusting, or applying flammable solutions. If a guard is removed to clean or repair parts, replace it before testing the equipment and returning the machine to service.

Blocking Electrical Panel Doors

If an electrical malfunction should occur, the panel door, and anything else in front of the door will become very hot. Electrical panel doors should always be kept closed, to prevent ?electrical flashover? in the event of an electrical malfunction.

Recommendations

Based on these hazards it is important that all staff understand how to properly operate electronic office equipment. Reading and following operation instructions is essential, but so is communicating restrictions. In particular, all staff must understand the appropriate response when a piece of equipment malfunctions. For instance, a paper jam in a photocopier. Reaching into a copier to retrieve a piece of jammed paper can result in burns or even electrocution. Certain materials such as plastic transparency sheets should not be used in some copiers. At the end of the day, be sure to power down all of the equipment.

The names/phone numbers of repair or service providers should be posted prominently nearby the copier, fax or other equipment. Handling toxic materials such as toner should be done with caution. When in doubt, contact the vendor or repair professional for assistance.

Resources

Electrical Safety, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Employee Protection Through Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Health and Safety

Electrical, Safety & Health Topics, Occupational Safety & Health Administration

Safety and Electricity Checklist

Electronic Office Equipment Fact Sheet

Electronic Office Equipment Checklist

Office of Health and Safety, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office Electrical Safety