Power Strips: Are You Using Them Properly'
On Nov. 8, there was a fire in one of the GSA leased spaces used by the Social Security Administration, in a federal building in Dallas, Texas. The cause of the fire has been identified as a faulty power strip/surge protector. This is the third and most serious incident involving electrical problems with this particular surge protector. The power strips are manufactured by EFI: EFI model P-50ES, dated 1998. To help prevent any further incidents, these EFI power strips should be removed from service as soon as possible.

ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Rock Island, Ill. - The term power strip is the commonly used name to describe two basic types of electrical outlet devices. Power strips fall under two basic technical categories. The formal name of one device is a Re-locatable Power Tap or RPT and the other is classified as either a Transient Voltage Surge Suppressor (TVSS) or, a more recent term, a Surge Protective Device or SPD. Changes to the SPD term from the TVSS type of power strip is a result of new testing criteria that went into effect in 2009. These terms are used by Underwriters Laboratories for their testing criteria to obtain the infamous UL seal of approval.

These devices are very helpful when used properly. The problem arises, as shown in the photo, when power strips are not used properly. These devices can actually greatly increase the electrical demand on a wall outlet and the entire electrical circuit they are plugged into. Their original design and UL listing is meant for them to be used with low amperage computer or stereo/TV equipment.

When higher electrical demand appliances such as coffee makers, microwave ovens and refrigerators or even other types of office equipment are plugged into power strips, the protective circuitry built into these devices cannot withstand that type electrical power load and they malfunction. The overloading typically fuses the protective safety features such that the overload will not even trip the circuit breaker the power strip is plugged into. The power strips usually go into a meltdown and that is where a fire can ensue.

When a power strip is initially placed in to use, please read the manufacturer's literature and the precautions that are contained in its instructions. In most cases, the manufacturer will caution against plugging high demand electrical equipment into most types of power strips. Remember, power strips are not only used at work but, many of us have them at home as well. In either location, a fire from a "malfunctioning" power strip can be devastating.

For more information on power strips and their safe use, please contact the Garrison Safety Office at (309) 782-1380.

Page last updated Mon December 13th, 2010 at 16:04