How to safely use extension leads

Extension leads are ubiquitous, and homes and workplaces likely have many dotted around.

If you need to run multiple appliances off one mains plug socket, you’ll need an extension lead, which can feature anywhere between 2 and 12 additional sockets.

Regardless of how many sockets your extension lead has and how much you paid for it, exceeding its max load can cause the extension lead to overheat and potentially start a fire.

Here’s a guide to safely using extension leads:

A step-by-step guide to safe extension lead usage

1: Check your extension lead

Before plugging in your devices, quickly examine the extension lead. Is the cable frayed or damaged in any way?

Are the sockets loose or cracked? If so, it’s time to replace it. Don’t take any chances.

Then, check the max load rating. This is nearly always displayed in amps (A) in the UK and will usually be 10A or 13A.

Higher-powered appliances draw more amps, so you can plug less of them in before you reach that 13A max limit.

For example, a standard lightbulb might draw 0.5A, whereas a microwave will be around 6.5A. A fridge or freezer might be 10A and should never be plugged into an extension lead. You shouldn’t push it right to the limit.

There are online calculators to help you determine how many appliances you can safely plug into your extension lead.

2: Avoid daisy chaining 

Daisy chaining involves plugging an extension lead into another extension lead. Never do this – use a longer extension lead instead. Daisy chaining strains the first cable and increases the chance of it overheating.

3: Never cover it 

Extension leads can heat up, so never keep them covered. Flammable materials such as paper and fabric can easily catch alight if placed on or near an extension lead.

4: Keep away from hazards 

Like all electrical appliances, extension leads are vulnerable to liquids. Therefore, keep them away from potential sources of liquid, e.g. from taps or condensation dripping off windows.

Additionally, be aware of trip hazards. Keep the extension lead away from walkways and cover the cable with a cable protector if necessary.

5: Choose the right extension lead 

For high-power or sensitive equipment, choose a high-performance extension lead designed for such appliances.

These will likely feature advanced surge protection and thicker wires and casing.

6: Test regularly

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 requires that all electrical appliances are tested regularly. The best practice is to PAT test around every 12 months. PAT testing includes extension leads of all kinds, which count as electrical appliances.

Extension leads are often heavily used, leading to wear and tear. Fires and accidents resulting from poorly maintained extension leads are common – so don’t forget to include them in your PAT tests.

A qualified electrician or electrical engineer will identify faults with your extension leads so you can replace them.

Get in touch with the Intersafe team to book a PAT test to ensure you’re safely using extension leads.