Safety Vault Information Service
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SHOULD ELECTRICAL CORDS BE PATCHED?
Should electrical tape be used to repair electrical cords that have become nicked, frayed, or scraped? The following information, (excerpts from an interpretation letter on OSHA’s website), should give employers some guidance. "Generally, electrical tape may be used to cover superficial damage (abrasions and cuts of limited depth) to cord jackets — when there is no damage beyond the jacket [and] the conductors have not been scraped or exposed and the insulation inside the jacket has not been displaced or compressed.
"Section 1926.416(e)(1) provides that ‘worn or frayed electrical cords or cables shall not be used.’ Superficial nicks or abrasions—those that only slightly penetrate the outer jacket of a flexible cord, and do not permit the cord to bend more in that area than in the rest of the cord—do not normally render a cord ‘worn or frayed.’ Therefore, there is no need to repair or replace such a cord.
Recommendation against taping
"While taping these incidental abrasions and cuts does not necessarily violate any OSHA standard, we recommend that employers not tape this type of damage for two reasons. First, Section 1926.403(a) requires that ‘all electrical conductors and equipment shall be approved.’ This standard precludes the use of approved electrical conductors and equipment if their characteristics are significantly altered. Applying electrical tape that is too thick or applying too much of it could change the cord's original flexibility and lead to internal damage. Second, the depth of the abrasions and cuts cannot be monitored to see if they get worse without removing the tape.
"Tape may not be used to repair significant damage to cord jackets. Repair or replacement of a flexible cord (depending on its gauge) is required when the outer jacket is deeply penetrated (enough to cause that part of the cord to bend more than the undamaged part) or penetrated completely, or when the conductors or their insulation inside are damaged. Two provisions of the standard prohibit the repair of the jacket of a worn or frayed flexible cord with electrical tape. Section 1926.403(a) requires that the cord be approved. The original approval of the cord was based on the types of materials and construction used. As noted above, taping the cord can change the flexibility characteristics of the cord, which in turn can affect the amount of stress in the adjacent areas. This is of particular concern with respect to the grounding wire. Also, the jacket is designed both to prevent damage to the conductors and insulators inside, and to further insulate the conductors. Taped repairs usually will not duplicate the cord's original characteristics; in most cases neither the jacket's strength nor flexibility characteristics will be restored. Therefore, tape repairs of the jacket may not be used to bring a worn or frayed flexible cord into compliance.
"In addition, section 1926.405(g)(2)(iii) states that ‘flexible cords shall be used only in continuous lengths without splice or tap. Hard service flexible cords No. 12 or larger may be repaired if spliced so that the splice retains the insulation, outer sheath properties, and usage characteristics of the cord being spliced.’ The OSHA standard, which is based in large part on the National Electric Code, requires that the cords be ‘approved,’ and prohibits the repair of cords smaller than No. 12."
While the above interpretation letter was written in response to Construction standard, there are overlapping General Industry standards that apply. If OSHA recommends against something, it is in an employer’s best interest to follow the recommendation. Otherwise, the employer may find it hard to prove its actions were safe and prudent. The bottom line: Don’t use electrical tape to patch electrical cords.
-- from OSHA’s Standards Interpretation Letter file, December 1998