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Do You Know How to Use an RPT?

That’s R-P-T, not R-P-G nor included in M-M-R-P-G. Though M-M-R-P-T could be a new term to use in a lot of cases. In this case, I’m calling it “Mass Misuse of a Relocatable Power Tap” – generally we just call it a “power strip” for short. And no, that wasn’t a pun.

Everybody has them. And most certainly, if you have one, you probably have more and you probably have something plugged into them. I know, it’s a very astute observation on my part. But, are you using it properly?

College goers…Who has their micro-fridge [substitute kegerator here if you’ve made that upgrade], hot plate, stereo, computer, phone charger, television, fish tank, floor lamp, portable fan or heater, or personal massager plugged into one? No need to show your hands. I’ve been there, except the personal massager.

Office workers…Who has their computer, pencil sharpener, radio, heated massage chair, desktop disco ball, or desk ground effects kit plugged into one? Again, no need for hands. I can feel the collective nod occurring. I AM there, except for the heated massage chair.

Home relaxers…You can pick and choose from the previous 2 references and maybe add in some magic fingers for a rockin’ good time!

Now before I put any more great but bad ideas into your heads, let me save you that midnight run to the local super store, lunchtime dash to the local office supply store or weekend stop at the local hardware store. Nearly everything I’ve mentioned should not be used with an RPT. The exception is your computer and its peripherals and your A/V equipment. I know you were all thinking it was any of the variety of the massagers. So was Jim, but alas it is not.

In a semi-surprising manner, OSHA actually has no specific compliance standard. However, relocatable power taps do fall under OSHA 29 CFR 1910.303(b)(2) and 1926.403(b)(2), NFPA 70 110.3(b) and NFPA 70E 400.3(B) which are all entitled, “Installation and Use,” and require instructions to be followed. In this instance, the instructions are written as part of their UL listing.

UL 1363: Relocatable Power Taps – relocatable multiple outlet extensions of a branch circuit to supply laboratory equipment, home workshops, home movie lighting controls, musical instrumentation, and to provide outlet receptacles for computers, audio and video equipment and other equipment.

The bullet points:

  • They are not extension cords.
  • They are not a temporary wiring method. (They can be used longer than 90 days.)
  • They can be secured in place but in a way that shall not require tools to remove them.
  • They are for low-powered loads.
  • They are to be plugged directly into a permanently installed receptacle.
  • They shall not be overloaded nor the circuit they are plugged into.
  • They are not to be used at construction sites or outdoors.

What does all of that mean? Let me help.

  • You shouldn’t be plugging in one device because it doesn’t reach the receptacle or using the power switch to turn something on and off because it doesn’t have a power switch itself.
  • You can use them longer than 90 days by itself.
  • You can attach them to the wall or under your desk but you should use something like a hook-and-loop fastener to do so. They have to be removable by hand and with your hands only.
  • Do not plug refrigerators, coffee pots, microwave ovens, space heaters, etc. into them.
  • Don’t plug them into each other creating a daisy-chain or into an extension cord. Remember that the extension cord can only be used temporarily (90 days). Don’t plug an extension cord or cube tap into them to add more outlets either.
  • Generally, they are only rated for 15 amps with either a fuse or circuit breaker internally. When you start adding all of your appliances to them, it adds up quick. Especially when you have 2 power strips plugged into that same receptacle. Take into account everything that is on that circuit. That receptacle by the door may be on the same circuit as the receptacle by the window.
  • They do not contain GFCI protection. When you put your power saw through the cord or it rains on your Christmas display, are you going to trust that fuse or circuit breaker to protect you and your equipment? You shouldn’t.

Can you get into the argument that only the work environment falls into these terms? Yes. But, they don’t call it “best practice” for nothing. Something else to consider, why do it right at work and not at home or in college? Pretty much everywhere you go in a college somebody is working, right? Is that not their workplace? Then the general industry standards come into play there, which include OSHA and NFPA.

In doing a quick web search for news, you’ll find a plethora of stories about fires caused by power strips. Please, don’t be the victim to a fire because you had your freezer, treadmill and space heater plugged into a power strip.

Just remember, it’s not okay to think that because it hasn’t happened to you, it doesn’t mean you aren’t on the list.

-got fox?