A Pocket Guide: Safety Requirements for Industrial Cord Reels

July 24, 2023

Commercial cord reels prevent extension cords from becoming hazardous to workers. While a commercial cord reel can make a shop floor safer, it must be appropriately used and maintained. As such, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific rules about extension cord management to which all employers must comply. Due to the dangers involved, workplaces that utilize extension cords should ensure they are properly managed, especially when the setting is professional or commercial. Cord reels can provide an easy and effective way to do just that.

Basic Safety Requirements for Commercial Cord Reel Use

Not only do extension cords present a tripping hazard, but other risks include electrocution and fire as well. To make a workplace safer, it’s essential to understand how retractable cord reels can make for safer workplaces when utilizing extension cords. When choosing the best commercial cord reel, cord types and amperages should also be considered, as these differ too in their performance and capabilities. Diverse work environments require different solutions, so knowing which type of cord and amperage requirements are needed to serve a specific application best will help improve safety.

Using Commercial Cord Reels with Extension Cords

Organizing extension cords is an important aspect of their safe use, especially for commercial applications. Retractable cord reels help prevent putting away a semi-tangled mess into a storage area after use to eliminate it as a tripping hazard. Any job site at which electrical equipment is used would benefit from either a commercial cord caddy for storing extension cords or a retractable extension cord reel that includes cabling with the reel.

Indoor or Outdoor

As extension cords can be rated indoors or outdoors, so can commercial cord reels. Generally, retractable reels for outside use will be more robust, capable of withstanding moisture and ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. When looking for an outdoor-rated cord reel, paying attention to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) rating is essential. This rating helps ensure that your cord reel can withstand the conditions of outdoor use. NEMA 3R and NEMA 4 ratings are the most suitable for outdoor applications. While it’s perfectly acceptable to use cord reels rated for outdoor use indoors, using indoor cord reels for outdoor applications can result in unsafe situations that may lead to electrocution or even cause a fire.

Power Ratings

As extension cords are rated for the amount of amperage they are safely rated for, so too are retractable commercial cord reels. As with loose extension cabling, the length and gauge of the cabling play a role in determining its amperage, among other variables. Before purchasing a commercial cord reel, the amperage for the reel and cabling should be compatible with the equipment with which it’s to be used. Learning the specifications of a cord reel usually requires consulting the instruction & operation manual or the listing on the manufacturer’s website. 

Multiple Outlets

Certain types of commercial cord reels with multiple outlets are capable of powering several devices at the same time. Determining the wattage rating for these reels involves calculating the power requirements for all equipment plugged into one. Limiting power use is important, as drawing too much will cause overheating and possibly even an electrical fire.


The inner core of any cabling is made of metal that conducts electrical current through it. The thickness of this inner conductive core determines the cable’s gauge, which is described by a number; the smaller the number, the thicker the gauge. In turn, the gauge determines the distance over which a certain amount of current can be carried. Before choosing a cord reel, it’s advisable to ascertain the distance over which current needs to travel for the application and ensure the reel.


Manufacturers can additionally certify their commercial cord reels under a standardization organization.

For electronics and electrical equipment, manufacturers are often certified under: 

  • CSA (Canadian Standards Association): This is the standardization used in Canada for electrical and electronic equipment, among other certifications.
  • UL (Underwriters Laboratory): Covering a broad range of products that include electrical equipment, this certification initially concentrated on safety standards for fires and electrical devices, though it has since expanded its regulatory standards to include safety, performance testing, and compliance.

Generally, markings that show products certified by a standardization body like those above are certified for improved safety.

Unplugging Electrical Equipment

When extension cords are attached to an outlet, they conduct electricity even when not in use. Due to the inherent hazards of working around electricity, it’s best to unplug unused devices.

Inspecting Extension Cords 

When utilizing extension cords or the cord on a retractable commercial cord reel, it’s recommended that workers inspect them before use. If cuts, nicks, or other damage to the cabling’s insulation, it should be removed from service until tested or repaired. A commercial cord reel should also be taken out of service if the insulation has started to pull away from the socket or plug ends or if internal wiring is exposed. Using a damaged cord can result in a fire or electrical shock.

Altering or Using Damaged Cabling

Unless an employee is a certified electrician, it’s not advisable to file, cut or otherwise alter a commercial cord reel or its attached cabling. Additionally, extension cords that have been cut or with damaged insulation may result in burns, electrical shock, or fires if conductive wiring becomes exposed. Only professional electricians should attempt to alter electrical cabling.

Tugging at or otherwise stretching an extension cord should also be avoided. For this reason, sufficient cabling must be used to reach the equipment that requires power comfortably. Using a cord that’s just long enough may result in strain, therefore creating wear and tear and potentially compromising safety. It’s best to have a bit of slack to ensure the cabling isn’t damaged.

Fault & Grounding Requirements 

Grounding for possible faults is necessary should any changes in electricity flow through the cabling. For this, it’s vital to utilize a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to detect such changes, which will immediately cut power through a commercial cord reel should an electrical accident occur. Though they can be separate, some extension cords and reels feature in-built GFCIs. Electricity must always flow through an outlet equipped with a GFCI to maintain a safe work environment.

Additionally, three-pronged plugs on extension cords are requisite, as the third prong grounds electricity, making these considerably safer. Generally, commercial cord reels should feature three prongs. Two-prong electric extension cords should only be used sparingly for devices that draw only a small amount of power.

Contact Alert Reels for Your Commercial Cord Reel Needs

To learn more about using commercial cord reels for extension cabling or more information on our custom cord reel solutions, we invite you to contact the experts at Alert Reels today.