In a world where we’ve given up all pretense of individual responsibility we’re flooded with an ever expanding universe of safety regulations, safety stickers and short power cords. When I look at the sticker on my lawn mower, “Caution! Do not reach under mower while blades are turning,” I can only imagine the scene in court. “Yes your honor, I never imagined that a six horsepower grass cutter could also cut fingers off,” and from the jury of his peers, “We find that it was obviously improperly labeled. We’re ordering the manufacturer to pay you ten million and put warning stickers on their mowers.” I can only shake my head as I peel off the twenty or more safety stickers intended to help me operate my chainsaw safely.
Somewhere out there in all those safety regulations there’s one that demands short power cords for anything involving the kitchen. There’s no other explanation for giving me a 12 inch power cord on my coffee maker, 12 inches doesn’t even clear the cabinets. Certainly it’s not a matter of cost. An extra foot of power cord would be pennies.
Maybe I should start at the beginning. Recently my wife and I said a fond farewell to her old Keurig coffee maker. It had served us well but it’s time had come. We almost didn’t buy another Keurig. It works great but like printer companies they had decided to restrict people to products licensed by them. My wife creates her own tea blends using a cup from Keurig but this was also locked out. The protection is easy to defeat and many companies offer free solutions but we found it hard to support this kind of behavior by buying another Keurig.
Still the Keurig is remarkably convenient so we settled on the Keurig Mini Plus because it did not have this restriction. While this model is at the lower end of their pricing spectrum, I don’t believe the short power cord was Keurig’s attempt to revitalize their bottom line. When I look at my kitchen, all my appliances have short power cords. I can’t imagine any reason for these ridiculously short power cords except a misguided attempt at my safety. Do they really think I’m safer when I use a power strip on my kitchen counter for my morning coffee?
My kitchen is by no means state of the art and power outlets are few and far between, I’m sure there’s a wiring code that covers that. In order to support an appliance having less than 12 inches of cord, I can use an extension cord or a power strip. In order to avoid the inevitable spilt liquid on my counter top coming into contact with my power strip, I could mount it upside down to the bottom of my cabinet. With only my wife and I, it’s unlikely that she’ll be using the blender while I make coffee.
Maybe I should stick to an extension cord. Unfortunately, if I spill the coffee or the juice on my counter, the connection between the cords offers an excellent path for the coffee. If I survive the fire, I’ll probably electrocute myself trying to put it out.
I know somewhere out there, there’s a safety committee that makes these rules. What I don’t know is if they truly are trying to protect me and failing miserably or if they are trying to limit the manufacturer’s liability. It’s my firm belief that these people are not idiots, they know that I’ll have to use a power strip or extension cord but their liability ends with their power cord.
In the US, there are two major organizations that develop safety regulations for power cords and electrical power distribution, National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and UL, the organization formerly known as Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL).
NEMA creates the standards such as how your electrical sockets are constructed, how much force they should exert on the contact, their current rating and so on. Being used to SAE standards, where the specifications for a screw can cost upwards of $400, I was amazed that most of the NEMA standard were $60 or less and many were free. Still after going through fourteen pages of publication titles, I saw nothing suggesting, “Improved Kitchen Safety Through the Use of Ridiculously Short Power Cords.”
Quoting from Wikipedia, “UL provides safety-related certification, validation, testing, inspection, auditing, advising and training services to a wide range of clients, including manufacturers, retailers, policymakers, regulators, service companies, and consumers.” I couldn’t help but notice they put consumers last.
Would that their site be as easy to browse as NEMA’s site. Instead of a fourteen page index, they use categories with sub-indexes for every category. Still their prices would have made SAE proud. Wikipedia mentioned that they went from a non-profit organization in 2012. Their prices for publications made that abundantly clear.
Although my attention span did not afford me the time to crawl through their endless maze of sub-indices, thirty seconds with Wikipedia gave me “UL 1026, Electric Household Cooking and Food Serving Appliances.” I have to believe that this is the organization responsible for my short cord.
It makes perfect sense for UL to specify a short power cord. UL provides a measure of protection from lawsuits by certifying a product is safe. Never mind that the consumer using the product has to violate several other safety rules in order to use it, the product as built is safe. By that same thought process, it would be even safer without a power cord, maybe they could make battery operated or even better use a wall wart power supply. Yes, UL regulations are responsible for the popularity of all these little power supplies that are always on and force you to use a power strip. Some compromises have to be made in the name of safety.
All is not lost though, now that UL is operating for profit, they can come up with a whole new set of standards for kitchen safe power strips and extension cords. I can see a whole new line of power strips with six inch cords. You know it’s coming.
Opinion by pen