Can a Burnt Outlet Cause a Fire?

Fire hazards in the workplace are more common than you’d think. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported that in 2022 alone, there was an average of more than 200 workplace fires a day and more than 5,000 people were injured by workplace fires during that year.

There are ways to lower the chances of a fire to happen at your workplace. Following electrical wiring color code standards, conducting annual electrical inspections, and following consistent safety precautions are just a few ways to protect your workers.

Burnt outlets, just like short circuits, can cause a fire in your workplace. Burnt outlets don’t need to be in use to start a fire–if you have a burnt outlet in your workplace, you need to address it immediately by having a licensed electrician repair or replace the outlet. Otherwise, you increase your risk of electrical fires and electrical shock.

What Causes a Burnt Outlet?

There are several reasons why an electrical outlet may burn, including one of the most common causes of electrical problems: loose connections and corrosion. Because there are many causes for burnt outlets, let’s explore each one in detail:

Loose Connections and Corrosion

If there are loose connections or corrosion in the wires connected to the outlet, it can burn the outlet. This is because electricity requires an easy, unobstructed flow of energy to work. When wires become old and start to deteriorate, this energy can ‘break loose’ and flow freely: this is called ‘arcing.’

When arcing occurs, the free-flowing electricity will ‘jump’ from the break or interruption in the wire and search for the nearest, unobstructed conductor it can find. This usually looks like energy jumping from one broken wire to the end of another broken or exposed wire.

This sudden burst of energy can overload the wire it jumped to, generating an excess amount of heat and melting or burning surrounding material.

Overloaded Circuits, Powerstrips, and Outlets

Anything that leads back to the outlet, such as powerstrips and circuits, can impact an outlet. In workplaces, it’s common to use powerstrips to plug in multiple devices into a singular outlet source. However, you need to monitor how many electrical devices and what voltage each device requires to operate.

For example, devices that require high voltages (such as space heaters and microwaves) should always be directly plugged into the outlet, not a powerstrip. High-voltage devices can overload the powerstrip, especially when used in congruence with other devices. This overload of electricity can cause the circuit to short and even burn.

Foreign Objects In Outlet Box

If any debris or foreign objects find their way into your outlet box, it can lead to a short circuit. This short circuit can lead to overheating and potentially burn the outlet box and object or debris themselves.

Do not attempt to remove the object or debris yourself–this can be a safety hazard and lead to injury. Instead, call for a professional electrician to address the issue.

Signs of a Burnt Outlet

If you suspect an outlet is burnt but aren’t sure how to confirm this, there are several ways you can check.

  • Look for discoloration or evidence of melting on the power outlet
  • Identify any smoke, sparks or burning odors
  • Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets are not tripping
  • Your outlets are loose–this isn’t a sign that burning has occurred, but that the outlet is at risk for it

When you notice the signs of a burnt outlet, do not plug anything into the outlet. Contact an electrician immediately to repair the issue.

Burnt outlets are common safety hazards in any workplace and they can cause fires, injuries, and more. By knowing how to identify a burnt outlet and what causes them, you can avoid unsafe working conditions and protect your employees.

For more information on workplace safety, including resources to keep your workspace up-to-code, check out our resources at Creative Safety Supply today!


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