Two-pin plugs – it’s just not British

by , Gardening Editor Energy & Home 14 December 2012
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Have you ever been sent a household appliance with a two-pin plug – the type you’d find on mainland Europe? We’ve heard from a number of people who have – little do they know that this is against the law.

Two-pin plug

It’s actually illegal for UK retailers to sell most domestic electrical products (not for example shavers, electric toothbrushes or items with rcd plugs) with two-pin plugs under the Plugs and Sockets Safety Regulations 1994. Most domestic appliances must be fitted with an approved three-pin British plug or an approved conversion plug.

Plugs – when two-pins aren’t enough

We wanted to dig deeper to see how widespread this problem was. So we surveyed 1,321 Which? members and found that one in 20 had bought a product online that came with an incorrect plug. A third of those were Amazon (including its Marketplace) customers.

We asked Amazon about this and it pointed us to its returns policy. And although this is fairly generous (30 days for any items sold by, or fulfilled by, Amazon), the policy doesn’t address the fact that sending these items in the first place is in breach of two sets of regulations. These are the Plugs regulations mentioned before and the Sale of Goods Act. If you receive an item with a two-pin plug, you can reject it as unfit for purpose under the Sale of Goods Act. We’ll be taking this up with Amazon to find out what it’s planning to do to prevent this.

In the meantime, is this something that’s ever happened to you? What sort of appliance did you get with a two-pin plug, and did you have any luck getting it changed for a model with a three-pin British plug?

1233 comments

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socketman

If anyone wishes to check the plugs and sockets regulations themselves, HM Government publish them here:
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1994/1768/made

And the guidance notes are here:
http://www.bis.gov.uk/files/file38628.pdf

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Em

@socketman – I’ve just posted the link, but of course it is going to sit there until Which? get around to approving it.

Source is Schedule 603 from www_dot_legislation_dot_gov_dot_uk

It does state – Status:This is the original version (as it was originally made). This item of legislation is currently only available in its original format.

So it’s quite possible you have access to a later revised version that I don’t, but we can hardly blame foreign suppliers if HM Gov’t can’t be bothered to keep the published legislation up to date.

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Em

@socketman – Sorry, I’ve just realised I should be looking at the 1994 Regulations, not 1987.

I blindly followed the link in Wikipedia on “Europlug”, which is also out of date. Perhaps you could apply your expert knowledge to editing that article, which is factually incorrect as a result.

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Em

That doesn’t read well, so just to clarify:

“… factually incorrect … ” as a result of it referencing out of date legislation, not as a result of you applying your expert knowledge! :-)

(I wish we could still edit/delete posts, rather than digging ever-deeper holes for ourselves.)

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socketman

Hi Em, Thanks for that. I see someone has now corrected Wikipedia.

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John

Talking of the goverment being behind reminds me of the test they produced for foriegners wanting to be British Citizens, One of the questions in it asks what is the mains voltage in the UK, the correct answer to this was 240V, clearly they haven’t caught up, any one giving the correct answer would have got it wrong!

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wavechange

While looking for Conversations with the tag ‘garden products’ I unexpectedly found this Conversation. I suppose I have heard of plug plants. :-)

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Scott

Here is another digression for debate! I am in Iceland at the moment and there are standard (Schuko) sockets in bathrooms. The same applies in Denmark. Is there an argument for legalising sockets in bathrooms in the UK provided an RCD is fitted? (At the moment I believe you can fit a socket but it needs to be 3 metres from the bath and on a special circuit.) In the era of RCDs is the historic UK ban on power points in bathrooms still justified?

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wavechange

An RCD does not guarantee protection from electrocution. Perhaps this is a good enough reason.

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John Ward

Personally I cannot see much need for electric sockets in bathrooms since battery driven or rechargeable accessories are now much more widespread – even shaver sockets get little use nowadays. The exception is hairdryers which obviously need higher power for the heating element. Traditionally UK bathrooms are too small to provide safe distances between electrical outlets and water; in new houses the bathrooms are getting smaller [especially en suites with a shower instead of a bath] but in older properties, many people are converting bedrooms into bathrooms or putting a “master” bedroom with large bathroom attached in a loft extension.

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wavechange

I would be interested to know if Scott’s bathroom socket is protected by a 10 mA or 30 mA RCD. The lower rating will provide significantly greater protection.

If conventional mains sockets were permitted in UK bathrooms it might not be long before the hairdryer is joined by other electrical goods, necessitating a four way extension socket. Maybe a fan heater to help keep the bathroom warm and dry, and somewhere out of the way to charge phones. Judging by the number of risks that some people take with electricity, I am opposed to any change in the regulations.

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John Ward

I agree. The UK has gone to a lot of trouble to make homes safer and safeguard people’s lives by requiring very safe electrical systems [together with eliminating fire risks, mitigating the effects of fire, providing means of escape in the event of fire, and preventing many other hazards]. These protections have come about through a comprehensive set of building regulations and a strong building control system [in tandem with sensible health and safety legislation] that ensures, so far as any administrative process can, that houses are constructed and adapted to be inherently safe. This is underwritten by the need to demonstrate building regulations compliance when transferrring property. But risks intensify when people do things outside those parameters [like using loose trailing extension socket leads] so any relaxation of the regulations regarding bathroom safety would be a bad move. There are approved ways of providing for a hair dryer through a fused connection unit so that it cannot be unplugged. There are enough safety risks in wet places already without introducing an electrical hazard.

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John

I agree aswell, though I doubt our opinions will have much effect, I suspect the people who want to bring in these changes will do so regardless as per usual.

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Scott

Wavechange – I don’t have a bathroom socket, I was just aware of the regulations. I’m on the ‘no’ side this time. Actually I don’t even think a light switch on the outside of a bathroom is a good idea as hands might be just as wet outside as inside. I insisted on a pull cord. (I’m also on the ‘no’ side of the Scottish referendum, but that’s completely off topic!).

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wavechange

Sorry Scott, but with your previous comments in support of allowing purchase of products with continental two-pin plugs in the UK I assumed that you were keen on removing the ban of sockets in UK bathrooms. A schoolfriend’s house had a socket outside the bathroom and I remember wondering about the safety at the time. That was when I was a teenager, but I have yet to hear of any accidents caused by this arrangement – which still exists in some homes.

If Scotland leaves the EU I think the Scots could have a nasty shock. :-(

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wavechange

I mean a switch outside the bathroom, not a socket.

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Scott

wavechange – you mean, leaves the UK? The Yes campaign say we can automatically remain in the EU (though this is subject of debate). We could join the Euro and adopt Europlugs I suppose!

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wavechange

Of course I mean the UK. I’m in the middle of reading about EU consumer protection law.

Maybe we should discuss electrical safety issues. It’s something I find easier to relate to.

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socketman

Thanks Scott. Nice to be able to agree with everything you have said about bathroom sockets, insisting on a cord (I did too) and also on the referendum. (Now all we have to do is wait for the cybernats to invade this thread.)

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Scott

The bathroom installer (who is here at the moment) does not think much of the idea either. We concluded there is no need and members of the population may well be tempted to use flat screen TVs and other electronic equipment in the bathroom. (We did not discuss the referendum!)

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wavechange

One of the problems of allowing electrical goods with Europlugs into the UK is that they could be used in shaver sockets. In addition to the danger of electrocution this is likely to overload the isolation transformer.

I wonder what Alex Salmond’s views are about the continuing need for the Plugs and Sockets regs.

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Scott

1. Good point, especially for hairdryers, though I suspect the shaver socket is designed to fail safe; 2. I have no doubt that the Plugs and Sockets Regulations will feature in one of the endless succession of debates on the BBC between now and September 18.

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malcolm r

The relaxation of allowing sockets if 3m or more from the bath or shower came about, I believe, when a shower was installed in a bedroom. I wonder how many bedrooms comply with this? I don’t see any restriction when a wash basin is used in a bedroom – have I missed it? Having once lived in a cold house, we warmed up the bathroom with a fan heater on an extension lead, but removed it before using the bath. It was pretty chilly when exiting the bath though – so you can see the temptation.

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wavechange

I once stayed with friends whose new house came with a wall mounted fan heater. I decided I must have one. Perhaps a strange impulse purchase but a real aid to comfort.

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John

I was just about to say, what’s wrong with a purpose designed wall fan heater? However Wavechange beat me to it in a fashion. I’ve used them for years, both here and in other peoples houses.

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Scott

Is it possible to control a heater using a remote controller? My concept of safety would be for it to be out of reach, but it would be handy to control from the bath.

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wavechange

Nowadays you can buy a variety of pulleys and cranks to build your own mechanical door bell system. You could do this to operate the double-pole ceiling-mounted pull switch for the heater. Many people install mechanical bells these days but you could have something different and without the need for an electrician’s services if you need to modify the control. :-)

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malcolm r

Ask the butler of your partner. Alternatively a pull cord switch (as used for a shower) over the bath.

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wavechange

I don’t think it would be permissible to have the switch above the bath, hence the pulleys and cranks.

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Scott

Very good! I was thinking of infrared myself. I know you can get them to control lighting.

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malcolm r

If the ceiling mounted pull-switch is just to the side of the bath and 2.25m above the floor or more, it looks like it is permissible with an insulated pull cord. What do you think? Then you could dispense with the butler.

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John Ward

I have various d-i-y and gardening appliances that are double insulated and have a two-core mains cable. Where I have needed a longer cable on certain tools I have used a two-pin connector and an extra length of cable, the idea being that one extra length of cable could serve several tools. What surprised me was the lack of universality in connectors from different manufacturers so that the male and female ends would not mate correctly unless both were exactly to the same pattern. It would have been possible to force a connection but this would not have been reliable electrically. To overcome the problem I refitted all the mains leads with uniform connectors of identical pattern. I could have used a three-core mains extension cable with 13A socket but I prefer the lighter weight of the two-core lead and dislike the inconvenience of a bulky and heavy plug/socket combination dragging on the power lead. Are there no standards covering this type of connector?

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John

I don’t think there are, The reason being is that no goods from manufacturers would be selling cords with inline connectors any way, it’s something to be avoided like the plague. Really you should be extending the cable or using an extension socket.
As you are using equipment outdoors any connectors should be also waterproof (IP56) rated and on RCD’s.
I suspect the inline connectors you are talking about are not IP56 rated, the other problem is that they are probably non latched and can be pulled apart by pulling on the cable, leaving the live end potentially dangling in grass or water if outdoors.
My advice would be not use these connectors at all and either replace the whole cable, use an IP56 boxed extension or get some IP56 sockets put outside somewhere so you do need to extend the cables at all :-)
This is just my opinion from my limited knowledge on this subject.

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socketman

I am not aware of a standard for pin size etc, but the relevant standard for other aspects is BS 5733:2010 “General requirements for electrical accessories” which does call out a minimum degree of protection of IPX4 for splash-proof accessories. An IP (Ingress Protection) code has two digits, the first relates to the size of solid objects and the second to degree of protection against water. The type of connectors under discussion are normally rated at IP 44 so are splash-proof.

There is nothing unusual about the use of such connectors in garden tools, with the plug being either a fixed plug in the body of the tool, or fitted to a short length of cable.

Great care needs to be taken to ensure that a plug is always fitted on the tool side, with the socket being always connected on the mains side. Someone borrowed a lawn mower from me and managed to slice the cable. Before returning it he kindly fitted an inline connector – the wrong way round! Fortunately I spotted it before anyone was killed. Others have not been so lucky, google “toddler found cuddling mum killed in hedge cutter tragedy”.

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John Ward

Thank you Socketman for your comments. I should have made it clear that the pins and pin-holes were to a uniform gauge and spacing so the male and female ends were, potentially, interchangeable between the diffferent manufacturers’ products. The problem arose because the moulded casings were of slightly diffferent dimensions and the overlap to shroud the interface between the male and female ends did not properly engage if I was trying to mate an appliance cable with a product A male end with a mains lead fitted with a Product B female connector. This would have led to a poor electrical connection as well as the possible ingress of moisture. As I said previously, a connection could have been forced which is obviously bad practice and potentially hazardous.

These connectors are in common use, mainly it appears for joining cables that have been cut by a mower or hedge-trimmer. John above suggested that it would be better to fit a longer cable direct to the tool. In my experience this is generally impossible – even in those cases where the internal terminatioin might be accessible – because a totally weather-tight permanent seal is provided where the cable enters the appliance. Breaking that seal introduces the risk of the power lead being [or becoming] loose with the risk of it getting twisted thus straining the internal wires leading to a break and a short-circuit. The connectors appear to be satisfactory (a) if the correct parts respectively are fitted to the mains lead and the appliance lead as clearly shown in the instructions, and (b) if the two connector parts are completely compatible. There appears to be a good overlap and tightness of fit to make them at least shower-proof. Users are always instructed not to use outdoor mains appliance in wet or damp conditions but it is useful that the design will also offer protection to the perverse individual who ignores that advice. I noted John’s point about unlatched connectors. I think there could be an advantage with that: if the cable gets trapped or is tugged then the in-line connector will separate and avoid either strain on the mains plug or on the appliance cable entry. It is especially important with hand-held tools like hedge-trimmers that there is a safe disengagement and disconnection in the event of such an incident [particularly if the user
is not standing firmly on solid ground]. I appreciate that I didn’t mention that the mains-plug end of my interchangeable power lead is fitted with an RCD plug. In my opinion this is better than having a separate RCD adaptor because it means that I cannot [through negligence or forgetfulness] fail to have protection in the event of a short-circuit. Additionally, the house power circuits are protected by an overall RCD at the consumer unit.

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wavechange

I use IP44 rated (splash proof) ‘blue plugs’ and sockets in the garden. They are commonly found outdoors at caravan sites and marinas. Extension reels and cables are readily available with ‘arctic cable’ which has reasonably thick insulation yet is very flexible.

To avoid the risk of cutting through the hedge trimmer cable I have a 1.5 metre of hose pipe on the most vulnerable length of cable. After I once cut through the cable of my vintage Webb electric mower and survived, I decided it was time to buy a petrol mower.

On building sites it is a requirement to use 110 volt equipment and it might be a good idea to do the same in our gardens.

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Scott

Are these 13 amp square pin plugs and sockets or the so-called Commando socket with round pins?

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wavechange

Google ’16A blue socket’ for images of wall-mounting and inline connectors, which have long round pins. There are outside sockets for ordinary BS 1363 plugs too.

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Scott

Okay, ‘Commando’ seems to be a brand name used by MK. Used for charging electric vehicles also, I believe.

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ann

I recently purchased a new kitchen including an oven, washing machine, built in microwave and cooker hood. The cooker hood was fitted with a two pin plug and none of the other appliances had a fitted plug. Is this legal?

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John

Ann,
I’m sure the two pin plug on the hood is not legal in the UK.
Washing machines, Electric Ovens & Hobs are to be wired into a fused double switched connection point, they would not be fitted with a plug as you would normally use a plug to connect them , so this is perfectly correct, They need to be installed by a qualified electrician.
I’m pretty sure the hob I bought came with nothing on the end of the wires, it to was wired into a spur point, that would be the best option in your case aswell, cut of the plug and wire into a switched spur.
If you are using an electric hob & oven then the standard 13A plug/socket rating is probably not going to be enough any way.

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Scott

I would agree with most of this, but surely washing machines normally come fitted with a 13 amp plug and do not require a qualified electrician (plumber maybe)? Any washing machine I have ever seen just plugs into a socket on the wall.

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John

Scott, you are probably correct regarding the washing machines come to think of it, I am lucky enough to have a bought a washing machine at Comet 20 years ago which is still going strong and is used at least twice a week, it came without a plug and it’s wired into a standard fused 13A switched spur. I’ve only bought from Comet twice and they didn’t have plugs on, I haven’t really took much notice tbh. I would think it is a safer way of connection – no damp area or hands unplugging etc.

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John Ward

I think it is normal practice now to provide 13A sockets for washing machines and dishwashers at about 50cm above floor level behind each machine’s position, however these sockets should each have an isolation switch at worktop level so that power can be turned off before attempting to disconnect the plug from the socket [e.g. in order to enable the appliance to be drawn forward safely for cleaning or attention or removal]. I would regard this method as safer than being hard-wired into a fused connection unit where forceful or exaggerated movement of the machine could damage the mains termination inside the connection unit.

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John

LOL, I would be a bit concerned if the washing machine moved that much or the cable was so short it could rip it out the wall! You could apply that to just about anything – including cookers (which are meant to be chained I know)

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Scott

Talking of washing machines (and moving further off topic) can you buy true three phase washing machines in the UK? If so, what plug are they fitted with?

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wavechange

If you recall the blue plugs and sockets we discussed earlier, there are 4-pin red plugs and sockets for 3-phase supplies. These have four pins. Like the blue plugs and sockets, there are different sizes according to current rating (16 or 32 amp per phase). The sockets have covers but no safety shutters.

It would be expensive to have a 3-phase supply fitted to a home but they are very common in commercial premises, etc.

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John Ward

John- Possibly some confusion here when I referred to “forceful or exaggerated movement of the machine”. I did not mean vibration or wobbling by the machine. My comment was meant to relate to what can happen when trying to pull out a dishwasher or washing machine from its position in a range of kitchen units for cleaning, servicing or relocation purposes. In my experience, there is sometimes not much space between the sides of an appliance and he adjacent units and it is ncessary to joggle the machine forward by small side-to-side movements until there is enough room to get a better grip on the machine and draw it forward smoothly. Even then, if the feet get stuckto the floor [as can happen] or there is some resistance caused by the floor-covering, or some other impediment, it is not unknown for people to jerk the appliance. There might be a long enough cable to allow this to be done safely [although this will not necessarily be obvious since it is hidden by the machine] but sometimes the shortness of the cable or the position of a connection unit means that excess strain is placed on it. It is to avoid that possibility that current practice is to provide a 13A socket behind the appliance position with an isolation switch above the worktop or counter. I hope this clarification of my remarks makes sense even if the best way of plugging in a kitchen appliance is still open to alternative viewpoints.

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John

John W, I have just seen your response regarding washing machine “movement”, It’s an interesting thought regarding the yanking from a spur point but a weak argument imo. For one one thing I suspect most people wouldn’t bother to unplug it when moving it so it could get yanked any way, in the case of a moulded plug this may not damage the plug but could crack the socket fascia as I have seen done before.
Secondly it would normally have to be fed cable first through a small hole in the worktop, plug fitted after so you’d still have the issue if it was yanked (althoug perhaps not so mauch if it’s a moulded plug but it could stil damage the internal wire or the other end where it goes into the machine, thirdly I’ve never seen a washing machine with a cable that short that you can’t safely pul it out from under a worktop with a few inches to spare (at which point you can see the cable so there would be no reason to pul it further if there clearly wasn’t enough free cable to do so.
Bear in mind !m is sufficient as the worktop is 600mm, most have at least 1.2M sometimes nearer 2M

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Scott

Wavechange – is that because three phase washing machines are rated in excess of 13 amps so are not covered by the Regulations and do not need to be fitted with a ‘standard’ plug? Does that mean they do not require to be supplied with a plug fitted at all? I assume these plugs are unfused since presumably three fuses would be needed?

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wavechange

Scott – A 3-phase appliance would not be covered by the Plugs & Sockets regulations we have been discussing because it would be considered a domestic appliance. In fact the red, blue (and yellow for 110V, such as used on building sites) are often referred to as industrial connectors. These plugs are unfused. From what I have seen in the university department where I used to work, each socket was connected to a separate circuit breaker at a distribution board. In the case of 3-phase supplies the circuit breakers were interlinked so that operation of one disconnects all of them.

Interesting though this is, it is not relevant to the domestic environment.

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Scott

I assume you mean ‘not be considered a domestic appliance’. I agree it is drifting off topic. I have seen three phase appliances in domestic use in Denmark so I assume there is no reason in principle not to install one here (unless you know different). It seems to me the regulations would not apply because the rating would exceed 13 amps.

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wavechange

Scott – I think we will need to wait to see what Socketman has to say on this.

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Scott

Yes, where is he? Maybe he is on holiday and/or conducing a comparative study of electrical systems worldwide :-)

Seriously, are we likely to be banned from the Conversation for off topic debate??

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Dead Eye Dicky

I’ve just returned from a week in the Dolomites. There was a hair drier in our bathroom and it was plugged into a standard Euro socket. Seems potentially dangerous to me so I wondered if the Italians have wiring regulations.
I don’t know if this will work but I’ve put two pictures on my cloud site and you should be able to see them by putting this address into your browser – https://www.box.com/s/r8kfggn0raijwdpecpn1 – Any comments?

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Scott

As I posted previously, there are sockets in bathrooms in Iceland and Denmark. My impression is that the ban on bathroom sockets may be a particularly British notion.

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socketman

I think that Scott is right, we do take electrical safety more seriously in the UK. As far as I am concerned that is a plus, and I hope we keep it that way.

As we are definitely OT here, I would like to comment on something else in Dicky’s post, he writes: “plugged into a standard Euro socket”. The idea that there is a “standard Euro socket” is quite common, and very wrong. The type of plugs and sockets used in any European country are always subject to the national regulations of that country, this is no European standard.

Of the 28 EU countries in the EU, 18 use the German “Schuko” socket, 4 use the French socket, and 4 use the BS 1363 type. Denmark and Italy both have unique types, with several variations of each!

The Schuko socket provides an earth connection via scraping contacts in the side of the recess, it accepts 16A plugs in both orientations so there is no way of determining which plug pin is connected to Line and which to Neutral.

The French socket accepts the same pin dimensions as the Schuko, but provides an earth connection via a pin protruding from the socket – this also establishes a fixed orientation.

German 16A plugs will not fit French sockets (because of the protruding pin), and French 16A plugs will not fit into German sockets (the side contacts prevent insertion). There is, however, a hybrid 16A plug which has both side contacts and a hole for the French socket pin. A moulded plug of this type is usually fitted to earthed appliances sold in mainland Europe.

Dicky’s photo shows a type of universal socket which accepts a number of different plugs. The outer holes on the vertical axis are for the 16A Italian plug, the adjoining inner holes on that axis are for the 2.5A Europlug, 10A Italian plug and 16A German plug. The central earth hole provides an earth for both sizes of Italian plug, and side contacts are provided for earthing the German plug. Two more sets of contacts are provided on the horizontal axis for a UK shaver plug and an American unearthed plug.

With the exception of dedicated shaver sockets for low current use, universal sockets are not permitted in the UK.

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Scott

I think Socketman is right. Interestingly there is a standard Europlug but not Eurosocket. I assume the Europlug could itself be regarded as a hybrid as it is designed to fit (all?) sockets in Europe except our design. Until recently I did not appreciate that the Danish design is unique. It does seem to create a potential hazard by accepting hybrid Schuko/French plugs without connecting either earth.

I agree that safety should be taken seriously so I am not comfortable with the idea of using hairdryers etc in bathrooms. If we are to be diverted further off-topic, is there really any need for shaver sockets any longer since mains only shavers must be few and far between and toothbrushes could be charged elsewhere? You could argue that it is better to charge a toothbrush only when it is needed rather than leaving it on permanent charge.

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John

I think we have the strictist regulations and the strictist enforcement of them here in the UK.
Even if there are regulations in other countries they are often ignored with no penalty.
Which reminds me of something I read somewhere about safety, I can’t remember exactly what it reffered to but basically it was saying that if you make everything 100% safe then people expect it to be safe so much so that they become careless and more likely to have an accident because they are not looking out. In countries with dangerous electrics (and other things) people are simply more careful.
With regard to the toothbrush, Why would you leave it on all the time wasting electricity? I unplug mine once I am aware it’s charged or it’s been on long enough

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wavechange

As Scott says, there is no need to charge shavers and toothbrushes in the bathroom. I made this point earlier in this Conversation. Like the mobile phone and other gadgets, mine get charged away from water and near to a smoke detector.

I am surprised that Braun/Oral B are still selling toothbrushes that take hours to charge and have no indicator to show when charging is complete. Other manufacturers have moved to fast charge lithium batteries.

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malcolm r

“there is no need to charge shavers and toothbrushes in the bathroom”. I don’t use an electric shaver but do use an electric toothbrush. I, clearly, use it in the bathroom, so what more convenient place to charge it? It is a Braun, has an indicator to show when it should be recharged and one when it is fully charged.
John’s comment about becoming complacent about safety is interesting. Apart from the UK’s stringent and very effective regulations on electrics we have anti-lock brakes, traction control, collision warning in cars, safety devices on workplace machinery, interlocks on hedgetrimmers and lawnmowers to preserve bits of your hands and feet, and so on. Rather than make you complacent I’d suggest these leave you better able to concentrate on the main tasks. I’d rather have constructive regulations such as these than the blizzards of beaurocratic regulations that emanate from Europe to control the straightness of cucumbers and the like.

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wavechange

Apart from the fact that there is no need to charge shavers and toothbrushes in the bathroom, getting rid of the sockets will remove the temptation to use these sockets for electrical goods that would overload the socket. Charging a laptop, for example, would require more power than these sockets are intended to provide. I have met businessmen who have done this when staying in hotels and with Amazon et al. sending products with two-pin plugs, I foresee that many will find the bathroom a convenient place to charge electrical goods.

We may be sensible adults, but what about children, grandchildren and visitors. House fires are often claimed to be due to electrical problems, though often there is too little remaining to identify the exact cause.

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John Ward

While the hypothesis that total safety is conducive to carelessness has some theoretical appeal, the corollary concerns me: to reduce the risk of carelessness there will be a built-in safety deficiency. I do not look forward to a situation in which everything has to be labelled “possibly only 87% safe” [or whatever] causing me to wonder which hazard[s] make up the balance! Being 100% safe, and sure of it, is my preference and systems can and should be designed to achieve that.

It is interesting that new houses still have shaver sockets installed wherever there is a wash-hand basin [five or more in the biggest properties]. Perhaps that does at least reduce the likelihood that people will use an extension socket in a wet place.

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wavechange

I have been wondering if new houses have shaver sockets, so thanks for this information, John.

Many modern shavers are waterproof and to avoid short circuits the two-pin plug is actually a small power supply delivering safe low voltage (e.g. 12V) to the socket. The problem is that the power supplies can be quite large and create leverage that shaver sockets were never intended to cope with. Hopefully the plugs don’t end up in the wash basin and get plugged in without proper drying.

I don’t see the need for shaver sockets in bathrooms, but would it not make sense to move to low voltage? It’s over 20 years since I bought a Braun shaver that would charge from 12V – 240V, DC or AC. Low voltage would be 100% safe.

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John

The comment I made regarding “safety is conducive to carelessness” as John W puts it, came from an artical I read somewhere which I believe had some research figures to back it up, the main one being that there were not significantly more accidents in countries where they didn’t have such tight regulations, There were also some examples given where accidents could have been avoided by common sense/care when safety mechanism failed. It was some time ago and I have no idea of the source now, nor did I save it. But thinking about the points they made in the article it did seem reasonable, but one thing that springs to mind for an analogy is bungee jumping, you would not jump of a bidge or something similar with a only a rope to save you from certain death unless you believed it was 100% safe would you? Yet there have been many occasions where people have been killed or injured by failure of the rope or equipment, or even by the rope extending to far etc.
Had these people not been led to believe it was afe they would not now be dead/seriously injured.

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John

Having said that I should point out that as I believe I stated in my o/p the article I was reffering to was not necesarily about electrical safety and I am not for any relaxation in it, but in other fields I would be because I’m talking about the kind of things which limit peoples activity.

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John

With regard to charging shavers in bathrooms, It never occured to me that this might happen, ours is in the kitchen near the wall sockets above the worktop, I don’t have any power in my bathroom that can be utilized by any appliance not pernently wired in. If I want to use an electric shaver (which I rarely do) I do it in the comfort of my living room, The bathroom would be the last place I’d want to use an electric shaver.

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Scott

John – some electric shavers (eg Philips AquaTouch) are designed to be used wet.

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John

Scott, LOL, at first I thought what are you on about, then the penny dropped, all these modern things eh? I’ve only ever used a dry shaver, but If I had a wet one I think I’d be more inclined to shave at the kitchen sink rather than the bathroom, perhaps my bathroom just isn’t warm and inviting enough, it’s also the toilet so on occasions it can be a bit smelly.

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Scott

John, also LOL, I hope you take the dishes out first as otherwise I won’t be coming to your place for tea!

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John

I’ve just seen the comment quoted below emailed to me but doesn’t appear to be on here:
“Author: Scott
Comment:
Wavechange – is that because three phase washing machines are rated in excess of 13 amps so are not covered by the Regulations and do not need to be fitted with a ‘standard’ plug? Does that mean they do not require to be supplied with a plug fitted at all? I assume these plugs are unfused since presumably three fuses would be needed?”

I know it was directed at Wavechange but I’m confused.
I thought 3 Phase has four wires, how can it possibly have a standard plug?
It also has 400V between live phases so it would exceed the 250V rating of a standard plug
I have only seen three phase in factories etc, where it’s fused in the box (trips) I am not sure there are fuses in the connectors. I guess the type of use doesn’t reall require fuses in the connector any way.
And I believe each live phase is fused seperately
I wonder if some people on here don’t really understand what three phase actually is or how it is ditributed.
Which brings me to an earlier comment made here as to wiring houses to 3 phase, this would be nigh on impossible on a housing estate due to the way the phases are split across the estate, if you lived near an industrial estate you might stand a better chance but either way would mean bring cables especially from some distance away to one point.

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Scott

John, it is earlier as I attached it to the subthread about washing machines.

I thought three phase had five wires, one for each phase plus neutral and earth. I have never seen it in the UK though, only in Denmark. I was not suggesting a standard plug. What I was saying is that the regulations generally require appliances to be supplied with a standard plug. Wavechange pointed out that there is a special three phase plug. I wondered why this is permitted and asked whether it is because the current exceeds 13 amps and the Regulations apply to appliances rated up to 13 amps.

I live in a tenement block containing eight flats. Our electricity arrives as three phases into a fuse box with three fuses. As I understand it, one phase goes to three flats, the second phase goes to three flats and the third phase goes to two flats (3/3/2). I believe the configuration changes for different closes (eg 3/2/3, 2/3/3 etc) to balance the load. The building is 100 years old though so things may be different in more modern properties.

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John

Sorry yes you are correct, I forgot about the earth, although technicaly the I believe Earth is the Nuetral, It only becomes a seperate wire at the property (either by a PME connector or earthing arrangement.
As you are in a block of flats then it’s quite possible all phases are present and shared, and if you are in flats then like that then you are probably in a city where three phase supplies are more readily available, here it’s all terraced, detached, semi detached single or double story property housing and I was told by reliable source that particularly here in my village it would tend to be larger areas per phase, though it’s possible it may be one side of the street or odd streets. In this case getting all three phases to one property would be very difficult and costly.

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wavechange

Scott – The red plugs I mentioned are available with four or five pins.

The supply company does indeed try to balance the load on each phase but even if the building has a 3-phase supply, each flat will be on a single phase.

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Scott

Indeed, that’s what I am saying. The three phases are shared amongst eight flats with the configuration changing along the street to achieve a balance. All the flats are single phase supply. I think a Powerline Wi-Fi extender could have interesting results.

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malcolm r

Generally, as I understand it, a three phase supply now consists of 3 phase wires and a common neutral that is earthed at some point. The phase-phase voltage is 415V in practice (400V nominally) and the phase-neutral 240v (230V nominally to accord with Europe!). This 3 ph supply is run down your street, with each house being connected to one of the phases and neutral; the phases are used equally for other properties to aim to keep the current in each phase the same.
Motors run much better off a 3 ph supply, with a 4 pin plug and socket, so if in your garage/workshop you have fairly powerful woodworking macinery, say, then it is advantageous to use 3 ph with appropriate motors. Commercial and industrial machinery and equipment generally needs higher power than can be sensibly provided at 240v, so 3ph is used.

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wavechange

UK BS 1363 sockets are shuttered for safety. Even when BS 546 (round pin) sockets were still in common use, most of these were shuttered as far as I can remember.

When I have been abroad I have noticed many unshuttered sockets. I wonder how many countries still use unshuttered sockets.

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Scott

Certainly the later 15 amp and 5 amp round pin sockets were shuttered. The Schuko socket in my utility room (which I realise may attract disapproval!) has shutters but they work in a different way to ours as they are opened by the live and neutral pins, not by the earth pin as ours are. They have to as they accept two pin Europlugs. Our system is more effective in that respect. There is a section in Wikipedia if anyone is interested:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AC_power_plugs_and_sockets

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wavechange

With some BS 1363 sockets the shutters are opened by the L and N pins, but not by a 2.5 amp Europlug.

I had looked at the Wikipedia before posting my message. It says: “Some countries, including Portugal, Finland, Denmark,[38] Norway and Sweden, require child-proof socket shutters; the German Schuko standard does not have this requirement.”

I don’t know if this is up to date.

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Scott

Re Schuko – Yes, I wondered that too. My MK Schuko socket definitely has shutters. I checked before posting. Perhaps when it refers to a requirement this is a minimum which can be exceeded, just as MK (in my opinion) has led the way here in the UK with safety features.

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wavechange

MK have indeed led the way, but they have made a few blunders along the way. One example was the plastic cord grip that removed the need for screws. It was difficult to use with thicker cables and as a result it was very common to see the coloured insulation of the conductors hanging out of MK plugs of that design.

I recently gave away some old but unused MK bakelite round pin 5 and 15 amp round pin plugs and sockets and these had good shutters.

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socketman

Apologies for not putting my previous comment (below) as a reply, I always get frustrated when others do that as it breaks up the sequence. Also apologies for the lower case “g” in one of the instances of “German”!

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Scott

Wavechange – re the plastic cord grip, I didn’t think it held very thin cables properly either. I did not like it and stopped buying MK plugs for a time (and of course now don’t buy any plugs at all thanks to the Regulations which prompted this Conversation). We all seem to be in agreement now. Is a new controversy needed :-)

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wavechange

You are quite right about the MK cord grip being inadequate for thin cables. The plug was also designed so that the three conductors were the same length, despite the need to leave slack in the earth conductor for safety. I could also make critical comments about the first generation of MK sockets that required simultaneous insertion of two pins, but at least the current offering seems to be a considerable improvement.

The introduction of moulded plugs was a great advance and so far I have not seen one that is obviously counterfeit. I do wish they all had an inspection window so that you can view the fuse rating. I still have a 1950s brown Bakelite plug with an inspection window.

Come and join us in some other Conversations if you are game for some controversial issues. :-)

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Scott

I am sorry to say I agree with you. My understanding was that you should leave the earth wire with some slack (plug permitting) so that if the cord was pulled loose the earth would remain, or be last to go.

Will take a look but I would not want anyone to think I am an argumentative sort :-)

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John S

Regarding the non screw cord grips, I take it you are referring to the serrated plastic ones you push the wire into? I don’t know what the manufacturers were off hand and I can’t be bothered to go hunting right now but the ones I’ve seen are adjustable, you can pull out the grip and position it with a larger or smaller gap, I have seen wires hanging out of these as described here simply because people have not actually realized you can change the positioning and hence the start gap of these type of grips.

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wavechange

John – I have a few of these plugs still in use. Looking at one on a soldering iron, the cord grip consists of a pair of pieces of plastic at an angle of about 130 degrees to each other and they are definitely not serrated or adjustable. The white MK plug has sleeved L and N pins and is marked Patent app for. This cord grip works fine for the 5.5 mm flexible cable on my 25W soldering iron but I remember it was a battle to use these plugs with thick flex. I have seen several examples where people have simply removed one or both of the pieces of plastic used as a cord grip.

My washing machine plug is a later version and I know that it was fitted in 1882. It is marked British patent and has some interesting design changes, but the awkward cord grip is identical.

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Scott

A true museum piece then

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socketman

I thought that, in fact Wavechange’s washing machine plug seems to date from the year that the very first British 2 pin plugs were introduced. I would love to add it to my collection.

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malcolm r

As it was fitted in 1882 it sheds a new light on the history of the electrically-powered washing machine. This was believed to be the Thor, made by the Hurley Washing Machine Company of Chicago in 1908. I wonder what its life was?
Oh, if only we could edit our own posts.

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wavechange

Thank you all for your witty comments. :-)

I wonder why so much care has gone into the design of plugs and sockets when most lamp holders still allow adults and children to touch live terminals.

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malcolm r

As far as I am aware all (decent makes?) of BC lampholder disconnect the pins from the electrical supply when a lamp is removed. Is this a mandatory requirement for all lampholders, or an option?

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socketman

The relevant standard is BS 7895 for bayonet lampholders with enhanced safety. I am not aware of any requirement to use them, but would be interested in earning if there is.

I wonder if they are ever used in table lamps and standard lamps, which is where they would really make a difference, does anyone know? An awful lot of such items now come from IKEA, and IKEA sell only Edison screw!

I believe that table lamps and standard lamps are simply unsuitable for use in the presence of small children, it is not just the shock risk but the danger of high temperature bulbs, broken glass, and mercury contamination.

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wavechange

I have not seen any safety ES lamp holders but it should be possible to design one requiring simultaneous pressure on the central contact and displacement of an interlock pin on the screw fitting for the former to be energised. For this to work, the L and N would have to be connected correctly. Perhaps bedside lamps in children’s bedrooms are the greatest risk.

I don’t know why we have screw-fitting lamps when the motor industry managed to get rid of them in the 60s.

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malcolm r

I seem to recall E27 lampholders having a centre contact that only made contact with the supply terminal when the lamp was screwed fully home.
Bayonet fixings have the advantage of more accurately positioning the orientation of a filament in the lamp in relation to the lamp housing; useful with some optical systems, such as cars. Screw fixings hold the lamp more rigidly.

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wavechange

Like the safety bayonet lamp holders it is obviously far from universal. I routinely check whether screw lampholders are wired up correctly (L to centre contact) and have never met a safety version. One of the problems is patents. I believe it should be illegal to patent any invention that would provide a significant improvement in safety if widely adopted.

I think the reason that the motor industry got rid of MES lamps was that they could work loose as a result of vibration and heating/cooling. I remember being asked to use my small hands to try and tighten loose bulbs behind the instrument panels of a couple of cars when I was a young lad.

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malcolm r

Designing something unique, useful and clever deserves reward for the designer – whether safety-oriented or not. Patents provide this through protection from copying. Designing costs money, and there needs to be an incentive. Drug companies are an extreme example with huge costs and risks – but if successful I would argue enhance safety (of health). The way to make it universal is to licence the invention, and in cases where it is very much in the public interest, to control the licence fee. Alternatively, purchase the patent rights and open to all.
Usually international standardisation bodies will introduce safety requirements; many of the standards issued are safety standards. There are usually ways round individual’s patents to achieve a similar end – all down to ingenuity, which I find very interesting to see.

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malcolm r

wavechange, loosening from vibration can be a problem. With ES and GES lampholers (don’t know about smaller ones) the common solution was to but a spring bar parallel to the screw thread that locked the cap against vibration

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wavechange

I agree that licensing is a solution providing that the costs are reasonable, but patents are often taken out mainly to prevent others making similar claims and further progress. I have my name on several patents of this kind as a result of collaboration with industry. :-(

Flanges seem to be the best way of maintaining filament alignment.

Most of the lamps I have encountered in other countries have had the inferior :-) screw caps. I guess the dual filament lamps used in Canada must be bayonet fitting.

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malcolm r

Flanges work for axial location, but you may also need rotational location. Notched flanges and keyed seats work with the lamp correctly aligned in the holder – often done with a bayonet fix.

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socketman

I am not up to date with the German requirement, but can say with certainty that in August 2012 both shuttered and unshuttered Schuko sockets were available in a large Munich DIY store. Similarly, both shuttered and unshuttered NEMA sockets are to be found on sale in the US where a few years ago the National Electric Code was updated to require the use of shuttered sockets in all new-build domestic situations. As with german sockets, the US system relies on the simultaneous insertion of both line and neutral pins to open the shutters.

The very significant difference between BS 1363 and other sockets is that all BS 1363 sockets have been shuttered since the type was introduced in 1947.

There is a widespread misunderstanding about how BS 1363 shutters work, it is generally thought that they all rely on the insertion of the earth pin moving the shutters downwards to open the apertures, but there are at least seven methods! In addition to the earth pin operated shutters moving down, there are sockets where the earth pin raises the shutters, and others where it moves the shutters aside.

Earth pin operation was the only method permitted in the original standard, but in 1957 the standard was amended to permit operation of shutters by simultaneous insertion of two or more pins (in addition to original method). For several decades MK used the simultaneous insertion of line and neutral to open the shutters. Today there are at least three, different, methods of using earth pin insertion to release a latch on the main shutter mechanism which then allows the simultaneous insertion of the other two pins to open the shutters, this results in very safe shutter mechanisms.

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socketman

You can see an illustration of how the three pin operation of MK and Hager sockets work here: http://tinyurl.com/socketdamage
The third three pin method (not shown there) is from Legrand and relies on extensions of the earth contacts preventing the lifting of the shutters. When the earth contacts are pushed apart by the earth pin the extensions are moved aside allowing the shutters to move upwards.

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wavechange

Thanks Socketman.

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westerton

Bought a product last month from Lyco in the UK that came with a two pin earthed round euro plug, took several e mails before they sent me a 13amp shaver adapter, I pointed out that the appliance should be earthed, so it was of no use, so after much delay I eventually got a new lead some months after I bought and paid for the product

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Scott

Westerton – if your nom de plume represents your location you may live very near me and you could probably have got the correct lead from Maplins at Kelvinbridge. That’s not the point I know, as others will be quick to point out :-)

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socketman

Westerton – Could you please tell us what the product was?

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