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?

1099 comments

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John

I’m guessing some of you posting here may have seen this already (certainly socketman), but just in case you haven’t it might be of interest and is more on topic.
http://www.bs1363.org.uk/

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wavechange

John gives an excellent and frequently quoted example of ‘inflammable’ being an unhelpful term. Describing AC mains voltage as ‘low voltage’ is my nomination.

Perhaps it is time to bring the discussion back on topic and discuss practical ways of helping the public understand why it is not a trivial issue that Amazon and other Internet-based companies are supplying products with the wrong plug, in contravention of the regulations that have been cited many times so far.

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Richard

I am sorry, but I still do consider that this is utterly trivial, although I think it might be helpful if Amazon or other on line vendors had the common sense to specify what sort of plug is (or isn’t) fitted, as well, of course, where lights are concerned whether the bulb socket takes respectable bayonet bulbs, or dangerous, foreign Edison screw!

To venture, marginally, off topic, today I bought, from B&Q an RCD plug. I read the instructions carefully, and was intrigued to find that while it should only be used in doors, and in dry conditions, it should also not be used above 2,000 metres a.s.l. While there can be few territories afflicted with British wiring standards, where houses are built above 2,000 metres (? Kenya?) can anyone suggest why RCD’s won’t work at that sort of altitude?

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socketman

The standards for RCDs to be used in consumer units have “Standard conditions for operation in service” which include “Altitude: Not exceeding 2,000 m” and the footnote: “For installations at higher altitudes, it is necessary to take into account the reduction of the dielectric strength and of the cooling effect of the air. RCCBs intended to be so used shall be designed specially or used according to an agreement between manufacturer and user.”

I expect it is the same for your plug.

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socketman

By the way, the British Standard for Edison Screw lamps (BS 98) dates back to about 1917, so they are hardly to be dismissed as “foreign”!

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Richard

Very much obliged!

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Scott

Re Edison – unless you consider Thomas Alva Edison born in Ohio on 11 February 1847 to be a foreigner!

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socketman

The Edison screw cap as we know it is the work of Alfred Swan of Sunderland, the younger brother of Joseph Swan, inventor of the incandescent lamp. (Americans normally think that Edison was the inventor, but what Edison did was develop a better filament). Alfred Swan was also the inventor of the bayonet cap.

Joseph Swan and Edison became partners (Ediswan) and Alfred went to the US to work with Edison.

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Scott

Just to take this conversation on a further detour along the highways and byways (but not Euroroutes), has anyone heard of a rule that an electricity meter has to be (a) six inches, (b) one metre or (c) in a different room from a gas meter? If correct, does this apply only to first installations or also to meter replacements? If it applies to meter replacements, who is responsible for the cost of moving one or other of the meters?

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John

There is no direct reference to meters but the following pretty much rules siting the meters close to each other:

BS6891-2005 8.16.2
Separation of installation pipework from other services.

Where installation pipes are not separated by electrical insulating material, they shall be spaced as follows:
a) at least 150 mm away from electricity meters and associated excess current controls, electrical switches or sockets, distribution boards or consumer units;
b) at least 25mm away from electricity supply and distribution cables.

http://alturl.com/inv7f

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socketman

Two weeks ago I listed here 50 Amazon Market Place products which included illegal plugs or plug like devices (chargers and adaptors).

I had hoped that Which? might have an impact on Amazon, but all but one of those are still listed. Yet another demonstration of how Amazon simply ignores the law.

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Richard

Honestly there really are many things in life which are vastly more important than connectors which transgress against the petifogging regulations of one small country.

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Malcolm R

That’s true of some issues, but not if safety is at stake

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socketman

You are right Malcolm, this whole thing is about the fact that substandard and/or inappropriate products can result in death. Our “pettifogging regulations” have resulted in death from domestic electrocution and electrically originated fires being a fraction of those in the USA, even though their voltage is only half of ours. The danger posed by touching a live wire in the US is lower, but the probability of an electric shock and the risk of death or injury is higher because of their very inferior plugs and sockets and dodgy earthing. For example, in the US an average of seven children per day are treated in hospital emergency rooms for electrical shocks and burns due to contact with wall sockets, that does not happen here.

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Sarah S-H

I wonder why Richard has such a problem with this? Specifically, I wonder why he chooses to refer to “one small country” could he be geographically challenged? The UK has the second largest EU population (after Germany) and as the original issue is about the provision of European plugs to UK consumers then it is actually an issue affecting one large country, and two smaller ones, Ireland and Malta (both of which have similar regulations to our own).

Perhaps he is historically challenged and does not realize that plugs and sockets were a British invention, the first British patents dating back 130 years which was about 20 years before the use of plugs and sockets started in the US. It is also worth pointing out that both the US and Germany chose to use to ignore the established British two pin plug of the late 19th century, and went their own ways. Both those countries have continued with slightly updated versions of their early designs, the US system dating from around 1915 and the German system dating from 1926. Both are horribly compromised by modern safety standards. Contrast that with Britain which, whilst the second world war was raging, found to time to look to the future and establish the real needs for a safe, efficient and modern system, BS 1363. By realizing that the post-war reconstruction period was the ideal time to make a massive change in infrastructure, Britain was able to establish the system we have today, the only post-war plug and socket system in use in a Western country. As I think others have pointed out, no developed country can now afford to change it’s electricity infrastructure, so we all have to live with the systems with which we entered the second part of the last century, just as countries which drive on the left are not about to reconstruct their highway systems to move to the right. Richard’s attempts to portray Britain as somehow lacking in the plug and socket department are risible, there can be no justification for going backwards!

The issues with the sub-standard and fake products that Socketman has highlighted are general safety issues rather than being a result of any particular plug type, all governments have a duty to protect their citizens against the callous sale of dangerous goods.

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Richard

Sarah should add Hong Kong to her list of territories outwith the UK which use our connectors!

What challenges me here is the chauvinistic approach to Amazon and other vendors – if I buy an appliance with a plug that doesn’t fit my sockets, I don’t winge; I simply change the plug, which is not a difficult task.

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Scott

Sarah was referring to EU countries. I think you will find Hong Kong is not in the EU :-)

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wavechange

Not everyone is competent to fit a plug correctly, Richard. Have a look at some examples of DIY-fitted plugs and you should see plenty of ones that require attention. If they all look fine, I would start to worry. :-)

Good quality moulded plugs have been a great step forward in public safety. Unfortunately, there is some dangerous junk on sale, as Socketman has mentioned several times.

Some of us are very concerned about this issue and it is unhelpful to make mock of us.

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Charlotte Cowe

I am late in coming to this conversation considering I started it! My concern about the lamp is that it does not come with a plug at all – just two bare wires. It was the instruction from the seller to insert the wires into the socket that I felt was very dangerous and started to pursue the matter. The item should be sold on Amazon stating that there is no plug. I received a refund of 50% and when I gave poor feedback on the website then received a refund of the balance.

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MacTavish

Has Which? gone to sleep on this?

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wavechange

Amazon will give a refund. See Patrick’s comment on 27 June.

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Sarah S-H

Wavechange, Amazon says lots of things, they told the BBC, on film, back in 2008 that they did not tolerate illegal items on their site, but, 5 years on, they have done nothing to stop the items that the BBC was complaining about! It really needs a lot more than a refund to fix this problem of selling illegal goods. For one thing, they need to tell suppliers that if they are found selling illegal goods, whether that be items with two-pin plugs, counterfeit electricals (or fake anything) or offensive weapons then that supplier will be banned. They also need to take steps to educate their customers about illegal electrical goods and others. If you search for an item which is illegal to purchase in the UK then the Amazon search engine should return information informing you that such is the case, as it stands Amazon searches for illegal goods not only offer you suppliers, but often sponsored links directly to foreign suppliers as well!

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wavechange

Sarah

I am only reporting the information that we have been provided with. I don’t trust Amazon any more than you do.

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Scott

It is not illegal to purchase electrical items fitted with two pin plugs in the UK. The offence lies in supplying, offering for supply, agreeing to supply, exposing for supply or possessing for supply such items.

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Sarah S-H

Scott, I do not disagree, but it is illegal to purchase the offensive weapons which Amazon Marketplace also still sells (eg Pepper Spray) and that is the sort of thing that Amazon should be warning about. There are a range of measures they need to take, the problem is not just about 2 pin plugs.

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Scott

I did not suggest the problem was just about two pin plugs (although this Which Conversation is about two pin plugs). Your post erroneously implied that purchase of electrical equipment fitted with two pin plugs was illegal, which of course it is not.

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Sarah S-H

Scott, you may have inferred that, but I did not not imply it.

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Scott

Okay, so if you search for an item which is illegal to purchase in the UK then the Amazon search engine should not return electrical items fitted with two pin plugs.

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John

Scott, Exactly correct, and before you move onto Google, that’s an entirely different thing, they are a search provider, not a retailer selling to the UK market.

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John

Oops, actually it would be hard to differentiate as some items (as I think Sarah mentioned) are ok to sell with two pin plugs, namely shavers, strictly speaking I don’t think anything else is but it seems it’s been stretched to cover over things, but as I pointed out before, a UK two pin plug is not the same as a Euro two pin plug, my shaver (bought a long time ago) has a proper UK two pin plug, it fits tightly in the two pin sockets and adapters, The EU ones do not fit properly as the pins are thinner and spaced further apart, although some adapters are meant to take both (the have holes spaced for both) I wouldn’t trust them as they stil don’t hold the plug tightly like the correct socket does. We bought a router for someone a few weeks ago and it came with a two pin (EU) wall adapter, it was arcing and would not stay connected unless you held it at an angle in the adapter, in fact it kept falling out of the walll plug so we tried in an extension flat on the floor, we tried several adapters all with the same result, then the router went up in smoke due to the spikes from the arcing – a waste of £25, I wasn’t responsible for buying it but if I had I would have demanded my money back. The guy I worked for didn’t seem to concerned even though I pointed out the possible legal implications of us supplying something which was dangerous to use, luckily the unit failed because of it so it was a good excuse notto proceed!

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Sarah S-H

Let’s try to differentiate some of the issues with illegal sales. For a start, despite the wording at the head of this thread, it is not just about two-pin plugs but all non conforming plugs. It is illegal to sell electrical appliances (with some exceptions) which are not fitted with plugs conforming to BS 1363. That means that it is illegal to supply two pin plugs, foreign plugs, and non-approved UK style plugs, yet all of these are supplied on appliances sold through Amazon. It is not amenable to action via a search engine as it is not the appliances that are illegal, but the plugs. Illegal plugs are a problem which appear to be more prevalent in on-line sales than sales in physical shops, some education of customers by Amazon and other online retailers would help to reduce this problem.

As Socketman has pointed out, there are many other electrical items, including chargers and adaptors, which do not meet UK and European safety standards and have been banned from sale throughout Europe, yet are sold openly through Amazon. This needs direct action from Amazon to remove these items from its listings.

Products which should be dealt with by the Amazon search engine include offensive weapons such as Pepper Spray or Pfefferspray – an Amazon search for which will produce a number of Market Place offers as I (and the BBC) have previously pointed out (although Which? has removed all references to the actual offers).

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Scott

This explanation sums the position up very well. Thanks to. Sarah S-H.

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MacTavish

OK, I see that some of you are still there and interested, even if Which? has gone to sleep.

I lived in France for a few years and thought that their electrics were bad compared to those back home, but when I moved to the US I found out what dodgy electrics really are :-) Trust me, you do not want to have to put up with other standards when you have the best in the world! When it comes time for me to return I shall be very happy to be back in the land of the IEE wiring regs and BS 1363 – but will miss the Florida weather. The other thing I look forward to is low cost broadband, i have to pay over $60/month to get the same sort of service that members of my family back in England get for about 12 quid – lucky people.

Those who think that these regs do not matter have a very short sighted view.

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MacTavish

So there are some folk still reading this, but apparently no one from Which?

Having lived in France, and now Florida, I know how bad the electrical systems in these countries are, I look forward to getting back to England and sensible regulation, providing those who apparently do not care have not finished off the system before then!

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John

A few weeks ago I had a customer bring in a laptop PSU and wanted to buy another as he had seen something on TV about some that exlpode and are dangerous and he thought his was one of these, he was correct. In fact the adapter itself was probably ok, but the power cable supplied with it had everything wrong with it, firstly it was 6A flex with a 13A fuse, but then on checking the fuse it appeared to be plain copper wire and there was no filling in the fuse, It was quite easy to see this as the end cap practically fell off in my hand when I removed the fuse. It was marked BS 1363. But this was bought in a local computer shop, I know for a fact many small shops are also buying from the cheapest suppliers in order to be competive, mentioning no names but I’m sure you can guess the two I’m reffering to.

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Scott

This conversation has gone quiet! It seems from today’s news that counterfeit electrical equipment is maybe a bigger problem than previously thought. Would PAT (portable appliance testing) testing pick this up? If so, maybe some organisation could offer a walk-in service to allow the public to have equipment tested? Could the police or the post office do this, or does it require a qualified electrician?

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Em

Not sure what news you are referring to, so I don’t know the relevance of PAT testing to this.

It is unlikely that PAT testing would identify every product that is unsafe at the point of manufacture, unless it was an earth, plug or cable fault. It is designed to detect damage to an electrical appliance that arises through normal wear and tear or misuse, hence focus on the cable and signs of external damage to the appliance that could pose a shock hazard for the user and the integrity of the earth connection, where present.

City & Guilds 2377-22 is a qualification you can pass in about 2 days with basic electrical knowledge. You do not need to be a qualified electrician, nor comply with the onerous self-certification schemes that make it almost impossible for a lay person to engage in other forms of electrical installation and testing. The main inhibitor is the cost of the PAT test equipment (c.£500) – so the ROI is not great if it is not in use full-time.

There is also a need for Public Liability Insurance where a service like this is offered to the public. You can imagine the headlines: “PAT testing company failed to notice counterfeit fuse in plug …”.

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wavechange

Visual inspection, which is part of PAT testing, will pick up the majority of problems, especially with non-earthed (Class II) equipment. Unless standards have changed, a ‘competent person’ can carry out testing, but I hope that those in business have had some training.

When PAT testing was introduced, I got my university lab technicians trained by an electrician and they referred difficult items and failed items to the electrician for advice or inspection.

The downside of PAT testing is the requirement to have the ‘correct’ fuse in the plug to pass the test, rather than the one that will give greatest protection. :-(

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wavechange

Em mentions the cost of PAT testing equipment, but there is also the recurring cost of having this calibrated periodically.

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Em

>>> Em mentions the cost of PAT testing equipment, but there is also the recurring cost of having this calibrated periodically. <<<

Indeed, another overhead I forgot to mention! This is why I am very happy to pay £40 per year to have professional music and lighting equipment tested every year by someone who is very compentent in their field and does all the paperwork, rather than purchase a PAT tester. It works out at about £1 per item, which is not bad.

Unfortunately, for the average householder who wants just a few items checked, it is not economic and almost impossible to find someone who will do PAT checks on an ad hoc basis. If you search the Internet, there are a few walk-in PAT services – one of which may be in your area – but it is not something to be found on every High Street.

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John

Scott, I think PAT testing is unlikely to show the kind of problems that would cause safety issues in such equipment unless it’s apparent by visually checking, the test itself only looks for Earth leakage, excessive load etc. between lines. As such items are double insulated there is no earth test to be done so that only leaves the L/N leakage insulation and load test. Incidentally part of the PAT test also includes visual/cosmetic condition and correct fusing.

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Scott

I was referring to the news that Apple are offering to replace counterfeit chargers for (I think) $10. The report referred a woman in China and a man in England who had been ‘electrocuted’ and said that large numbers of counterfeit chargers are in circulation.

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Em

Thanks Scott. I though you might be referring to that, but the story first appeared on August 6th, so I wasn’t too sure if something else had happened in the meantime.

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Scott

Oooops. I may have become confused here. I was listening to a podcast of ‘You and Yours’ so maybe it came from there! Not as bad as my late father who phoned his brother in Canada to say how well the Canadian was doing in the snooker – only to discover he was watching a video of the previous year’s tournament.

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Em

No problem. I tend to get caught out when watching old PVR recordings of some timeless series like Poirot, when a news update or weather forecast comes on. Wasn’t there a similar incident in 2009? Snow in August? Then I twig … .

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wavechange

I have seen many examples of non-genuine Apple laptop power supplies sold on eBay. At one time, some were described as Apple power supplies, though the photos indicated otherwise. Some featured photos of genuine items with the Apple logo obliterated or carefully concealed in some way when photographed, and the item supplied was obviously not genuine. Recent adverts have improved, with words like ‘compatible’ and ‘for Apple’ appearing, and no pictures that have obviously been tampered with.

It would be good if all traders were explicit about whether goods are genuine products or from third party manufacturers, but the top priority must be to ensure that everything on sale is electrically safe – and complies with regulations about plugs, of course.

Hi Scott, we’ve actually recently written about the fake Apple chargers story if you’d like to join our latest debate: http://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/buy-fake-products-counterfeit-goods-online/

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wavechange

Thinking of electrical safety, does anyone know why these counterfeit USB chargers are dangerous and whether or not it is easy to distinguish the genuine article from a fake?

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John

Wavechange – I would have thought the dangers of fake devices would be something you would be aware of already. These devices are built with no safety consideration, don’t follow any safety standards and use substandard parts, resulting in either electrocution or fire.
Identifying most is quite easy if you know what a genuine item looks like, a fake will usually have:
Made in China or no origin country on it
Not have BS kite marks or correct safety/approval marks
May have spelling mistakes or grammatical errors
No labels stating manufacturer, part number, specification etc.
Incorrect or fake plugs & fuses or no fuses

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wavechange

I am familiar with visual signs of counterfeit electrical goods, but I wanted to know what to look for in they case of the counterfeit Apple USB chargers and why they may be dangerous.

A lot of good quality electronic products are made in China by reputable manufacturers.

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Richard

There is a big difference between “counterfeit” and “compatible” kit, which we seem to be avoiding here. Many manufacturers of whatsits compete on price for the big capital gadget, but then, once the punter is hooked, charge exorbitant sums for accessories.

Many “after-market” suppliers then produce entirely compatible accessories which are of top quality, but at half the price. Countefeiters, on the other hand, try to duplicate the original manufacturer’s logo, labels and get up, and sell at a discount to the top name kit.

Please do not believe that ONLY Apple (c) badged chargers will safely charge an iGadget.

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wavechange

I agree that many compatible products are safe and occasionally they are better in some respect than the manufacturer’s product. It is difficult for the consumer to know if they are safe, and some are definitely not.

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wavechange

John

I have just had a look at a genuine Apple USB charger and it is marked ‘Assembled in China’. Their laptop chargers are too.

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John

Wavechange, I think you misunderstood, I’m not saying it’s fake if it says Made in China, just about everything we buy is made there these days, what I’m saying is that if was made any where else it’s unlikely to be fake and that if it says it’s made in China and has other suspect issues as i pointed out then it most likely is fake. Assembled in China as opposed to Made in China may well be indicative of a genuine unit in this case. it’s subtle differences like that, and commonly spelling or grammatical errors you have to watch out for, also a lack of safety or other information on the unit.

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wavechange

OK, John. We can agree on that. I would add that it is very useful to compare a suspected counterfeit product with the genuine article if possible. Sometimes counterfeit products are betrayed by the fact that the plastic mouldings are poor quality.

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John

I disagree partly on the compatible parts, it used to be the case that many compatible parts were just as good and safe as originals (some are even the same thing these days), but not if the compatible part is from China, a country with virtually no safety standards or controls.

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John

Wavechange – I agree a lot of acceptable quality, possibly even some good quality items are made in China these days, unfortunately there is far more that isn’t. As for reputable, I guess it depends how you define that, to me it’s not only about producing good quality but providing good safe working conditions and reasonable pay and there isn’t much of that in China, in fact most workplaces are death traps and the staff poorly paid, only those with direct foreign interest (EU/USA/UK companies manufacturing in China) have reasonable safety and pay/conditions,

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Em

For wavechange and others with enquiring minds …

The major problem with fake chargers is that the printed circuit boards (PCBs) are poorly designed and they do not use quality components. Both are necessary to ensure the separation between the primary (live) and secondary (low voltage) parts of the circuit are maintained – the so-called isolation boundary.

Fake PCBs have insufficient “creepage” between the tracks and components. Basically, this means that the distances between the primary and secondary parts are insufficient for good electrical safety. The primary and secondary copper PCB tracks and associated components need to be separated by a minimum of around 4mm. In a fake charger, the tracks are often no more than 1mm apart and poor soldering can reduce this gap even further. There is a risk of a short developing over time due to moisture or contaminants settling on the board, at which point the secondary output will become live.

Small chargers often use 2 PCBs connected via a ribbon cable and folded to make a cube. The components on the primary and secondary parts of the circuit risk coming into physical contact (e.g. a live component and the USB shield) and must be separated by physical spacers or an insulating shield or tape. This gap, the “clearance”, is often missing in fakes.

Finally, certain components have to bridge the isolation boundary for the device to work, and these need to be of good quality to ensure electrical safety.

a) The most obvious component that does this is the transformer. The primary and secondary windings need to be well insulated, but a cheap transformer may have a single layer of tape or paper instead of the multiple layers required to avoid the risk of the insulation breaking down – something that is even more likely to occur if other circuit protection devices are missing, like a fusible resistor on input.

b) Then there is the opto-isolator feedback to regulate the output voltage, another possible point of failure.

c) But probably the greatest risk is from the capacitor that joins the live/low voltage circuits to suppress the interference that arises in any switched-mode power supply. A capacitor that fails due to a breakdown in the dielectric material is a real hazard and a special “Y”-rated class of capacitor must be used in this situation.

A fake charger will either not have a capacitor at all – and you will no doubt hear the buzz in other electronic equipment when the charger is in use – or it may use a standard cheap capacitor that will do the job when it is working. But if this fails short or catches fire and then shorts out, you will know about it in other far less subtle ways.

In summary, many of the hazards of fake chargers are on the inside and have little to do with fuses or the quality of the casing. In fact, short of ripping one open, there is no way to tell a good fake from a genuine approved and tested design.

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wavechange

As we have agreed, many products are made in China. That includes products are often made for reputable manufacturers and these manufacturers insist on high standards. Mains USB chargers, for example, are made by various well known companies and we don’t generally hear about problems with them. On the other hand, unbranded products could well be unsafe. I avoid all unbranded mains electrical devices.

The Electrical Safety Council website lists many recalled products. Unfortunately, the information could be better organised and the photos could be improved, but it is a start.

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John

Thanks Em for the detailed explanation, and yes short of ripping one open, there is no way to tell a good fake from a genuine approved and tested design.

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Malcolm R

John, that applies to products from many countries where we buy low-cost goods, whether electronics, clothing or shoes for example. As these countries develop so working conditions begin to improve, as is happening in China. Chinese quality is improving.

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John

Malcom, I’m not sure what you are saying applies to products from many countries as your response appears below mine to Em. However I disagree, for one thing we don’t buy much of this type of goods from any where else but China (in Asia), secondly those that we do such as the Philippines, Japan, Korea etc don’t have this problem on any where near the scale that China does and most of the goods from such countries are genuine, better quality and subject to better controls. I think you are just nit picking.

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Scott

Indeed, without Chinese clothing naturism would receive a major boost.

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John

LOL, err yes, most of our clothes are now made there as well, even some of our food, makes you wonder what would happen if they decide to boycott us.

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Em

One sure indication of fake electrical goods is if two or more samples have the serial number.

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Em

Sorry, … the same serial number.

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Richard

Yes, same serial number is an absolute give-away!

I’d suggest serious caution before buying unbranded, or unknown-branded compatibles, but where a compatible product bears, either a known manufacturer’s brand, or, a known, solid, sueable European brand, then it has a very good chance of being up to standard, AND a bargain (in comparison with the “official” equivalnt.)

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Malcolm R

John, nit-picking I am not. I was replying to your comment about poor working conditions, and pointing out that in developing countries this seems to be the norm in the early years. We still are happy to trade with them and take advantage of low cost goods. Eventually standards rise. Look at the way demand for better wages, increased purchasing of consumer goods and better food has grown in China. Same in India, has happened in South America. It seems to be the way manufacturing economies develop – just as happened in the UK in the industrial revolution.

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John

On the subject of serial numbers, even incorrect format can be spotted, generally manufacturers use a set format with many serial numbers starting the same. I think a lot of the fake stuff may not have a a serial number at all.

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wavechange

Em

Thanks for the list of possible hazards of power supplies. The majority of current products can only be inspected by cutting open the case. At least this helps exclude moisture.

I have been shown various power supply and charger cases that have come apart, possibly after being dropped. Years ago I lent a Pure Evoke-1 radio to a friend to test DAB reception where he lived. He reported that the power supply case had come apart because it had not been properly glued. If he had not done a repair, I would have contacted the company.

We have come a long way since some chargers used a capacitor and diode in series in some early NiCd battery chargers. Black & Decker used this arrangement for some of their battery drills.

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socketman

Oh Richard, do you really think you can sue Apple when you buy a fake Apple product and it results in injury or damage? Of course not! Take Amazon listing B009A5EHQE for an “Apple iPod 5W USB Power Adapter (UK)- GBR (Latest Model – Launched Sept 2012)”. You can choose to buy it from Amazon at £14.34, or one of 25 alternative Amazon Market Place suppliers, four of which have prices including delivery of less than £3. Here some just a couple of the customer comments from that listing:

“This is a cheap imitation copy received just two days after the airing of a BBC documentary following trading standards where people’s houses were nearly burned down by such items. This is not something that is a rip off and makes no effort to disguise the fact, this is a completely fake product with the exact same design and copied part numbers, CE logo etc from the genuine article. AMAZON you should be ashamed of yourselves… have you learned nothing from all the fake heaphones that were bought through you?”

“I bought this a couple of days ago and it just exploded whilst charging my phone and started a small fire in my bedroom. DO NOT BUY ”

One of the features of the Amazon website is that there is no way of telling which supplier the comments relate to, was it Amazon? One of the £3 units? Who knows?

And that is just one of many many Amazon listings which display the same problems. The Amazon Market Place process is fundamentally unsuitable for the sale of such products, and the solution to that must be in Amazon’s hands – but they choose to do nothing.

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socketman

Em has given a very good explanation of why fake chargers are dangerous, another source of good information on the subject is here:
http://www.righto.com/2012/03/inside-cheap-phone-charger-and-why-you.html

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DAVE G

hi iv got to say just one thing i do not trust them all ?? made in or out of the UK in short i will not leave phones / computers / battery chargers ect ect iv had good well made chargers short out or overheat when left untended one apple charger less than 6 months old blowup when iPhone was on charge lucky it took out main power breaker ?? at the time my son was on the computer and had not left the room it was starting to melt ? so the best to do is not to trust all of them ???

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Scott

Dave G: What are you saying here, that you don’t used equipment that requires charging or that you don’t leave the charger unattended? I can see that it might be feasible to supervise a mobile phone, but for a shaver that takes 8 hours or whatever this is not very practical. Do you apply the same principle to devices with power supplies, such as DAB radios, digital decoder boxes etc?

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Andrew L

I bought a repeater for my home phone to extend the range. It came via Amazon Marketplace with a euro 2 pin plug and adapter. It is really inconvenient because it sticks out, gets knocked and loses connection – usually in the middle of a call. I’m amazed Amazon do not take this concern seriously, I go there for online purchases to feel that I’m working with a reputable retailer, who will make my online buying safe and dependable.

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Scott

You could either kick up a fuss with Amazon or buy one of these:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Euro-Pin-Converter-Plug-Adapter/dp/B000NJ30QO

I know what I would do!

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Charlotte Cowe

I bought a goose necked clip spotlight in October. This was posted from abroad and arrived with no plug but bare wires with the instruction to put the wires into the socket for the light to work! I contacted the seller and told them that this was illegal in Britain. They offered me 50% refund which I accepted. After I put negative feedback onto the Amazon site they then offered me a full refund. I note that this lamp is still for sale on the Amazon website. The product information now states that there is no plug with this lamp but surely this should be not allowed to be sold in the UK? I have not contacted Amazon but am willing to do so.

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wavechange

I hope you still have the instructions to put the wires into the socket. I suggest you send a copy to Which? with the details of the product and let Trading Standards take this up.

It is good that Amazon read your feedback, but very disappointing that the lamp is still on sale. It would be interesting to know if they removed the feedback.

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Malcolm R

I wonder if, like wall lights and picture lights, this was intended to be directly wired into a flush wall outlet box?

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wavechange

Maybe that is what the manufacturer had in mind, but Charlotte was instructed to put the wires into the socket.

We don’t know whether the retailer was Amazon or one of their marketplace traders, but it is very obvious from previous postings that Amazon should wake up and take responsibility for everything sold via its website.

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Malcolm R

Charlotte, exactly which product is it from Amazon?

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socketman

It would appear to be the Amazon Marketplace item: B00AUBTNE8 (you can use Amazon search to find it). I would like to add a comment about the Plugs and Sockets, etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994 to the review already there, but I am banned by Amazon from commenting as I have told the truth too many times to be acceptable to them.

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Malcolm R

Thanks Socketman. If it is this product the description now includes “Notice: US buyers should buy a voltage transformer, here is not included. LED Spotlight is Only, power plug here is not included.” This may have been added since Charlotte complained?
The seller is listed as Hong Kong based. I wonder whether this product is CE Marked? There is a great risk in importing electrical items directly in that they may not comply with European safety regulations. The importer is responsible for ensuring that they do comply – if they cause injury or death I presume they could be held liable..
The question is whether Amazon performs a service by acting as a source of information for worldwide products, with the onus on the customer to ensure they meet their requirements – who could, after all, source these directly with greater difficulty. At the very least Amazon should attach a disclaimer to all advertised products from outside the EU that they do not supply to warn the purchaser to be wary.

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Scott

Just to reinvigorate this Conversation, I thought I would report that I bought a traditional Danish lamp, described as a 1960s design icon, online from a UK based supplier. It comes fitted with a Europlug, which is no doubt traditional in Denmark. Do I (a) complain to the supplier that this is a pure disgrace and they should have fitted a BS1363 three pin 13 amp plug or (b) spend about 10 seconds of my time fitting a converter plug (2 amp fuse) that happens to be lying in my cupboard?

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malcolm r

I think you’ll do both!

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wavechange

Here are two reasons why fitting a converter plug could not be a very clever idea on safety grounds.

- If the lamp has a switch, it should be in the live/line conductor.

- If the lamp has a screw lamp holder, the small centre contact should be connected to live/line conductor to minimise the risk of electric shock.

I have no idea if they apply in your case, but these are reasons why two-pin plugs should be deprecated when a safer alternative is available.

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Scott

Surely these are factors that must have been taken into account when the lamp was designed and approved for use in Denmark, a European Union country? I suppose I could check the polarity of the Edison screw fitting and reverse the plug in the converter for conformity with UK expectations.

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Scott

PS. I have just checked and the centre contact is the live one. It is indeed a single pole switch (as you anticipated – transparent so easy to see) switching the live line. I suppose it was 50/50 when I fitted the converter plug but it has come up heads.

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wavechange

The fact that two-pin plugs can be inserted in two ways has been discussed earlier. Using three pin plugs eliminates the problem.

It is not difficult to carry out a test to make sure that a switch is in the live/line conductor and that a screw lampholder is correctly wired but we cannot assume that most people will do this or even understand the significance. That is why we need to push all retailers to supply electrical products with three-pin plugs, as specified in the Plugs & Sockets regs.

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Scott

I’m not following your logic here. If these items are designed for use with two pin plugs and approved for sale in the European Union they must by definition be designed in a way that is not polarity sensitive. How can an item be safe in Denmark for 230 Volts AC, 50 Hertz and not safe in the UK using the same voltage and frequency?

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wavechange

I don’t want to make comments that might alienate those in other countries but I believe that in the UK we have a safer electrical system in some respects. One reason is that we phased out two-pin plugs a long time ago, except of course the shaver plugs, and another is fused plugs.

Using a mains voltage of 110 rather than 230V makes US mains supply safer.

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socketman

It is all a matter of what risk is acceptable. To be entirely safe you could say eliminate electricity from the home, clearly that would be a nonsense. There is, however, a higher standard of safety required in the UK than in most countries. I agree with Wavechange on this, the use of unpolarized two pole plugs for light fittings incorporating Edison Screw lamps cannot be considered best practice, even though it is common in most of Europe. I am grateful that we live in a jurisdiction in which that practice is unacceptable.

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socketman

This is an OT, but related, issue. I accept that the moderator may not allow publication, but sincerely hope that it is drawn to the attention of the relevant Which? researchers and executives.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology published an article in the Winter edition of “Wiring Matters” which should be of interest to Which? researchers, “The Remarkable Evolution Of BS 1363” is downloadable from:
http://electrical.theiet.org/wiring-matters/49/bs-1363-plug-and-socket.cfm?type=pdf

The article provides a brief history of UK standards for domestic plugs and sockets, and emphasizes that sockets are made to fit plugs, rather than, as many seem to think, the other way round. It discusses some of the problems created when designers create devices (other than standard plugs) which do not conform to standard plug dimensions, but which are intended to be inserted into BS 1363 sockets. A page of the FatallyFlawed website expands on those issues and can be viewed here:
http://www.fatallyflawed.org.uk/html/socket_damage.html

That page demonstrates some of the problems which occur when devices which are not made to BS 1363 dimensions are plugged into BS 1363 sockets. This is a real problem as there is nothing specific in the current regulatory system to prevent the sale of such non-conforming items! There are no socket covers which conform to BS 1363 dimensions.

Particular attention is drawn to the problems caused by the Clippasafe socket cover, also sold under the Boots and John Lewis brands. When Which? tested these three brands back in 2009 they were all recommended, despite none of them being compliant with BS 1363 dimensions, so none of them should ever be inserted into sockets! Since Which? carried out the original tests the design has become even more non-compliant (the “earth pin” is now a bizarre shape, without the chamfer required by the standard), and it is quite impossible to insert them into some (perfectly good) types of BS 1363 socket without causing permanent damage to the socket.

The following comments extracted from customer reviews of the Clippasafe product on the Amazon website indicate that some consumers are prepared to exert great force to insert something which they (falsely) believe is protecting their child:

‘toddlers’ says: “I bought these for a toddler group and had to throw them out. They needed a hammer to put into sockets and very difficult to remove. A total waste of money.”

‘noeal’ says: “At first I was disappointed because I couldn’t fit them into the socket outlets, it was too hard. I gave them another try and it finally fit, pushing strongly.”

‘yorcol’ says: “The top prong is tapered at the top, therefore when trying to insert them into the socket they will not go into the socket.”

May I suggest that it is high time Which? ceased to recommend devices which (when used for the purpose intended by the manufacturer, and for which they are marketed) can cause damage to fully compliant approved BS 1363 sockets, thus rendering them permanently unsafe!

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wavechange

Thanks for the link to this interesting article.

Socket covers are now widely regarded as essential when young children are about. I have done my bit explaining to people that the BS 1363 socket does not need protection, to no avail.

It is not difficult to envisage circumstances where a socket cover could be beneficial. One example would be a heating appliance that could burn or cause a fire.

In my opinion, the best approach is to give up attempts to have socket covers banned, but to require them to conform to pin dimensions and spacing, and to be made of a material that will not fracture if abused. I have no idea how long it would take to introduce the necessary legislation.

I feel that there is scope to redesign BS 1363 sockets to decrease the risk of mechanical damage if oversize pins are inserted and of arcing in the case of undersize pins.

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Sarah S-H

The idea that a socket cover is useful in preventing children plugging in dangerous appliances is effectively demolished here: http://shocked.org.uk

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Malcolm R

wavechange, I think it is pretty clear from the history of BS 1363 sockets that a great deal of careful thought has been put into making them as safe as possible. They already take account of “oversize and undersize pins” because of the tolerances on pin dimensions for the 13A plug that they are designed to accommodate. Using socket covers to prevent a child plugging in an appliance may be good in principle – but you could always keep the offending appliance out of harm’s way. These push in covers are really of little value in what is an intrinsically safe socket and there seems to be no standard that applies, so they are all potential hazards.
IET have another useful article in the following magazine that deals directly with these covers: http://electrical.theiet.org/wiring-matters/2012.cfm
One other option is to use a cover for the whole of the faceplate that covers inserted plugs and allows access to the switches – used where unplugging a device could be a problem, such as medical equipment, but not very flexible in the home.

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wavechange

Sarah – My impression is that use of socket covers is increasing. My solution is to give up the fight and produce socket covers that do not present dangers or risk damaging sockets, even if they are totally unnecessary.

Malcolm – Plugs incorporating a battery-operated alarm are useful to warn of power failure to an oxygen concentrator or other medical item in continuous use. I have one on my freezer.

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Malcolm R

The usual solution is to have the alarm as part of the appliance, not the plug, certainly for concentrators.
Current designs of socket require the insertion of all three pins before the shutters open. An improvement that presumably prevents 2 pin plugs from being used. Where this matters, current sockets of this type should be used.
We need some standard to cover 3 pin appliances such as power supplies with integral pins, the earth usually being plastic. I have had two where the earth has broken and been left inside the socket.

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wavechange

If a plastic ‘earth’ pin breaks off in a socket it will leave the shutters open on most BS 1363 sockets in current use. Perhaps use of a different plastic such as nylon would make them fit for their purpose.

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Malcolm R

There is no reason I can see why they should not be metal, as the line and neutral are, but with no electrical connection.

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wavechange

I assume that the plastic pins were introduced to save a few pennies, Malcolm. A metal pin is more likely to scratch plastic when transported with portable items, but I avoid this by using a plastic pin cover of the type supplied with many electrical appliances.

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Scott

This time I agree with the others. I cannot see the point of these ‘safety’ covers. The sockets are designed to prevent anything being inserted into the live (or neutral) slot which only open after the earth slot has opened. I cannot see what hazard these products are intended to prevent. Moreover, if I were a child I would be more tempted to play with the ‘safety’ cover than to play with a socket on its own.

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socketman

I want to thank Which for their prompt response in removing their recommendations of dangerous socket covers!

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Sarah S-H

Agreed, it would be even better to see a warning about their use.

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MacTavish

Interesting stuff at fatallyflawed. Wavechange, they seem to be alerting people to the dangers of bad products, who is trying to ban them? Proper regulation must be the answer.

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wavechange

I agree, MacTavish. I am impressed by what the Electrical Safety Council is doing to promote safety in the home in a user-friendly way, but this should be done by government and not a charity. We certainly need legislation to keep abreast of problems.

Going back to the problem of goods supplied with two-pin plugs, I would like to know what is being done to tackle a problem that is increasing thanks to Internet retailers. It is easy to plug a Europlug into a BS 1363 socket and I have seen this done many times by overseas students working in university laboratories. I don’t think it would be difficult to simulate fires under fault conditions, or damage to sockets. That could help us raise awareness of the problem and show the need for legislation. Fatallyflawed focuses mainly on the issue of socket covers, but also covers other dangers related to counterfeit plugs. Perhaps they could help provide evidence of the dangers of plugging two-pin plugs into sockets.

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MacTavish

The ESC have a good article on the dangers of using europlugs in BS 1363 sockets, see this (page 17):
http://www.esc.org.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/public/switched_on/SwitchedOn-Issue-9.pdf

A more recent edition has a good article on those “universal sockets” which are starting to become available – very nasty! See (page 14):
http://www.esc.org.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/industry/Switched_On/SwitchedOn-29_web.pdf
And the full “universal sockets” report is worth reading:
http://www.esc.org.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/industry/product_safety/Universal_Socket_Outlets.pdf

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Scott

Just read the first of these links. My interpretation is that the hazards were caused by forcing Europlugs into UK sockets and/or overloading. The conclusion implies that converter plugs are safe to use, which is what I have been arguing all the way along.

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wavechange

I believe that the regulations require a conversion plug to be fitted. Unless this is done, the chances are that the Europlug could be forced into a UK socket. Even if it is fitted, it could be ‘borrowed’ for use elsewhere, in the same way that smoke alarm batteries find their ways into kids’ toys. If it costs a little extra to fit a BS 1363 plug then perhaps we should do it. It might save a life.

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Scott

We have had that debate ad nauseam. Yes – that is what the regulations require. My argument is that the regulations are unduly restrictive and the link MacTavis helpfully provided seems to agree with me.

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Malcolm R

More bad news if you want a travel adaptor or universal plug. Many non-conforming products were available from the usual suspects.
http://www.esc.org.uk/industry/product-safety/product-testing-screening/travel-adaptors/
http://www.esc.org.uk/industry/news-and-campaigns/news/news/article/more-potentially-dangerous-travel-adaptors-discovered/

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Scott

Depends what you mean by ‘non-conforming’. As I understand it, these items are generally marked ‘not for use in the UK’ so if they are only for use abroad what regulations do they require to conform to and how do we know they are non-conforming?

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Malcolm R

These products were tested and found potentially dangerous when tested against safety standards. It wouldn’t matter in which country they were used – they would still be hazardous. The details are given in the links

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wavechange

We have been focusing on plugs, but I am equally concerned about the safety of sockets, particularly those on extension leads. I give talks and other presentations in village halls etc., and have everything I might need PAT-tested for the safety of the public. Some venues insist on this.

I encouraged a friend to have equipment PAT-tested for the same reason and offered to check the various items over beforehand. In doing so I discovered that one socket in his kitchen of his fairly modern house had a poor earth and another had no earth continuity, so I advised him to call in an electrician and not use the affected sockets until the problem had been rectified.

Few people seem to think about having their house electrical system or appliances inspected. I know several people who own furnished rental property that is regularly inspected and each appliance is PAT-tested. I have no idea whether this is a requirement or just good practice. Perhaps we should be encouraging home owners to have their electrical equipment and installations looked at periodically. I expect that this would provide us with some evidence that appliances supplied with two-pin plugs are not being used safely, whether the plug has been retained or replaced with a 3-pin plug.

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Scott

Socket testing plugs are available. Mine (Martindale) has three lights and different combinations show different fault conditions. It cannot however detect earth neutral reverse, but I would think this would be fairly unusual. This does not substitute for a competent electrician but I am sure it is better than nothing.

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wavechange

I have a Martindale EZ150, which will give an indication of earth loop impedance and does not trip a 30 mA RCD. Among the faults that I have found recently were two extension leads with L and N crossed. Both were on IP44 ‘blue plugs’ rather than domestic extension leads.

As you say, there is no substitute for a competent electrician, but my test plug goes with me whenever I’m using mains supplies away from home, including boats with a 230 V supply.

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Sarah S-H

Here is another example of a product on sale at Amazon (and shipped from an Amazon warehouse too!) According to one of the reviewers it has the outer contact connected to the line voltage!!!
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Plug-Light-Socket-Adapter-Convertor/dp/B009AQI3UE

And just look at what ebay in the USA is offering to travelers destined for the UK:
http://www.ebay.com/itm/121191103775?ru

[This comment has edited. Thanks, mods.]

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wavechange

Thanks for these worrying examples, Sarah.

What concerns me more is that we are still using approved lamp holders in which live contacts are exposed when the lamp is removed. It is not a good idea to have table lamps when inquisitive children are around.

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Dead Eye Dicky

If you click on the link to Amazon in Sara’s offering and then click on the customer image, the inside of this dangerous junk is exposed. I can’t see a fuse!! Surely this isn’t just illegal – its criminal! Unfortunately, Amazon has shown that it isn’t going to mend its ways until the ‘authorities’ (whoever they are) impose an appropriate punishment where it hurts most.

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Malcolm R

How many accidents have been attributed to lampholders, I wonder. Many lampholders incorporate safety devices that ensure no power is present at the terminals when the lamp is removed. I don’t know if this is mandatory. Flexible cables and children with scissors or knives don’t mix in principle. All about risk assessment. Incidentally, it was refreshing to see a Health and Safety Executive statement that safety testing on electrical appliances – “PAT” testing – does not have to be done on a strict regular timetable by an approved tester. It all depends upon the appliance, how it is used, etc. – in other words, people with common sense (and relevant knowledge) can make a judgement as to what needs doing and when. http://electrical.theiet.org/wiring-matters/2012.cfm

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wavechange

I expect that Amazon will get round to removing this product eventually in response to complaints, but it will be replaced by other equally dangerous products. Amazon and their Marketplace retailers should ensure that goods offered for sale meet safety requirements and face hefty fines when they fail in their duty.

Sadly, as my lamp holder example illustrates, we condone other dangers in the home.

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wavechange

Malcolm – My comment was in response to a message that Sarah posted this morning. Her post contained links to potentially dangerous electrical goods on sale online. This has been removed along with one by Dead Eye Dicky and perhaps mine has been edited. I guess this is to allow our moderators to confirm the concerns.

My comment about lamp holders was to illustrate that there are dangerous electrical items in the home. I would be very interested to know what proportion of purchased lamp holders are of the safety type that you mention – particularly in table lamps, bedside lights and anything else that a child could access. Hopefully adults will have learned that it’s not a good idea to poke fingers in a lamp socket. Though I am familiar with safety bayonet lamp holders, I have not seen a single one for the screw-fitting lamps that seem to be increasingly popular in the UK. It would be interesting to know how many accidents occur as a result of lamp holders, damaged cables, use of socket covers, kitchen appliances, and so on. My guess is that items used outdoor could be at the top of the list if not used with an RCD. I don’t imagine that forcing Europlugs into BS 1363 will be a common cause of electric shock, but this could be causing fires.

I got a local electrician to PAT-test some electrical stuff before Christmas. He has a much better understanding of the rules than the safety officers where I used to work.

As you say, it is all about risk assessment. I was taught to look for the safest alternative where a choice exists. That’s why I’m strongly against electrical goods being supplied with two-pin plugs in the UK.

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malcolm r

It seems to me that Amazon (and ebay) are allowed to take up very strange positions in not being held responsible for the supply of products via their marketplaces. If you buy from UK retailers online many products will come direct from their suppliers, rather than from stocks they hold. The retailer would still be held directly responsible for the product safety. Amazon are in a similar position, it seems to me; by providing both links to products and participating in the payment arrangements they should be responsible for the safety of those products. It is not the same as advertising (in newspapers for example) nor sourcing independently via, say, Google where no financial involvment takes place.
We leave ourselves wide open to safety abuse and should be taking action. Which? Legal, do you have a view as to how this hazardous situation could be addressed? Is it not time Which? had a campaign going to put a stop to this malpractice? Presumably it is the same throughout europe.

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wavechange

It is a year since I tried to get Amazon to take responsibility for a potentially dangerous item I bought from a well established Marketplace trader.

As I see it, the public is being encouraged to trust unfamiliar companies by buying through Amazon’s website, perhaps assuming that Amazon will take responsibility for problems. My limited experience suggests that this trust is unfounded.

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Sarah S-H

I completely agree with Malcolm’s comment, and would add that even when Amazon are not the seller, they are often responsible for fulfillment! In other words, a marketplace seller may choose to have Amazon warehouses hold his stock, so you buy from a third party via the Amazon website, Amazon handles your payment AND ships the goods to you. This is the case with one of the examples I gave on 31/1/14, the potentially lethal bulb-holder built onto a non-conforming unfused plug intended to be inserted into a BS 1363 socket is sold by an outfit called “SourcingMap” who have no UK address, they are based in Hong Kong and have addresses in California and Shenzhen (China). (And, presumably, a lot of space in Amazon warehouses.)

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socketman

I have just become aware of another example similar to Sarah’s. Amazon ASIN B009PAV4TC is a charger with a separate power cord, the power cord shown is clearly illegal as it has a partially sleeved earth pin, indicating that it has no approval. Last week one of the sellers offering this product was an outfit called Prime Digital whose stock is in an Amazon warehouse under the “Fulfilled by Amazon” scheme, and what Amazon shipped – from an Amazon UK warehouse – was one of those nasty, and completely illegal, pseudo UK plugs which have no fuse whatsoever! I see that Amazon provide no information at all about the location of Prime Digital, and the link which claims to take you to prime Digital’s customer service just dumps you into the Amazon messaging system. Prime Digital is certainly not transparent! I wonder who truly has responsibility when Amazon claims that it is someone else actually doing the selling, but provide no information as to who those people actually are? And how on earth can Amazon justify holding such junk in their warehouse in the first place?

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malcolm r

Shenzen Prime Digital Co Ltd shows a partially sleeved UK plug adaptor on its website. Could this be the source? Isn’t it time Which? said something about this illegal supply. Is Amazon totally immune from criticism or, because it acts as a seller – taking your money – as well as advertising the product should it not have responsibility.
On another Amazon matter, where did Which? get to with the failed Kindle screens issue – it seems to have just quietly gone away – or was their liability resolved? The Sale of Goods Act should cover that sort of problem – does Which? disagree?

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John Ward

Something else that parents often buy are LED night-lights that plug straight into electrical sockets and give a soft glow from dusk to dawn. I came across one that had a very weak hold in the socket. I didn’t examine it sufficienty to say it was unsafe but I expect a child, attracted to it by the pale blue light, might in its curiosity have been able to make accidental contact with the live pins. I wonder how many of these devices are compliant.

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John Ward

I can’t understand why my post above has gone in out of chronological order. Perhaps a moderator might like to reposition it.

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John Ward

Please ignore the above reply. My original post was in the right place, it’s just that it got caught behind a long line of replies and the pagination altered due to other replies to earlier posts. Sometimes you just wish you could delete or amend things!

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Sarah S-H

I see that this conversation has been quoted in evidence to the House of Commons Committee on the Consumer Rights Bill, see:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmpublic/consumer/memo/cr22.htm

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spike

Fasinating to go back and read these comments, some going back several years.
Sadly to say, Amazon are STILL permitting items to be sold fitted with moulded-on two-pin continetal plugs.
I purchased a pairt of these items >> http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZQ4P38 – one of which was going to be a bed-side light for my partially-sighted 91-year old mother.
Both of the items were DoA as they both had fractured metal telescopic tubes and both were fitted with two-pinned plugs.
Amazon agreed to me returning these items (only time will see if I get a refund) but that truly is not the point.

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Scott

It’s a matter of viewpoint – and protracted debate on this Conversation. I bought a lamp (not from Amazon) that was a traditional Danish design. It arrived fitted with a Europlug. I just fitted an adapter with 2 amp fuse, which solved the problem in seconds and I have no safety concerns as I am happy the equipment conforms with EU rules. I don’t see it as a problem for low current appliances.

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wavechange

I have seen too many bodges involving people putting plugs into incorrect adapters and direct into 13 amp sockets, sometimes held in place with sticky tape. Providing new equipment with the correct plug could prevent fires and save lives. It is not relevant that some of us can behave sensibly. The regulations are there for good reasons.

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Scott

Think we’re going over old ground, but here we go again! Conversely, if the correct adapter is used and correct fuse, it seems to me there is no inherent risk so what is needed is to update the regulations to bring them into line with modern retail practice and the spirit of the freedom of movement of goods within the EU.

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wavechange

The correct adapter with the correct fuse is permitted IF SUPPLIED FITTED to the appliance.

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Scott

Indeed, my point exactly. So it’s obviously safe and the regulations need to be updated to bring them into line with modern retail practice and the spirit of the freedom of movement of goods within the EU.

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wavechange

The regulations allow for goods to be supplied if these conversion plugs are FITTED.

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malcolm r

It is not clear from Scott’s Danish lamp purchase, but if he imported it directly then there is no requirement as far as I can see on the Danish supplier to fit a conversion plug; that would be Scott’s responsibility as the importer.
The issue remains with Amazon’s market place; a bit grey, but my view would be in supporting overseas suppliers and, in particular, handling the money, Amazon are the importer and all goods should comply with UK regulations. Perhaps Which? would like to comment on this and, if it is correct, tell us what they are doing to “fix this broken market” (place).

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socketman

It remains a mystery to me why Scott cannot understand why it is dangerous to supply appliances fitted with Europlugs in the UK. Unfused plugs are not compatible with UK wiring practice, the fuses or circuit breakers in UK building wiring cannot protect the low current flex which is used with Europlugs, therefore Europlugs must never be connected directly to a UK socket. A fuse is essential to their safe use in the UK, which is why it is not legal to supply appliances with Europlugs that do not also have a fitted fused conversion plug. It is not a debating point but an essential requirement. To ignore it is to invite fire, as too many people have discovered to their cost.

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Scott

Remind me – what fuses are used for sockets in Germany?

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Scott

To answer the question about the lamp. It came from a UK supplier as the shipping cost from Denmark was prohibitive. (They probably imported it direct from China, but that’s another story!) Technically it should doubtless have been fitted with an adapter but I fitted one myself in under 20 seconds.

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malcolm r

I suspect that legally, not technically, an adaptor should have been fitted.

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Scott

I suspect you are correct. Perhaps we could settle on a legal technicality.

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wavechange

I can see a good case for making conversion plugs non-removable once installed by the manufacturer or supplier. The fuse carrier could be accessible through the base, as on a moulded plug.

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socketman

“Remind me – what fuses are used for sockets in Germany? ”

Sockets in Germany are connected to a radial final circuit fused at 16A. German theory holds that 16A is sufficient to protect the lightweight flex used with Europlugs (although that would be unacceptable here). It is just one of a number of ways in which German wiring practice is inferior to British. (Another being that there is no polarization in German sockets to distinguish between line and neutral potential.)

Sockets in UK are connected to a ring final circuit fused at 32A which is appropriate to protect the fixed wiring. but, there is no way that a 32A fuse can protect a lightweight flex, we use plug fuses to do that. British practice provides for fusing which is appropriate to the flex connected to the plug.

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malcolm r

It would be simpler for a UK plug to be fitted than to mess about with conversions.

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socketman

I think that we are still waiting for Which to update us on what they are doing about this. A pity that they did not also comment on the parliamentary evidence mentioned by Sarah above.

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socketman

Here is a new website which addresses a related issue:

http://www.universalsocket.org.uk

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malcolm r

I had an offer recently from Which? who would give me a voucher if I took it up – from Amazon. What with dodgy electrical items, uncontrolled distribution of unsafe items from the marketplace, poor attitude towards faulty Kindles, Which? don’t seem to have a problem with Amazon. What with this and allowing (selective) endorsements by best buy manufacturers, has Which begun to cross the line between an independent consumers association and a commercial organisation? I hope not.

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socketman

I agree with Wavechange’s comment: “I can see a good case for making conversion plugs non-removable once installed by the manufacturer or supplier. ”

The regulations almost agree as they allow appliances: “correctly fitted with a non-UK plug which complies with the safety provisions of IEC 884-1; and is fitted with a conversion plug which complies with the requirements of paragraph (3) below and which encloses the fitted non-UK plug and can only be removed by the use of a tool.”

Both reusable and non-reusable types are permitted by BS 1363-5, but if reusable that can only be by means of a tool. A conversion plug which could be simply opened without a tool is not permitted by either the standard or the regulations.

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wavechange

Socketman – One of the frequent criticisms of the BS 1363 plug is that it is large compared with many of the plugs used in other countries.

I appreciate that the British Standard specifies the minimum distance between the pins and the edge of the base of the plug. In the days before we had sleeved pins, that helped to keep fingers away from the pins. Now that sleeved pins have been mandatory for years, why has the minimum permitted distance not been decreased?

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socketman

My guess would be because the mandated distance still provides greater protection against the possibility of children poking thin objects into the live contacts (alongside the plug pins) when a plug is partially inserted.

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wavechange

Thanks. That is what I had guessed. Modern plastics are more impact resistant than the Bakelite used in older plugs, so I doubt that mechanical properties are a consideration.

When a child could poke a metal object into an unshuttered two or three pin connector or their fingers into the lampholder of a table lamp, I cannot see any good reason to continue to insist on this requirement now that all BS 1363 plugs must be made with partially sleeved pins.

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Scott

I’m off to Denmark tomorrow. Thankfully I had the presence of mind to acquire Europlug chargers for the phone, toothbrush, shaver and iPod as I do not consider travel adapters to be particularly safe, given the combination is a bit heavy for flimsy continental sockets.

I don’t know why toothbrushes and shavers are not supplied in the UK with Europlugs as they would still fit universal shaver sockets with the added advantage of being able to be used across Europe (unlike the British two pin socket which won’t fit sockets in mainland Europe).

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socketman

“I don’t know why toothbrushes and shavers are not supplied in the UK with Europlugs as they would still fit universal shaver sockets with the added advantage of being able to be used across Europe (unlike the British two pin socket which won’t fit sockets in mainland Europe).”

That is a valid question, and should be asked of manufacturers – toothbrushes and shavers fitted with Europlugs are permitted by the regulations. The downside would be for people who still have older UK only shaver sockets, but those must be fairly limited in number.

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wavechange

My preference would be to phase out shaver points on the basis that electric shavers and toothbrushes are generally rechargeable these days. There is no need to charge them the bathroom. Isolation transformers are obviously an important safety feature of shaver points but they do not get round the problem of high voltage near water.

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malcolm r

It is very convenient to charge toothbrushes in the bathroom. Our sockets are housed within the cabinets – out of any harm’s way.

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