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We use electrical products every day – which makes it easy to forget how lethal mains electricity can be. The vast majority of electrical appliances comply with our safety laws. But there's still some products on sale that don't meet safety requirements and these can be more than just potentially unsafe.
Some of the worst culprits are replacement mobile phone and digital camera chargers that we all use in our homes and offices. If they're bought from recognised mainstream retailers, you shouldn't have a problem – but be on your guard when you buy these products from online auction sites and discount retail outlets.
Take the case of an office worker who reached under a desk to sort out a bought-over-the-internet phone charger that wasn't working. What they didn’t know was that the plug adaptor supplied with the charger had broken, exposing live parts. The worker received a serious electric shock that included deep-tissue damage to their hand.
The importer was prosecuted for supplying an illegal phone charger and an unsafe plug adaptor. Other cases have resulted in instant fines or prosecutions.
We’ve come across another case where an electric heating pad was bought from a US-based internet shopping site. The pad was designed for the 120-volt electrical system in the US and came with a standard American plug.
The unit was plugged into the local 230-volt supply via a plug adapter. Not surprisingly, the heating pad overheated and failed. Fortunately the smoking heat pad was noticed before it caused a fire, but it could have been potentially lethal.
The heating pad was probably not at fault because it was designed for the lower voltage US system and marked as such. It should never have been plugged into our electricity supply.
For most household electrical product to be legal the retailer must be able to supply a "Supplier Declaration of Conformity" (SDoC). A valid SDoC shows the product/model meets a recognised standard and indicates the seller has taken the care to establish the safety of the goods before selling them. It's also proof that the product/model has been safety-tested in an accredited laboratory.
Traders or retailers are legally required to produce a SDoC if they're asked for it.