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2 August 2011

Unsafe electrical products

Only buy electrical products that you know are safe.

Only buy electrical products that you know are safe.

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.

Illegal chargers

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.

Wrong voltage

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.

How to tell it’s safe

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.

  • Don't buy electrical products from overseas.
  • If you’re thinking of buying from an online auction site, ask for the product’s SDoC. If there's no answer or the answer is no, don’t buy the product.
  • Don’t buy a product from a discount retail store unless the store can produce a SDoC for it.
  • Don't be taken in by official-looking markings on the product, such as CE – the CE mark is meaningless in New Zealand.
  • Any electrical product you buy should plug directly into a wall socket and not need an adaptor. If you’re sold an appliance with an adaptor, don't use it. Return it and ask for your money back.

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