With Christmas just around the corner many of us will be waking up to the gift of a wonderful new device to play with. Perhaps electrical safety may not be our first thought on Christmas morning when we unwrap our new gadgets, or any time we pick up a new electrical item, but is extremely important for ensuring the safety of yourselves and your loved ones.
Electrical Safety First have highlighted the vast rise in the number of counterfeit electrical goods that are being seized, with a six-fold increase over the previous four years. Chargers were the most seized items but they have been identified by Electrical Safety First to be high risk items; in their test of a range of fake chargers they found that 98% had the potential to cause a lethal electric shock or start a fire. These chargers are often manufactured for as little as 3p and can contain less than half of the components of a genuine charger, sometimes even removing safety features such as fuses. Not only do these chargers present risks in terms of shocks and fires they can also damage the device you are using; they can cause devices to overheat and even explode and the poor-quality components found in over 50% of chargers on online trading sites can lead to electrocution damaging your phone and possibly causing injury to yourself too. The risks associated with buying a counterfeit charger greatly outweigh the low cost of the product; especially when the cost of a cheap charger may be the need for a new phone.
To help you identify counterfeit chargers Electrical Safety First have published a handy guide for how to spot them;
Look at the text and markings on the plug; are there any markings missing or perhaps there are spelling mistakes. The plug should have the manufacturers brand name or logo, a model and batch number and a CE mark. This is an easy way to spot a counterfeit but be aware that counterfeits are becoming more sophisticated and all the markings being present does not ensure the plug is genuine. This particularly true with regards to the CE mark, as although it is a declaration by the manufacturer that the product meets the safety requirements of European law, they can be easily forged and should therefore not be relied on to guarantee safety. You should also use the markings regarding output voltage and current ratings on the charger to check that it is the same as your electrical device before use.
Look at the finish of the pins on the plug; genuine chargers have a high quality, matte and uniform finish whereas counterfeit chargers are often glossy or shiny with imperfections.
If the plug has a USB port ensure it is checked; on a counterfeit charger it may be upside down or in a different position, for a genuine Apple charger the plastic insert is away from the pins. If it’s genuine it will also have a serial number at the back of the USB port.
Check the material of the pins; counterfeit plugs often use metal-coated hollow plastic rather than the solid metal used in genuine plugs. An easy check is to flick the largest pin and listen to the noise it makes; a genuine plug will sound and feel solid whereas counterfeit products will make a plastic noise and will feel hollow.
Weigh the charger; genuine chargers should weigh at least 40g. As counterfeit chargers often use far less components, for example 25 instead of the 60 used in a genuine Apple charger, they are significantly lighter than their genuine counterparts.
Look at the shape and dimensions of the plug pins; these may be larger or smaller than genuine pins and may also be positioned in a different place.
Check for warnings and instructions; as a minimum, user instructions should provide information on conditions and limitations of use, how to operate the charger safely, basic electrical safety guidance and details of how to dispose of the charger when it is no longer needed. If there are no instructions at all then steer clear of using the charger.
Complete the 3 point safety check; there should be at least 9.5mm (about the width of a ballpoint pen) between the pins and the edge of the charger. This distance is important as a reduction in it can increase risk of electric shock when plugging in and removing the plug from a socket. You should then check the positioning of the pins relative to one another. To do this, plug the charger into the socket but do not switch it on or connect it to your appliance. The idea is to see how the charger fits in the socket, if the charger does not plug in easily the pins may be the wrong size or length or the distance between the pins may be incorrect. You should not have to force the plug into the socket, it should fit comfortably without force. Incorrect pin positioning can be very dangerous as it can cause overheating, arcing and mechanical damage to both the socket and the charger.
Make sure you consider all of the checks in the list before deciding whether to use the charger, counterfeits are becoming more sophisticated, but this does not mean they are safer. Your charger should pass all of the above checks, if you have a genuine charger (ideally from the manufacturer themselves) then you can also use this to aid as a comparison. Give the gift of caring this year and make sure any electrical items are safe to use!