Europlugs can be dangerous

When the Chairman of one of the major Associations in the electrical industry completed his Term of Office, as a token of appreciation for both his efforts and guidance to the Association during his year in Office, the members decided to present him with a useful gift. This would be a constant reminder to him of this period in his business career.

As he is a very keen do-it-yourself enthusiast two excellent portable power tools were obtained and ultimately presented to him. The tools were manufactured in West Germany by a highly reputable manufacturer with an international reputation for quality. But each flexible cord was fitted with a moulded-on two pin plug to the CEE Specification, which is widely used throughout Europe and in many parts of the world. To ensure the tools could be used safely a UK manufacturer provided two British 13amp plugs. The German ones were cut off and substituted by the British Standard products.

Now there is a very great moral in this story, for it is a regrettable fact that in walking down the High Streets of all the cities in our land one can see foreign electrical equipment of all types. Lighting fittings, portable tools, hand held appliances – the list is numerous – all of which are manufactured outside the United Kingdom. And because the same products are distributed internationally Continental type moulded-on two pin plugs are fitted.

Many of these plugs are recognised by the two round pins which have an insulating sleeve designed to protect the user by ensuring that no live metal is exposed when inserting or withdrawing the plug from its socket.

This is all very fine and laudable when the plug is used with the socket for which it is intended, but a problem arises when someone in Britain buys an appliance or lighting fitting supplied with one of these plugs. He finds himself faced at home with the conventional British Standard round pin or rectangular pin socket-outlets.

Few, unfortunately, do the sensible thing and take off the plug and fit a British one to match the system installed in their own home. They try, one way or another, to insert the plug into the socket to get the appliance working, in some way by-passing the shuttering arrangement.

The appliance will work, but often the individual is creating unknown problems for himself which may have a very far reaching influence on the life and safety of his family and property. For example, if a home is fitted with 5amp round pin British socket-outlets, it is possible to insert the 2.5amp two pin Continental plug into the live and neutral socket tubes and obviously the appliance will work.

The problem here is that you can also insert the 10amp two pin plug, which has the same dimensions between pins as the 2.5amp unit. When this happens, the individual is asking the socket to provide more power than it was designed to supply. Inevitably the additional load requirement will lead to overheating, par-ticularly in the terminals where the cable is secured to the socket.

Heat is transmitted by metal, and one of the worries here is that the heat will be transmitted into the current carrying cables, which, being suitable for the 5amp socket-outlet, will only be capable of supplying that amount of current. Thus, like the socket, it too will be asked to provide more than its designed capability. The resultant overheating can be transmitted through the cables and perhaps its pro-tective devices such as conduits and in such cases the potential fire risk is very considerable.

With a 13amp flat pin socket-outlet, the most commonly used in our homes, the situation can be very dangerous indeed. One of the fundamentals of the flat pin fused plug system is that the wiring is on what is known as the ring system, protected by a main 30amp fuse at the consumer unit. Individual socket-outlets are taken off at the appropriate points up to the maximum nominated in I.E.E. Wiring Regulations. Local protection is then provided by the fuse in the plug, which has the specific responsibility of being the protective device against overload in the flexible cord between the plug and appliance.

So, if someone inserts one of these Continental two pin unfused plugs into a British 13amp socket-outlet, while of course the appliance will work quite satisfactorily, there is no protection at all for the vital flexible cord. The only fuse involved is the 30amp main fuse at the consumers unit and, frankly, it can never detect the overload condition which may occur in a flexible cord. Therefore, there is no fine sensing device available as would be the situation with a fused plug. The overload could go on undetected until ultimately fire would break out.

When one considers the many electric appliances and lighting fittings which are permanently plugged in, you will appreciate the problems which may face a householder.

And of course the problem is that basically the plug in itself is not unsafe. It is the way in which it is used which is the problem.

I feel that this is an issue where we should be taking a positive lead, so I appeal to you – when buying a domestic appliance or lighting fitting from any retail establishment in the United Kingdom, no matter how grand or well-known they be, refuse to accept it if it is not fitted with a British Standard plug. Make the retailer cut it off; remind him of his responsibilities for safety, and ensure that you have a plug compatible with the sockets in your home.

By taking this action you will be making a major contribution towards improving the levels of safety on electrical appliances. And if enough readers follow this advice we may be able to join with others who hold similar views and enforce positive steps through legislation to prevent the continued importation and use of these non standard plugs.