In this month’s article Bill Allan considers the matter of non-compliant electrical products and where liability may fall.
Surprising as it may seem, the sale of non-compliant products is currently seen as a more significant issue for the UK than outright counterfeiting. Non-compliant products are not necessarily counterfeit, but they do not comply with the appropriate product standard.
Ascertaining that each item of electrical equipment that we purchase complies with the relevant product standard is made more difficult when electrical goods are purchased from diverse sources, the supply chains of which are difficult or impossible to trace.
Electricians are responsible for every part of the electrical installation they have installed. A signature on the electrical certificate is confirmation that the whole installation complies with BS 7671.
Product standards and BS 7671
Product standards are fundamentally important in the design of electrical installations. Appendix 1 of BS 7671 lists the British product standards, some of which are also Harmonized Standards or ‘European Norms’ (ENs), to which reference is made in BS 7671. In addition, equipment complying with foreign national standards is also permitted for use, subject to certain conditions (see Regulation 511.1).
Installing non-compliant equipment can prove to be a costly mistake. At best, it could mean having to return to the site to repair or replace faulty items. At worst, it could cause electric shock or fire, resulting in loss of life or damage to property with the ensuing prospect of legal liabilities for all in the supply chain – manufacturers, distributors and installers. Either way, the cost to the reputation of the installer can be considerable
Buying over the counter
When buying electrical products over the counter, buyers must have confidence that the retailer is trustworthy. When purchasing electrical items, electricians will often opt for familiar products from tried and tested manufacturers. When a familiar product is out of stock and the purchaser is considering a similar product from a different manufacturer, he/she should inspect the product carefully before buying it, especially if the price is significantly lower.
In order to be certain that cables comply with BS 7671, only those cables which are recognised in BS 7671 should be selected. When buying cables, it is important to ensure that they have the manufacturer’s name and the standard or reference number for that cable clearly indicated on the sheath. It is advisable to look for a third-party mark of approval such as BASEC or LPCB.
Electrical products are subject to a recall notice in the UK when they are considered to pose a serious risk. To enable the manufacturers to fulfill their legal obligations in this regard, buyers of electrical products are encouraged to register them. The process takes only a few minutes and products can be registered easily on the ‘Register My Appliance’ website.
It is important to raise public awareness of the product registering process as NAPIT understands that the success rate of electrical product recalls is currently only around 10 to 20%. Consequently, it may be that electrical products which are potentially dangerous continue to be used.
A growing problem is that of products from reputable manufacturers which have been designed for export markets but are then sold back into the UK.
These products are sometimes known as ‘grey’ goods and the means of distribution is referred to as ‘the grey market’ (or ‘parallel market’). Grey goods are not counterfeit products. They are genuine products which have been manufactured by, or for, or under licence from, the brand owner. They are distributed through channels that are legal but unintended by the product’s manufacturer. The sale of grey goods frequently occurs when the price of a product is significantly higher in one country than another.
If such products are intended for non-European markets, they may not comply with British Standards and will not carry an authentic CE mark. Therefore, it is illegal to sell them in the UK. In addition, they may have been designed for different conditions to that in the UK and, in that case, the manufacturer’s guarantee would be invalidated by such unauthorised usage.
The July/August edition of Professional Electrician & Installer discussed the dangers of buying electrical products from online sources. The reader is advised to review this article by visiting: http://professional-electrician.com/features/getting-real-fake-goods/
The Electrotechnical Market Surveillance Group
The Electrotechnical Market Surveillance Group is a UK-based initiative that brings together manufacturers of electrical products, contractors (via registration bodies such as NAPIT), distributors and Electrical Safety First. The Group focuses more on non-compliant products than counterfeiting. It is an information-sharing forum which is working to raise awareness, to give advice throughout the supply chain and to engage with government.
The Office for Product Safety and Standards
In January 2018, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy created the Office for Product Safety and Standards. The responsibilities of the new Office include product safety, technical regulation, standards and accreditation policy. NAPIT welcomes the creation of this new organisation and expects it to play a major role in enhancing product safety.
The CDM Regulations 2015
In order to comply with The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, there must be adequate information available about the electrical system and the work that has been completed. Electrical equipment used must be safe and properly maintained. Keeping records of all electrical products installed provides evidence that the installer has given consideration to health and safety requirements, not only during the actual installation, but throughout the life of the installation, including maintenance, repair and demolition.
The diligent designer/installer of electrical installations will make every effort to ensure that each product complies with the relevant standard.
It is the responsibility of everyone throughout the supply chain to be aware of the danger of non-compliant electrical products. The installer, being at the end of the supply chain, needs to be reasonably sure the supply chain is robust. As such, vigilance is more important than ever.