BBC and 'Fatally Flawed' in dispute over Chinese made ‘universal sockets’
An article entitled ‘A universal plug socket... at last?’ by the BBC’s renowned journalist Peter Day and posted to the BBC’s online magazine on 1st June 2012, is at the centre of arguments over the safety of the product concerned. Voltimum UK, writes James Hunt, has no wish to criticise the excellent BBC, yet there is a question to be answered because of the potential risk to life and limb. This is why we’ve published the email exchange here. The complainant is David Peacock, FIET, founder of 'PlugSafe' and co-founder of 'FatallyFlawed':
David Peacock’s original complaint to the BBC – sent 28th January 2014
Poorly researched praise for illegal (UK) products
The article (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18266022
) by Peter Day, Global business correspondent, BBC News, was poorly researched and seems to be based on a personal bias with no understanding of the subject. It displays no appreciation of the reasons why countries use different sockets.
My main objection is that the article promotes the use of highly dangerous (and usually poorly made) Chinese ‘universal sockets’, which are completely illegal in the UK. These have subsequently been found to have ‘serious potential hazards including risk of electrocution and risk of fire’ by an investigation conducted for the Electrical Safety Council:
The article quotes Mark Coles, of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, but his quote is out of context, and Mark was not made aware of the nature of the article when he was asked to quote. No attempt was made to compare the products being lauded with the rules which Mark Coles gave, had such a comparison been made it would have been obvious that the promoted products completely failed the criteria stated.
Various previous approaches to the BBC and directly to the journalist concerned have not resulted in any retraction or correction of the article which is still available on the BBC website.
I am a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and co-founder of several safety campaigns.
David Peacock FIET
Reply from the BBC to David Peacock sent 21st February 2014:
Dear Mr Peacock,
Thank you for your message, and apologies for the delay in replying.
The article was not aimed at promoting a particular model of universal socket from China or anywhere else. It was more a case of celebrating the idea of a socket that would make it easier for travellers to use their portable electrical appliances when they are away from home.
It would of course be a matter of concern if his story encouraged readers to instal an unsafe socket in their homes. On the grounds that we cannot be sure whether the particular socket illustrated in the story is safe or not, we have now removed the picture from the story.
Regarding the comment from Mark Coles, if he is unhappy about the way his comments were used, we will of course remove them. We would however need to hear this directly from him.
BBC News website
Message by David Peacock sent to the BBC on 23rd February 2014
I am very concerned that the anonymous responder to this complaint has completely missed the point! It is also quite clear that whoever wrote this either failed to read, or simply does not understand, the report prepared by NEMKO for the Electrical Safety Council, and which is available from the ESC as a download from their article on Universal sockets which I linked to in my message below.
Two quotes from that report: ‘From a legal point of view it is clear from the above extracts that it is illegal to install any socket (with which standard BS 1363 plugs may be engaged) that do not comply with the requirements of BS 1363’. (page 2) and ‘Conclusions and observations: From the test results above it is clear that as well as the legal implications of installing these universal socket-outlets in the UK for domestic and commercial use, there are also serious potential hazards including risk of electrocution and risk of fire’. (page 10) To make it easy for you I have attached a downloaded copy of that report.
This is not about any particular universal socket, but all universal sockets which accept BS 1363 plugs in addition to plugs meeting other standards, they are generally unsafe, and particularly unsafe in the UK because of our standard wiring methods (the ring final circuit).
In addition to being unsafe, they are illegal in the UK. It is a simple fact that no socket which accepts both BS 1363 plugs and any plug made to some other standard can conform to BS 1363, there are two safety-related clauses in particular with which such sockets cannot comply: Clause 13.7 of BS 1363-2 states that ‘It shall not be possible to operate a shutter by inserting a 2-pin plug into a 3-pin socket-outlet’ therefore any socket designed to accept any two pin plug (eg, Europlug, and French and German 16A plugs) does not comply. Clause 13.9 of BS 1363-2 states that ‘Apertures for the reception of the line and the neutral plug pins shall not exceed 7.2 mm X 4.8 mm’, therefore any socket designed to accept US or Australian plugs does not comply.
In his article, Mr Day also makes reference to Hong Kong - you should also note that the Hong Kong ‘Code of Practice for the Electricity (Wiring) Regulations’ (2009) also requires socket-outlets to comply with either BS 1363 or BS 546, universal socket-outlets are not permitted there either!
I have no idea whether such devices are permissible in mainland China, but I can find no reference in the Chinese Standard GB 2099-1 (2008) 'Plugs and socket-outlets for household and similar purposes' for sockets which accept UK type plugs, we should not assume that their manufacture and/or use in China is actually sanctioned in that country.
It should also be noted that Mr Day displayed an alarming ignorance of the actual differences between different plugs, and the reasons for the variation in plugs used throughout the world, there was clearly no research underpinning this article, it was simply a biased and ill-judged opinion.
This is the second example of which I am aware of BBC News recklessly promoting unsafe designs of plugs and sockets, the first being its praise for the so called ‘folding plug’ by art student Min-Kyu Choi (BBC Breakfast, 17th March 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/arts_and_culture/8572146.stm
. This was another case of the BBC leaping on a technical subject with no prior research.
Min-Kyu Choi's design had received the Brit Insurance Design Award for 2010, judged by a panel devoid of engineers. The panel had not done any technical research and failed to appreciate that the design was fundamentally unsafe and completely non-compliant with UK standards and regulations, the result of course has been that the product has not appeared on the market. (It should be said that a charger incorporating some of the ideas, but in no way comparable to the general purpose plug which won the award, is now being sold, but there were already a number of other chargers with folding pins on the market, there is nothing special about the Min-Kyu Choi design.)
The BBC needs to pull the universal socket article, and preferably produce a balanced piece which would explain why things are as they are and why it is important to not use such illegal universal sockets. You could also look into why Amazon and ebay sell these items in contravention of the law.
David Peacock FIET
Message by David Peacock sent to the BBC on 17th March 2014
I am still waiting for a response to this complaint.
You may be interested to hear that, working through Trading Standards, I have arranged to have a further 24 listings for these illegal sockets removed from eBay this month.
It is surely not the role of the BBC to be promoting the sale of illegal devices?
David Peacock FIET
A recent message by David Peacock sent to the BBC
I have now been waiting for over six months for a proper response to this complaint, meanwhile the BBC News website continues to promote products which are both dangerous and illegal to supply in the UK.
Is this really an acceptable role for the BBC to play?
Will the BBC accept responsibility for any damage or injuries incurred by consumers who, having seen the BBC's endorsement, decide to purchase one of these illegal products?
You may like to refer to two other resources which will help the BBC understand why this is an issue which the BBC cannot afford to ignore.
‘Universal socket-outlets – Convenience over Safety?’ An article by Keith Smith of BEAMA in Electrofacts Magazine:
The UK safe system of plugs and sockets, BS 1363, is actually the result of an initiative instigated by Lord Reith, founder of the BBC, when he was Minister of Works and Planning in 1941. I wonder what he would think of the BBC promotion of unsafe and illegal alternatives to that safe system?
David Peacock FIET
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