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Essex County Council’s Trading Standards officers’ replacement phone charger warning

6 March 2013

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Essex County Council’s Trading Standards officers are warning Essex residents to be careful when buying replacement phone chargers after a spot check revealed one in three phone chargers tested failed to meet strict European rules.

One in five of the samples failed so badly that they posed a serious risk of injury to consumers. Product recalls and withdrawals are in progress as part of on-going enquiries.

Twenty mains plug-in phone chargers were tested by Essex County Council’s Trading Standards officers – focussing on unbranded chargers sold by independent phone and accessory shops and market traders.

The results have confirmed fears that unbranded replacement chargers for smartphones can pose the risk of electrocution and fire to users. As three out of the four serious failures were sold for iPhone and iPod devices Trading Standards officers are advising consumers to be wary if buying generic mains chargers for these products.

Poor internal wiring and shoddy engineering of the plug pins in the worst of the phone chargers means that in certain conditions they pose a risk of electrocution as well as of overheating and fire.

Prior to undertaking this survey Trading Standards in Essex had investigated a consumer’s phone charger that had overheated and started to burn. Safe plugs and chargers are constructed from flame retardant plastics that should not pose a serious risk of fire.

Another issue identified by Trading Standards was the lack of traceability of many of the phone chargers tested. Six of the seven chargers that failed the laboratory tests gave no name and address of the importer for consumers or officials to get back to. These products should all come with printed details of the responsible person in Europe.

Essex County Councillor Roger Walters, Member with responsibility for Trading Standards, said: “Local trading standards officers do their best to keep the residents of Essex safe through market surveillance and use of intelligence. Advice is provided to Essex importers and manufacturers, but our officers cannot be everywhere, and consumers must be vigilant when buying this type of unbranded plug-in charger.

“This survey shows that for these products price is not always a definitive guide as to safety, and nor is place of purchase, but replacement smartphone chargers can be high risk, as can products with no name and address. If people have any concerns they should contact Trading Standards via 08454 04 05 06.” 

Station Officer David Hadjicostas, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service Fire Investigation Manager, said: “Our crews have all too often seen the misery and loss caused by fires in the home. Electrical faults are a major cause of fires in the home and buying cheap, unbranded chargers do provide a viable source of ignition when they catastrophically fail, mostly in people’s homes and often overnight when the development of the fire can go undetected.   

“Our advice is to make sure that when you buy something like a phone charger it is from a reliable and trusted source and that it carries the correct safety markings, it is simply not worth the risk just to save a few pounds.”

As well as investigating the source of the unsafe chargers, Trading Standards will be sharing information about these dangerous products with enforcers across the UK and Europe.