Electrical Safety First commissioned an independent specialist laboratory to test a selection of travel adaptors that are readily available on the UK market.
In its final report, the laboratory confirmed that several electrical safety hazards exist in all but one of the six UK to foreign adaptors tested, in that live parts can be exposed to touch when a single plug pin is inserted into one of the current-carrying socket apertures. These hazards do not exist with 13 A socket-outlets fully conforming to the UK product standard, BS 1363.
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One hazard identified by the tests is that the insertion of a single plug pin opens the safety shutters, enabling access to a live part as shown (fig 1).
The tests also identified that, for five of the adaptors tested, the dimensions of the socket apertures (for the insertion of the line and neutral plug pins) exceed those specified in the UK product standard.
The increase in the size of the apertures appears to be designed to permit the insertion of two-pin UK shaver plugs. These have circular pins that are more closely spaced than the current-carrying pins of a standard 13 A plug. Standard 13 A socket-outlets will not accept a two-pin UK shaver plug.
To protect users against accidental contact with live parts, the UK product standard requires that 13 A socket-outlets are designed and constructed to ensure that the pins of a plug can be inserted only in the intended way, so as to engage with all the corresponding socket contacts.
However, as a consequence of the increase in the size of the apertures, this safeguard is not afforded in most of the travel adaptors tested, it being possible to insert the earth pin of a standard 13 A plug into either of the current-carrying apertures, as shown (fig 2).
If a Class I (earthed) electrical appliance is plugged into an energised adaptor in this way, metallic parts of the appliance that are accessible to touch will become live, presenting a real and immediate risk of electric shock.
Furthermore, for four of the adaptors tested, it is possible to insert only one of the current-carrying pins of a standard 13 A plug into the modified socket apertures of the adaptors, as shown (fig 3). This presents another real and immediate risk of electric shock from the other current-carrying pin when the connected appliance is switched on.
Finally, further inspection revealed that, for three of the adaptors, it was possible to insert both the current-carrying pins of a standard 13A plug incorrectly, as illustrated (fig 4).
Apart from the hazards that might result from reversed polarity, connection of a Class I appliance in this manner would leave it unearthed, introducing the risk of electric shock in the event of an earth fault.
We have drawn the findings of the report to the attention of those responsible in the supply chain for the safety of the particular adaptors concerned, and also to the Department of Trade and Industry (now the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform).
Whilst the investigation has uncovered significant electrical safety hazards common to most of the adaptors tested, it also identified a travel adaptor, purchased from Boots* (own brand, Model No. 319L) that did not present any of the hazards described above. This adaptor was found by the laboratory to meet all their safety assessment criteria.
We will be monitoring the situation to see whether the suppliers of the travel adaptors concerned take appropriate action to remove the electric shock risks that their adaptors are currently presenting to UK consumers travelling abroad.