A recent report of the European Commission warned that 30% of Christmas lights are a "serious safety risk" in the home since they present an obvious and direct risk of fire and electric shocks.
The report presents the conclusions of a joint market surveillance project involving authorities from 5 Member States - Hungary, Germany, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Netherlands - as well as the European Commission. Testing was carried out between November 2007- May 2009 at different intervals on 196 random samples of lighting chains across the entire price range. The samples were checked against over 20 administrative and technical requirements. Many lighting chains failed multiple tests.
Serious non-compliance problems leading to increased risks of electric shock, fire hazard or both were found in 30.4% of investigated lighting chains. Generally, serious non-compliance problems mean failing technical safety requirements relating to the construction of, for example: plugs, cord anchorages, wiring, insulation, protection against electric shock. Less serious problems with non-compliance, i.e. deficiencies which do not immediately jeopardise the safety of the user were found in an additional 40% of lighting chains tested. These include certain labelling, instructions or administrative deficiencies.
The 3 main problems found were:
· 1. 25% of lighting chains failed the safety tests for the cord anchorage. Insufficient cord anchorage can lead to the electric wires coming loose with a high risk of electric shock (serious non-compliance).
· 2. 23% of lighting chains failed the requirement for "cross sectional area." This means that the wiring is too thin for the electric currents it is carrying, which increases the risk of overheating and fire (serious non-compliance).
· 3. 28 % failed the safety tests for cables. This means the insulation and construction of the chain is such that there is a risk of electric shock (serious non-compliance).
· A number of other technical requirements are also regularly not met, though less frequently, for example basic mechanical problems that can result in an injury from sharp edges.
· Nearly 15% of samples did not carry the correct "technical markings" required. More importantly, warnings were lacking in 41% of the samples and proper user instructions in almost 35% of the samples.
· Lighting chains regularly fail more than one of the safety tests. Some lighting chains failed nearly all the technical tests and many failed 4 to 7 tests.
· The level of non-compliance varied from one Member State to another. While in Hungary, 95.7% of chains tested showed serious hazards to consumers, only 56% of those checked in the Netherlands showed any type of non-compliance. This is partially because the Netherlands has been carrying out market surveillance on lighting chains for 8 years and through these efforts has managed to halve the number of dangerous products destined for the market. (See MEMO/09/532 for details).
· With regard to origin of the dangerous products, China accounted for approximately 41% of the 196 samples tested.
Given the very high level of non-compliance found by authorities, public surveillance and enforcement activities which specifically target lighting chains will continue as a priority, using coordinated action, with as many Member States as possible. Industry will also need to step up controls. Under EU law, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and importers are legally responsible for the safety of the products they put on the market.
Experts from TÜV Rheinland have made the test themselves. In October and November they bought Christmas lighting chains ranging from 89 Cent to 14,95 EUR in Amsterdam, Apeldoorn, Eindhoven, Groningen, Rotterdam and Venlo as well as on the Internet. 32 of the 42 lights chains did not pass the tests. The chains partly presented serious safety defects and some even included the danger of electric shocks, said Henk-Jan Pieters from TÜV Rheinland EPS in Niekerk where the tests were carried out. The most frequent safety defects are wrong or missing safety instructions on the packaging and too high heat production. One Christmas lighting chain heated up to 250 degrees Celsius while tested (normally maximum 90 degrees Celsius are allowed). The tests were carried out according to DIN EN 60598-2-20 for lights/lamps and according to the legislation on appliances and product safety.
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