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Wiring Matters

Wiring Matters 53 - Winter 2014

Sub-standard cables

A major cable recall, affecting up to 40,000 homes and businesses, and costing an estimated A$80 million (£43 million), has hit the headlines in Australia. The distributor is in liquidation, the owner has had criminal charges brought against her and the largest ever taskforce, comprised of 21 consumer agencies and regulatory bodies, has been assembled.  These organisations have come together to source, destroy and replace around 2,500 miles of potentially hazardous cable across five states before it becomes a fire or electrocution threat.

The recalled cable was manufactured in China and imported by the Sydney-based company Infinity Cable Co Pty Ltd. It comprises many sizes and configurations of domestic mains power cables under 'Infinity' and 'Olsent' brands. Tests led by New South Wales Fair Trading found that the cables do not comply with the ageing requirements of the electrical safety standard, AS/NZS 5000: the plastic insulation and sheathing becomes brittle within a short period of time and cracks if disturbed, exposing the copper conductors and potentially causing electrical shocks, short circuits or fires.

Man in a hard hat reaching up to cut some electrical cable

 

During the period 2010 – 2013, the cable was sold in major hardware stores and electrical wholesalers across New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania, mainly to smaller electricians and other trades. This has left the sellers of the Infinity and Olsent-branded cable with the bill for the recall, which equates to millions of dollars, and has left installers with the huge task of removing and replacing affected cable from domestic households and businesses.

“Recalls of this magnitude are rare but it serves as an important reminder of how we can all help to avoid similar incidents here in the UK,” says Dr Jeremy Hodge, chief executive of the British Approvals Service for Cables (BASEC).

In this case, when the cable was first supplied to hardware chains and electrical wholesalers, it came with papers saying that it met Australian standards. However, subsequent testing found that it did not.

Dr Hodge continued, “It is a common misunderstanding that a cable is compliant with standards just because the supplier claims this, by printing the standard number on the cable. Our message to wholesalers and electricians is: always look for markings on the cable to say it has been independently tested and approved.”

Cable marked with only a standard number should be treated with caution, as it is probable that nobody independent of the manufacturer has examined that cable.  Having third-party certification of a product, with its rigorous independent audit and test regime coupled with continuous surveillance and random product testing, gives manufacturers a level of protection against problems emerging later.  All BASEC-approved cables are regularly tested for ageing and many other properties. Consequently, when problems are found, this helps ensure swift and effective measures to reduce the impact. Unfortunately, it is often not until cables are installed, tested or used that a problem comes to light and by then it can be too late to avoid the enormous costs of rectifying the situation.”

Meanwhile, in the US and Canada, more than six million computer power cords have been recalled because the defective cabling used has the potential to overheat and cause a fire. In the US, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled the Chinese-made LS-15 a.c. power cords bought with Hewlett-Packard and Compaq laptops and docking stations between September 2010 and June 2012.

Further reading

In Issue 37– the Winter issue, 2010, we covered the topic of sub-standard installation cables. Have you come across any instances of sub-standard cables? Let us know: wiringmatters@theiet.org.

Further information and assistance is available at www.basec.org.uk, technical@basec.org.uk, or contact BASEC directly on 01908 267300.

Specific advice

If you are an installer, we advise the following precautionary steps and actions to safeguard against the risk of installing cable that is sub-standard:

  • prevention is better than cure - instruct your procurement department to buy approved cable – look for the BASEC mark, not just a standard number.
  • seek advice early if a problem with the cable is discovered, for example, on system testing.
  • contact BASEC for cable quality issues, and your trade body (such as ECA) or inspectorate (such as the NICEIC) for the installation aspects.
  • keep records of the purchase (including reel ends with batch marking on, receipts from the wholesaler and any other sales records on your computer system) and a sample of the cable markings.

If you have scrap lengths, these can be sent to BASEC for checking and testing. Based on the test results, BASEC will then advise on the best course of action.