The CE mark gives a false sense of security

usb-chargerCan a charger you have purchased for your smart phone or tablet give you an electric shock or burst into flames? Maybe. Even though it carries the CE mark, it is far from certain that it meets the requirements set out by the mark.

Have you checked that the USB charger you recently bought carried the CE mark? It should, in fact, not be necessary, because all electronics that are imported into or produced in the European Economic Area, the EEA (i.e. the 28 EU nations in addition to Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) must be CE-marked. And it is certain that the charger will bear the CE mark somewhere. The problem is just that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the product meets the requirements the CE mark entails. In this case, it is quite simply dangerous to use.

– We are seeing more and more products that do not meet the requirements, and this is an indication that there is an increase in the number of products that either have not been properly tested or that simply have had a CE mark added without being tested – in other words, cheating, says Søren Petersen, a senior consultant in the department for Approval Management in the Danish GTS Institute, DELTA, who, for example, are responsible for testing electronics for the purpose of CE marking.

Potentially deadly
Electronic equipment, such as chargers for smart phones and tablets must, for example, comply with the EU’s Low Voltage Directive in order to be CE marked and to allow them to be sold on the market in the EEA. The Directive stipulates that the product meets the requirements of all directives that are concerned with safety, which means that it must protect humans, animals and property against fire, shocks, toxic smoke and many other things. It also means that products that do not comply with the CE mark can potentially burst into flames – as happened, for example, to a family in the Danish town of Hobro, whose basement was gutted by fire in February of this year. Chargers that do not comply with the CE mark can also pose a risk of electric shocks and emitting toxic smoke.

– If a product meets the requirements for the CE marking, the plastic components on a charger shouldn’t be flammable or, at the very least, be self-extinguishing within a short space of time. In addition, it should be able to cope with large voltage surges as a result of, for example, lightning strikes, without causing electric shocks or bursting into flames. It is just that it has turned out that, in some cases, the plastic is flammable and that other small defects in the equipment can result in a fire, even though this should not be possible with products carrying the CE mark. It will quite often be a case of a very limited fire, but if it happens in a house during the night, it can potentially develop into a fatal fire. Therefore, some of these products are potentially lethal, explains Søren Petersen.

Counterfeit goods from Asia
All products break down at some point, and there is also a risk that they can get water-damaged or lost during transportation with the result that they no longer meet the requirements.

– However, in my estimation, this is highly unlikely to happen, so that isn’t where the problem lies, says Søren Petersen.

The problem is more that some manufacturers – typically in Asia, where chargers can be produced cheaply – CE mark their products without testing whether the product actually meets all the requirements. Anas Salam, an investigator with DBI, explains it.

– Marks are some of the simplest things to falsify. Typically, a manufacturer produces a product that meets the requirements and it is then tested and approved. Subsequently, they become more relaxed about the requirements in order to minimise costs and maximise profits. Thus, in reality, the product is no longer tested, even though it still carries the mark, he explains.

When the products enter the EEA, it is up to the importers to check that the products have been marked and that they actually meet the requirements of the mark. This is done by looking at the certificates from impartial laboratories or by having the item tested by an impartial laboratory, such as DELTA. However, with the internet there are also many private individuals who have started to import and sell products.

– They are not bound by standards and rules in the same way as organised importers are and, at the same time, it is an easy way of earning money. Previously, you had more control over the importation of goods because it was more difficult to find a manufacturer and more difficult to sell the product. However, that is no longer the case, explains Anas Salam.

Better controls on the part of the importers
However, there are strong indications that the importers are not sufficiently aware of whether the products they are buying comply with the mark they carry. In March 2016, four out of nine non-original chargers purchased by the DR1 programme Kontant were unsafe to use. And, in 2013, the Swedish Elsäkerhedsverket (corresponds to the Danish Safety Technology Authority) conducted tests on ten chargers. All of them were subsequently taken off the market. At the Danish Safety Technology Authority, which conducts risk-based random tests on, for instance, electrical equipment, they are also aware of the problem.

– Small chargers are an area we are focussing on, and at the beginning of the year we started a control campaign on these chargers. One of the reasons for this was that many of them were failing the random checks, says Lone Hansen, who is a communications consultant with the Danish Safety Technology Authority.

The campaign includes around 120 chargers that have been registered in a screening of the market. A number of these are about to examined further through document controls or testing. However, it isn’t possible for the Danish Safety Technology Authority to test every single product that comes into the country. Therefore, it is recommended that the importers get better at doing it instead.

– It is the importers’ responsibility, and it them who are best able to ensure that the products they sell in their businesses comply with the safety requirements. They can, for example, carry out random tests on the goods or have them tested before they start to sell them. And they have every reason to do so. You see, no trader should be interested in selling products that aren’t safe. Indeed, if products are taken off the shelves or recalled from consumers, it damages the business’s reputation and sales, says Lone Hansen. Søren Petersen agrees.

– As an importer, you should screen your products and test them if you are in any doubt. It is the responsibility of the importer and the seller to ensure that the products meet the requirements of the CE mark, and they are liable to pay compensation if the product causes injury or damage, explains Søren Petersen.
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The CE Mark
CE stands for Conformité Européenne (European Conformity) and is a mark which electrical equipment must carry in order for it to be produced and/or sold in the European Economic Area (EEA). The mark is – if the product is compliant – the manufacturer’s guarantee that it meets the requirements of all the relevant EU directives concerned with safety. Products carrying the CE mark can be moved freely across national boundaries and sold within the EEA.

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