Electrical Safety in an International Market

Something has been bugging me for quite a while, about Electrical Safety. Do you ever see stories about how a charger, or a phone on charge, caught fire and caused damage, injury or even death? In the UK given the additional safety of the 3-pin plug system, this shouldn’t happen, should it? Well, consider the following picture:
adaptorsOn the left, you can see a USB phone charger, which uses a 2-pin Euro plug, in the middle the British 3-pin type, and on the right, the 2-pin American type. What would you think is safest of the three? The British 3-pin type? I used to think so, too.

But if you look at plug-in power supplies of various types, for a range of items, you will notice something missing — the fuse. British Standard plugs come with a fuse, and if you look at the centre item above, you can see that there isn’t one, and that is the case with many chargers and transformers in your home. And you can plug that straight into the wall. An item made to take a current of much less than one amp, is being “protected” only by the “big” fuse at the main fusebox in your home. The other two of these require an adaptor to plug in, in a UK home. Now consider this picture:

adaptors2These adaptors can be bought in the UK, and the Shaver Adaptor and the one on the right, can often be found in Poundshops. The shaver adaptor comes fitted with a 1A, 20mm fuse, which is sufficient input current for most chargers. Those quoted with higher output currents generally require less than 1A input current because when you step down the voltage, you also reduce, in proportion, the amount of current needed. At least you would if they were 100% efficient, but even at less than 50% efficiency, you would not need more than one Amp. The adaptor on the right comes with a normal 13A one-inch fuse, but you can get smaller fuses, and I have stuck a label on mine to show that I’ve changed it for a 3A fuse.

The Schuko adaptor in the middle, is the one you would need for larger, earthed devices with continental plugs, but it too has a changeable 13A fuse, and can take Euro 2-pin devices too.

Looked at from the front, here are the same adaptors:adaptors3You can see how a 2-pin round (Euro) or 2-pin flat (US/China) would go into the two outer adaptors, the one in the middle will only accept a 2-pin round, or a Schuko type.

Now go back to the first picture, imagine either the Euro or US style charger, plugged into the Shaver Adaptor on the left, now protected by a 1A fuse, or the one on the right, with a 3A fuse, or the UK one, straight into the wall without a fuse. What looks the safest now?

I’m no expert, but I know what gives me most confidence.

Of course, none of this helps when you’re abroad, and they just don’t have fuses in plugs, but it’s something to think about. One thing you can do with your UK charger is to plug it through a multi-adaptor, whose fuse has been changed to 3A or less.

Be safe!


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