Electrical compliance standards

Sunday, 15 July, 2007

Imported electrical fittings from low-cost manufacturing sources like China wouldn't be such a big concern to the Australian electrical industry if it just raised competition. Most of us can live with that. But when inferior products introduce life-threatening risks to installers and their customers because they're not compliant to mandatory Australian Standards, this becomes a serious matter for the electrical industry as a whole to deal with.

Wiring Rules are mandatory and all installations must comply with them. But are you aware of the thousands of other Australian Standards the Wiring Rules draw from to ensure the final result of the products you install are safe and fit for purpose? Despite your best efforts to do quality installations, you may find them compromised in either safety or purpose if the products you choose to install aren't compliant.

What must electrical fittings comply with?

"There are three legislated approvals every electrical fitting must comply with," explains PDL product manager Chris Murray. "Firstly, fittings have to be approved for electrical safety by the Office of Chief Electrical Inspector. This approval comes from extensive testing of the product as defined in the relevant standard, for example AS 3100 for GPOs. Because they're referenced in AS 3000, it's mandatory for contractors to only install approved fittings. Approved fittings receive an 'Electrical Safety Certificate' and an approval number to place on the fitting. An approval number starting with 'V' means it was tested and approved in Victoria and 'N' means it was approved in NSW.

"Manufacturers can also choose to use the 'Five-Tick' mark, which is a regulatory approval administered by Standards Australia that verifies the supplier's R&D and manufacturing facilities have been audited for compliance to a host of standards, including ISO 9001, that demonstrate the compliance of the fitting to electrical safety standards. Either of these two approvals should be obtained for the fitting to be sold in Australia.

"Fittings must also have a 'C-tick' to denote EMC compliance, a requirement of ACMA to ensure they don't emit electromagnetic interference. ACMA actively polices this and has the authority to immediately shut down any equipment causing interference. A situation happened in Sydney a while ago where the Mascot airport radar malfunctioned and planes couldn't be tracked safety. ACMA traced the interference coming from a non-compliant cordless phone in a nearby apartment that someone had illegally imported. Although extreme, this highlights just how dangerous EMC non-compliance can be."

ACMA states: "It is important that manufacturers and importers understand the compliance arrangements for accountability rests with Australian suppliers responsible for placing the products on the market. To ensure compliance with the EMC regulatory arrangements, suppliers must... establish sound technical grounds for product compliance; make and hold a Declaration of Conformity; prepare and keep compliance records; and label the product as directed. All products that fall within the scope of the regulation are subject to compliance with the arrangements and must be appropriately labelled with the compliance mark".

Don't get 'C-Tick' confused with 'A-Tick', which is also an ACMA regulatory requirement, but applies to products that can be connected to a carrier's telecommunications network.

Verify compliance of equipment

All electrical fittings sold in Australia are required by law to exhibit details about the product and its approvals. Without them, products are deemed 'non-compliant'. Murray advises: "Electrical fittings must have their product code and brand on the product, not just the packaging. The voltage and current ratings, approval number and country of origin must also be marked on it. If approval details aren't marked on the product, chances are it's not approved".

Since so much responsibility falls on the contractor, Murray suggests: "If a fitting seems remarkably cheap, be cautious. If it's a brand you don't know, ask for approvals, compliance certificates and details on product materials, quality assurances, technical support and insurances before you buy it".

Local activity

Fake HPM GPOs emerged in Australia recently, initiating investigations by the Energy Safety Unit of the NSW Office of Fair Trading. Fair Trading Minister, Diane Beamer issued a warning to electrical contractors to be careful of these potentially dangerous units that were sold in NSW between September 2005 and February 2006: "Fair Trading investigators uncovered an intricate and well-organised supply structure involving electrical contractors, electrical wholesalers, online traders, discount retail lighting and electrical suppliers. This counterfeit racket was a deliberate attack on a reputable Australian company by a network of unscrupulous operators looking to cash in on HPM's good name and reputation. Prosecution action has commenced against six sellers involved in this blatant and dangerous consumer rip-off. These counterfeit products are significantly inferior and tests have indicated that they will fail over time, with a potential risk of fire or exposure to live electrical wires".

NECA formed a 'Non-Compliant Product' forum made up of manufacturers, regulators, supply authorities and NECA and other associations to tackle this issue. A communiqué formulated to be distributed to the government and electrical industry to voice the industry's concerns, proposes an action plan to minimise non-compliant electrical products finding their way into the hands of unsuspecting contractors and the community's premises.

The communiqué states that electrical products coming into Australia "may not operate to specification; may be a copy/counterfeit; may not have been submitted for approval with safety regulators". The plan calls on governments to:

  • Empower and resource their regulators to implement regulations to do their task as intended.

  • Introduce a program of inspections to source non-compliant and compliant products, which could include:

    • inspection of installation at change to ownership
    • inspection of new installations
    • random purchases and testing against product approval regulations.
  • Establish lines of communication with regulators in Europe and America.

  • Develop an information program similar to New Zealand's Energy Safety Service program, which imposes a $250,000 fine on contractors who knowingly certify non-compliant installations/products.

  • Publish a regular status report.

NECA CEO, Peter Glynn summarises: "We're calling for an approved product labelling system, like the energy rating on whitegoods; independent batch testing of products; and an awareness campaign to the industry and community".

International activity

NECA NSW CEO, James Tinslay recently represented Australia at a FISUEL (International Federation for the Safety of Electricity Users) meeting and reports: "Electrical goods accounted for 44% of all fake product notifications in 2005, and these fakes have resulted in hundreds of deaths in Europe over the past decade. European electrical manufacturers are combating this problem with an action plan, including the 'Notacopy' database where products have unique serial numbers that can be checked online (www.notacopy.com) by contractors and consumers for authenticity.

"Their 'Electric Dragon' program hires investigators to visit trade shows to find companies promoting fakes. They're legally empowered to raid the premises of manufacturers of fake electrical goods and seize and destroy them".

Electrical compliance standards

AS/NZS3100:2002 Approval and test specification - General requirements for electrical equipment
AS3117-1994 Approval and test specification - Bayonet lampholders
AS/NZS3131:1995 Approval and test specification - Plugs and socket-outlets for use in installation wiring systems
AS3111-1994 Approval and test specification - Miniature overcurrent circuit-breakers
AS/NZS3190:2002 Approval and test specification - Residual current devices (current-operated earth-leakage devices)
AS/NZS4417.1:2000 Marking of electrical products to indicate compliance with regulations - General rules for use of the mark
AS/NZS4417.2:2001 Marking of electrical products to indicate compliance with regulations - Specific requirements for electrical safety regulatory applications
AS/NZS4417.3:1996 Marking of electrical products to indicate compliance with regulations - Specific requirements for electromagnetic compatibility regulatory applications
AS/NZS4417.4:1999 Marking of electrical products to indicate compliance with regulations - Specific requirements for radio apparatus regulatory requirements
AS/NZS3820:1998 Essential safety requirements for low voltage electrical equipment
AS/NZS417.2:2001 Marking of electrical products to indicate compliance with regulations - Specific requirements for electrical safety regulatory applications
AS/NZS60335.1:2002 Household and similar electrical appliances - Safety - General requirements
AS/NZSCISPR15:2002 Limits and methods of measurement of radio disturbance characteristics of electrical lighting and similar equipment
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