These universal socket outlets are a particularly attractive concept for specifiers and installers of electrical services in hotels and other locations with lots of international visitors.
Keith Smith, BEAMA’s deputy director – installation sector, recently warned, ‘A great many of these universal socket outlets create potentially unsafe and hazardous arrangements with different plugs for the unsuspecting user. Furthermore, the installation of these universal socket outlets could also be considered illegal in the UK, as they may not comply with the requirements of UK Safety Regulations.’
The UK standard plug (BS1363-1 compliant) and socket outlet (BS1363-2 compliant) system is designed to ensure safety of the user. The BS1363-1 plug pins are sleeved and the BS1363-2 socket-outlet is shuttered. This is to ensure that during insertion and withdrawal of a BS1363-1 plug from a BS1363-2 socket outlet, the live pins of the plug are not accessible to the user. The shutter on the BS1363-2 socket outlet ensures that live parts of the socket outlet are not readily accessible to the user when a plug isn’t connected to the socket outlet.
Other countries also have unique plug and socket-outlet systems designed to allow only the correct plug to be inserted into the corresponding socket-outlet. Countries where unsleeved plug pins are used, such as Germany and France, usually have socket outlet designs incorporating a recess in the front plate, ensuring plug pins are not accessible during plug insertion, and withdrawal from the socket outlet. Universal socket outlets, by design, don’t have this safety feature.
Universal socket outlets allow the use of two pin plugs, and in doing so introduce a serious risk of electric shock. A number of European countries use unsleeved 2-pin plugs, which when used with universal socket outlets, leave the pins accessible during plug insertion and withdrawal. These pins are potentially live and if touched would result in an electric shock.
Smith continued, ‘Some universal socket outlets do not have shutters, leaving live parts of the socket outlet readily accessible. The use of unshuttered socket outlets in households and similar locations is prohibited by BS7671 due to unimpeded access to live parts within the socket outlet. Any unshuttered universal socket outlet in use should be removed from service and replaced with BS1363 compliant products.’