Safety Insert Covers for UK Socket Outlets

©2019 L A Waygood

A quick scan of Amazon UK or eBay will reveal that many retailers are selling ‘child safety insert covers‘ for UK electrical socket outlets.

These are plastic plugs which are inserted into the earth (ground), line, and neutral openings in a socket with the intention of preventing children poking objects into those openings.

This raises the questions: (1) are they necessary, and (2) are they safe?

Are They Necessary?

The BS 1363 electrical socket used in the UK is probably the safest design in the world. It has been designed with electrical safety in mind. Particularly the safety of children.

The socket outlet’s internal line and neutral contacts are inaccessible thanks to spring-loaded mechanical shutters which only open as a plug is inserted into the socket. This means that the energised internal contacts are not accessible to children who may, for example, try to poke something into the socket’s openings, risking electrocution.

The corresponding plug also has an important safety feature: the line and neutral pins are partially covered in an insulating material, so that a person’s fingers cannot make accidental contact with the energised pins when the plug is being inserted into, or withdrawn from, the socket.

These safety features are not incorporated into the design of socket outlets and plugs used in the United States or Canada, or those used in most European countries. So, in order to protect children from accessing energised internal conductors,  safety insert covers are widely used in those countries.

But, for the reasons explained above, these safety inserts are completely unnecessary in the UK.

But, more importantly, there are strong arguments that these insert covers are actually dangerous!

Are Safety Insert Covers Safe?

The National Health Service warns that ‘Socket insert covers should not be used in health or social care premises, nor supplied for use in a home or residence. Any socket inserts currently in use should be withdrawn from use and responsibly disposed of.’

The Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) has launched a campaign, FatallyFlawed, in order to have these insert covers banned. The campaign states that ‘no socket covers have been approved for use with BS 1363 sockets’ which, of course, means that none of the safety inserts available on UK the market has been manufactured or tested in accordance with ANY safety standard! These inserts are generally manufactured in third-world countries,  their quality and dimensions can vary considerably and, as they are not subject to any safety tests, they should be considered to be totally unreliable and potentially hazardous.

Research has found that even small children can easily remove these insert covers from sockets and quickly learn that, by reinserting the plastic earth-pin upside down, they can actually open the socket’s safety shutters, allowing access to the live contacts within, and negating the safety features built into every socket!

Summary

Socket insert covers are considered, by professionally-qualified electrical engineers and professional institutions, to be unsafe, unregulated, and completely unnecessary!

If you are using them, and you care about the safety of your children, then you should give serious thought to removing them and safely disposing  of them.