Plug Socket Covers

Plug Socket Covers

Over recent months there has been a lot of discussion in early years regarding the ‘safety’ socket covers that have been used as a safety feature in nurseries, crèches, and childminders for many years. This idea has stemmed from the NHS which has said:

Socket inserts 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withdrawn from use and responsibly disposed of.’

However, this has been a discussion piece as far back as 2009 with an article that was written in the Telegraph newspaper. The headline of this article described the socket covers as ‘absurd and dangerous’ according to engineers.

No Longer Needed

Therefore, the news is that they are no longer needed, and should be totally withdrawn from use by the 1st December 2016!

Is this the case?

We have done some research into this area on your behalf to try and make this subject clearer. We appreciate that the change is likely to make a few people particularly worried of the increased risk of accidents and injuries occurring in their settings, namely, electric shock and/or burns. We have tried in this article to allay those additional fears.

Safety of sockets

It is the requirement of the IET Wiring Regulations BS7671:2008 (2015), that plug sockets have shutters and be compliant with BS1363. The British plug socket is considered to be one of the safest in the world.

BS1363 sockets were introduced in 1947. Sockets which meet this British Standard must have an interlocking shutter mechanism preventing the insertion of any foreign object into the socket and therefore contacting the live electrical ports in the socket. This is an inbuilt safety feature that you can see in the picture below. BS1363 approved plug sockets include, 13A wall socket outlets, multiway adapters and flexible extensions, and therefore are the most likely to be used in the early years’ sector. BS1363 also details the distance that a plug pin must take in order to come into contact with live parts, this distance is 9.6mm. As a general rule, also, the pin holes of the socket are too small for a child to insert their fingers far enough into them in order to touch any dangerous live parts, this is an intentional design.

Inside of a BS1363 plug socket

The problem with Socket Covers

Unlike plug sockets there are no safety regulations or British Standard rating for ‘safety’ plug covers. This however contradicts how the products are advertised. One such product on sale on a famous online store website is described in the product description as:

‘Designed to prevent curious
children pushing fingers or
other objects into dangerous electrical sockets.’

This implies that this is going to prevent accidents from happening, in a way that the plug socket themselves can’t do.

So, what is the problem with the Socket Covers?

One problem is there is not a single cover on the market that meets correct dimensions for plugs, and therefore does not meet any British Standard as opposed to the sockets which meet BS1363. Any cover which is made incorrectly can cause significant damage to the actual socket. Some socket covers actually increase the risk of danger and injury rather than reduce the risk.

A key fault of some of these covers allows curious young children to insert the cover into a socket upside down into the earth pin only, therefore opening the safety shutter and allowing access to live contacts. It is hard to find other such objects that can be inserted in such a way that opens the safety shutter and stays in place!

Why are Socket Covers Dangerous?

In summary, the risks of using socket covers are as follows:

  • Some socket covers make it possible to poke pins and paper clips into the live parts!
  • Broken plastic pins stuck in the earth hole – prevents shutters from closing,
  • Wrong size pins can make covers easy to remove, some even pop out by themselves!
  • Socket contact damage -results in overheating and possible fire,
  • Socket shutter damage – the shutters will not be able to protect children,
  • Children like to play with socket covers – plugging in upside down opens the shutter and exposes live contacts.

Can Children Remove Socket Covers?

Many people believe that children cannot remove ‘protective’ socket covers, this in reality is a myth. As discussed earlier, most pins on these covers are not the same size as a plug and therefore do not fit properly in a socket as the socket is designed. A socket cover that is tight in one socket, may be loose in another and therefore it would depend on the socket and child as to whether the child could remove it or not.

Children generally have capabilities beyond what an adult believes they can do and often will use objects around them to help lever out the socket cover.

What does Ofsted say about socket covers?

Ofsted has no official position on the use of these socket covers and they are not referred to in guidance for inspectors.

In September 2001 Ofsted said on this matter:

‘We neither encourage
nor discourage
the responsible use of socket covers
as part of a risk-assessed approach to electrical safety.’

‘Inspectors should not set actions
or make recommendations in relation
to the use of socket covers and
should not refer specifically to these in their reports.’

‘It is for the provider to decide,
as part of the risk assessment
they carry out at their premises,
how best to protect children
from any dangers associated with
electric sockets and appliances.’

When asked about the recent Health and Safety alert an Ofsted spokesperson told Nursery World:

‘I can confirm that we have
no official position on this specific issue.
Providers are expected to ensure their
premises are safe and suitable for childcare,
and to form their own assessment on this
within the requirements of the early years’
framework or childcare register requirements.’

In summary the use, or lack of, of socket covers will not impact on a provider’s Ofsted grading as there is no official position on this specific issue from Ofsted. Whether your setting continues to use these or not will depend on the individual risk assessments that providers are required to carry out.

However, the Health and Safety alert does state that these should not be used beyond December 1st 2016, it states that electrical socket inserts should be withdrawn and disposed of safely. They also state that 13A electrical socket inserts should not be used in Health and Social care premises nor supplied for use in a home or residence.

In Summary

DO YOU STILL BELIEVE IN THE USE OF SOCKET COVERS?

  • Sockets used in the UK meet BS1363 – covers meet no standard,
  • Sockets have a safety shutter as standard – removes the need for a cover,
  • Socket covers do not meet the correct sizing of sockets – plugs do,
  • Covers can damage the socket,
  • Children can remove socket covers.

Electric Shock First Aid

Should a child get injured by electric shock, the electricity will travel through the body to ‘earth’. This in turn may affect the child’s body’s electrical impulses, including breathing and causing the heart to stop.

There is likely to be an entry and exit burn as well as the possibility that you can see the path of the current flow, from deep internal burns that are not visible.

An electric shock may cause the child’s muscles to contract and prevent them from releasing their grip on the offending object. Should this be the case they may still be live and therefore you should approach with caution.

  1. Make sure the contact with the electricity has been broken. Turn the power off at the mains ideally,

DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING THAT IS WET OR METAL!!

  1. Once safely disconnected from the power, check the child’s airway and breathing,
  2. If breathing effectively, treat any burns or injuries that you find,
    • If not breathing effectively, start Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR),
  3. Ensure the child receives medical attention (even if they have apparently recovered),
  4. Call 999/112 for emergency help if the child has been unconscious or has electrical burns.

Reference Sources:

https://www.fatallyflawed.org.uk/
Department of Health safety alert, EFA 2016 002 Final.pdf
Nursery World
The Telegraph – 23/03/2009

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