DoH guidance highlights dangers of plug socket covers
20 Sep 2016, Catherine Gaunt
A safety alert circulated by the Department of Health highlights the dangers of using plug socket covers, and calls for their removal from health and social care settings.
It was brought to Nursery World’s attention by Jenna Geggie, operations manager at Honey Pot Nurseries. Socket covers are still commonly used in nurseries and other early years settings, and the associated risks appear to be unclear.
Ms Geggie said, ‘I think it could be because the message hasn't really been "put out there" that plug socket covers are actually more unsafe than not using any.
‘I think a lot of nursery providers would worry that by not using plug socket covers they could land themselves in hot water at an Ofsted inspection or a Health and Safety audit.’
On an early years online forum, one practitioner said, ‘We use them. I have been told that they are not necessary but have never heard they are dangerous! We use them because of people's perception of the danger of not using them. I just thought if they make no difference, it's better for people to see that we are safety conscious than nothing at all.’
Ofsted has no official position on the use of socket covers and does not refer to them in guidance for inspectors. Ofsted advice issued in September 2011 states, ‘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.’
The advice is now archived. Nursery World asked if Ofsted would be providing additional guidance to inspectors in light of the recent safety alert.
A spokesperson for Ofsted said, ‘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.’
The presence or absence of plug socket covers in early years settings will not impact Ofsted inspections, but the proven safety risks call to question their suitability for use around young children.
Commonly sold as safety accessories, socket covers are unregulated - they come in many different sizes and shapes and therefore rarely fit sockets correctly.
The use of covers negates existing safety measures in the form of protective shutters, exposing the live electrical contacts. Covers can come loose or be easily removed by children, resulting in risk of electrocution.
Covers can also damage the socket, which may lead to overheating and risk of fire.
As of June, the DoH requires that ‘13A electrical socket inserts should not be used in health or social care premises, nor supplied for use in a home or residence’, and that ‘any socket inserts currently in use should be withdrawn and responsibly disposed of.’
Fatally Flawed, a campaign dedicated to the protection of children from the dangers of socket covers, wants the sale of plug-in covers banned.
David Peacock, the co-founder of campaign said, ‘Fatally Flawed was delighted to hear that the NHS had reached its own conclusions about socket covers and requires them to be completely withdrawn from all NHS premises, as well as advising others, including all doctors and dentists surgeries, social care providers and independent healthcare providers, to take the same action.
‘The engineers who defined the requirements of the British mains socket we all use today were quite specific about the need for child safety. They stated, as the very first requirement of the new socket, that, “To ensure the safety of young children it is of considerable importance that the contacts of the socket-outlet should be protected by shutters or other like means, or by the inherent design of the socket outlet.” It is time that we stopped compromising their good work by the use of unregulated and unapproved external socket covers!’
Advice from the Child Accident Prevention Trust
It should be clear if an electrical socket is unsafe: look out for frayed wires on the plug, scorch marks or any other damage. The Child Accident Prevention Trust suggest many ways in which to minimise the risks associated with plug sockets and electrical appliances, which don’t require the use of socket covers.
Unplug any electrical appliances that get hot, as soon as you’ve finished using them
Safety check all of your electrical appliances
Don’t overload plug sockets
Don’t leave anything plugged in overnight
Keep unused electrical appliances out of reach of children
In the Home
The campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of UK socket covers
The campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of UK socket covers
Should I or should I not have socket covers?
Unfortunately the government does not regulate socket covers; this means that perfectly safe sockets are made unsafe by inadequately and unsafe designs.
The argument on whether we should use socket covers or not .
British power sockets are fully regulated by government regulations. The BS 1363 standard for 13 Amp sockets is required by “The Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994”. Sockets must be safe and include internal shutters to prevent children from poking objects into them. Unfortunately the government does not also regulate socket covers; this means that perfectly safe sockets are made unsafe by inadequately designed, and totally unnecessary, socket covers.
The requirement for sockets to be child safe and include a shutter mechanism dates back to a remarkable and far-sighted wartime committee which resulted in the publication of ‘Post War Building Study No. 11 – Electrical Installations’ in January 1944. This study looked at post-war electrical needs including a new type of socket and stated: “To ensure the safety of young children it is of considerable importance that the contacts of the socket-outlet should be protected by shutters or other like means, or by the inherent design of the socket outlet.” The BS 1363 standard was introduced in 1947.
British sockets are designed so that the holes for the plug pins are too small for even a new-born baby to put a finger in! (It is also worth noting that you would have to reach 1cm deep into the socket before contacting a live part.) The purpose of the internal shutters is to prevent children poking objects into the socket. The shutters are automatically held in place by springs and are only opened when a plug is inserted into the socket. Most sockets have shutters which are operated by the insertion of the earth pin (the largest pin at the top of the plug). Some sockets require the insertion of more than one pin at the same time. The basic method of earth pin operation is perfectly safe providing that children are not given access to tools which are the same shape as an earth pin and which could be used to defeat the shutters. Unfortunately a socket cover is such a tool! Socket covers are flimsy and bend, and they invariably have pins which are shorter than a real plug. It is possible for a child to experiment with inserting a cover upside down, opening the safety shutters, this exposes the child to the danger of severe electric shock! It is common for parents to report that their small children (sometimes as young as 5 months old) can remove socket covers without difficulty.
Once a socket cover is in the hands of a child they can easily insert it into the socket in a way which defeats the internal shutters and makes the socket very unsafe.