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  • 1999.03.15

Test shows over 80% of electric fans are not up to safety standards;  price and brandname are no reliable indicators

Always use electric fans with the utmost caution. For few electric fans could be in full compliance of safety standards.

This timely advice, as warmer weather is just around the corner, is contained in a Consumer Council test report on 28 models of electric fans- 13 table, 9 slide/pedestal and 6 wall fans priced from $88 to $640.

The results of the test are disappointing: the bulk of the test samples, 23 out of 28, were found to fall short of the safety standard adopted for the test.

The safety of electric fans has become a focus of public concern following a spate of domestic fires last summer.

Within 3 months (June - August) in 1998, at least 11 fires suspected to have been caused by faulty electric fans were reported causing injuries to scores of people and damages to their property.

Fortunately, no one was killed but one 7-year-oldgirl and an elderly woman were seriously injured in these electric fan-related tragedies.

Involved in these accidents were 1 tower fan, 3table fans and 7 wall fans, some were widely believed to be of low price and obscure brandname.

The test results, however, showed that price and brandname alone are not reliable indicators of safety performance of electric fans.

Electric fans at the higher end of the price range and with familiar brandnames could also be at fault: some of the expensive models in the test were judged to be equally unsatisfactory in safety as the cheaper models. Indeed, the least expensive model, at $88, was among the few that passed all safety tests.

Consumers contemplating buying new electric fans or in use of the products are strongly urged to consult the test report in this latest (269) issue of the Council's monthly magazine CHOICE.

They should select carefully taking into account the importance of product safety and use always with the utmost caution. For those who have bought substandard fans, they should be extra careful in adhering strictly to proper usage (e.g. watch out for signs of overheating and arcing) and regular upkeep (e.g. removal of dust).

The safety of electric fans is under the control of the Electrical Products (Safety) Regulation. The Council has sent its test findings to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department for necessary action under the regulation.

Highlights of the test include:

  • Only 5 models could measure up to the standards in all of the 14 safety test items.
  • Of these 5, three passed the stringent Class A limit designed to assess the temperature rise of the motor windings. The other 2 claimed to be equipped with Class E motors and should have the capacity to tolerate higher temperature rise, thus they were also deemed satisfactory in this test item.
  • The remainder 23 models were judged not satisfactory in 1 to 4 test items with various degrees of deviation from the safety standard.
  • 13 of them were unsatisfactory in the Creepage Distances and Clearance test: the live parts are not separated by a sufficient long distance that might potentially result in short circuit and flash over. The user is at risk of electric shock if the accessible metal parts are not earthed properly.
  • Despite the deficiencies, all models passed in 6 test items: endurance, electrical insulation, moisture resistance, stability and protection against touching the fan blades.

Consumers in the dark about hidden charges in value-added services by some mobile phone operators

Does your mobile phone package include such value-added services as call-waiting and conference call?

Does it ever occur to you that you may be additionally charged, on top of the fixed monthly fee for the services, every time you use a value-added service -to the extent of possibly double, triple or more of the air-time.

A recent survey of the Consumer Council has uncovered the existence of such hidden charges, a practice adopted by at least 4 mobile phone operators in the market.

According to the operators, additional charges are necessary as extra resources have been used for call waiting and conference call:

  • In the case of call waiting, the user occupies one air channel and two fixed line channels (one in conversation state and the other in waiting state).
  • In the case of three-way conferencing, for instance, the user occupies one air channel and two fixed line channels. In addition, the network connects a conference circuit to the user so that the three parties can talk together.

In the survey covering all 6 mobile phone operators, 4 confirmed in writing of their practice in charging separately for extra resources used to provide the services.

It is not immediately clear if the other 2 operators also adopted such practice. The Council is seeking further clarification from one operator and has yet to receive written confirmation from the other.

Are consumers aware of the extra charges and the basis for calculating those charges?

The Council's survey shows that consumers are probably in the dark about such extra charges for value-added services. In their replies, the operators have put forward the following:

  • the additional charges are stated in the user guideline but often the attention of consumers is not drawn to it;
  • additional charges can be shown in a detailed statement provided that the user subscribes to a detailed billing service; or
  • the detailed calculation of additional charge is commercially sensitive.

It is clear that the fact that additional charges are levied and the basis on which the charges are made is not explicitly disclosed by some operators, if at all, to the users.

Consumers contemplating a switch to a new operator or subscribing value-added services are advised to clearly ascertain from their prospective suppliers the practice in relation to value-added service charges. Operators, on the other hand, should bear the responsibility of full disclosure of their practice and related charges to the customers.

The Consumer Council will liaise with the Office of Telecommunications Authority regarding this undesirable trade practice.

Special attention of consumers is drawn to need for ventilation and installation of venting duct in gas tumble clothes dryers

Clothes dryers are fast becoming an essential domestic helper particularly in the humid weather of Hong Kong.

Consumers now have a choice between electric and gas dryers, both of which possess advantages of their own.

To assist consumers in their choice, the Consumer Council has surveyed the market comparing the price, installation method, drying capacity and operating time of three types of dryers - washer dryer, electric tumble dryer and gas tumble dryer.

Findings of the survey were published in this March issue of CHOICE.

The report draws special attention of consumers to the need for ventilation when a gas (mainly towngas) tumble dryer is in use:

  • It is the gas installer's responsibility to ensure that the environment where the dryer is installed has sufficient supply of fresh air.
  • Most gas dryers in the market are fitted with Oxygen Depletion Sensor which will automatically cut off the supply of gas when the oxygen content falls below a certain threshold.
  • Gas dryers produce moisture, a small amount of carbon monoxide and other air pollutants during operation. Although it is optional, users are strongly advised to install a venting duct to release the moisture and exhaust gas outdoor.
  • Never operate an unvented gas dryer in an air tight room (e.g. when all door and windows are closed) which can lead to decrease in oxygen level and increase in carbon monoxide and air pollutants level.
  • Users are advised also to avoid flexible plastic or foil duct which may sag over time resulting in a build-up of lint in the duct that can catch fire. Users should clean the lint filter to prevent overheating. This advice is applicable to some electric dryers, too.

The APS vs 35mm Compact Cameras

Included in this issue of CHOICE is a comparative test report on 7 models of APS (Advanced Photo System) and 10 models of 35mm compact cameras with highlights on:

  • APS & 35mm are two different types of photographic system.
  • The list prices of these models range from $1,590 to $3,780.
  • Their features and performance such as picture quality, versatility and convenience are compared.
  • The report also lists the advantages of both APS and 35mm systems.

World Consumer Rights Day 3.15

March 15 is designated as World Consumer Rights Day. Consumer organization world wide take initiatives in planning and organizing special campaigns, press conferences, public exhibition, street events etc. to promote the respect for consumer rights which form the basis for long-term consumer protection work.

World Consumer Rights Day is celebrated extensively in China at provincial, city and national levels. In Hong Kong, our aim is to make everyday throughout the year a Consumer Rights Day.