All 10 USB Travel Adaptor Samples Found to Pose Safety Risks Manufacturers Urged to Improve Product Design while Government to Strengthen Inspection & Testing

14 June 2018
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All 10 USB Travel Adaptor Samples Found to Pose Safety Risks   Manufacturers Urged to Improve Product Design while  Government to Strengthen Inspection & Testing

To ensure mobile electronic devices are not out of power while on travel, many consumers now use USB travel adaptors combining the dual functions of adaptor and USB charger.  But a Consumer Council test on 10 models of USB travel adaptors has revealed rather disappointing results: none of the samples could pass all of the safety items in the test.  In 2 unbranded samples commonly available to consumers in the market, their overall safety rating were merely 2 points or below.  Deeply concerned over the safety of USB travel adaptors, the Council urged manufacturers to improve the design and quality control of their products.  Consumers are cautioned to exercise extra care in the choice and use of USB travel adaptors.  Safety protection is a fundamental right of consumers, the authorities should strengthen their inspection and testing of such products to safeguard the safety of the users.
Among the 10 models, priced from $78 to $460, 2 highest-priced models were commonly available for inflight purchase while 2 cheapest unbranded samples could be found in many mobile accessories stores.  In accordance with the latest international standard IEC60884-2-5:2017, IEC60950-1:2005 and British standard BS8546:2016, the samples were rated for safety, performance and ease of use.  On a scale of 5 points (full marks), the results showed that the overall rating of the samples varied between 1.5 and 3.5 points, indicating the quality of all samples were on the whole unsatisfactory, in particular, immediate improvement is needed to address the safety problem.
Safety deficiency of various extent was found in all the 10 models, with safety rating from 1.5 to 4 points, and common defects, including insufficient insulation distance between USB transformer and circuit, increasing the risks of triggering off the circuit breaker and short-circuit;  non-compliant dimensions of the plug pins with the standard, leading to poor contact and affecting electrical operation.  Further, the product labeling of all samples was incomplete, missing some important warning messages, including “Does Not Convert Voltage” and “For Use with Unearthed Appliances Only”.   
In the case of the sample with the lowest safety rating, the travel adaptor was found that  in the event of one set of plug pins being used and another set being drawn out at the same time, the live (current carrying) metal parts of the latter could pose a risk of  electric shocks.  The Council has forwarded the findings in the first instance to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) for follow up.   In response, the EMSD has earlier on issued a warning on this product together with 2 other products of similar design alerting the public to the risks and to immediately cease the use of the products in question.
In addition, even under normal loading operation, the test showed that the temperature rise in all samples exceeded the standard limit (65K); in 1 sample with a high USB output current, its temperature rose to 113K, far exceeding the limit by 74%.   2 other samples without over current protection when put to an abnormal temperature rise test, were found to have their plastic materials softened and damaged, forcing the test to be terminated, a most worrisome situation.  
The findings on resistance to heat was equally disappointing, the plastic plug pin of the UK plug or plug pin base in 7 models were found not self-extinguishing after burning for 30 seconds.  Further, in 6 adaptors, the plastic accessories supporting the current parts and the housing case, when put to a 125°C  ball pressure test, their plug pin base, plug pins, socket or housing, dented with a diameter of over 2mm, reflecting overall unsatisfactory performance in heat resistance.
The test also found the breaking capacity of some adaptors less than adequate; among them the sockets of 2 samples, after a repeated process of plugging in and pulling out using adaptors of different countries for 50 times, the metal plate of the socket was so seriously deformed that the test could not be completed.  Further, the socket in 5 samples could not hold secure the plug pins; 1 sample when plugged in to the socket for the first time, the socket metal plate became deformed; the product quality left much to be desired.  
On performance, 2 samples were measured with a voltage output below the USB standard requirement.  In standby consumption, all samples were of an average rating scoring 3.5 points or below, and in operation efficiency, they varied widely from 2.5 to 5 points.  Samples with poor performance take a longer time or even may not be able to charge up electronic devices.  
Adaptors fitted with UK plug pins for use in Hong Kong must comply with the Electrical Products (Safety) Regulation; adaptors without UK plug pins are exempted from this regulatory oversight.  Among the 10 test models, 7 are labeled on the packaging and the extendable UK plug pins, with the warning that they are not suitable for use in Hong Kong.  But consumers can still put the products to use by removing the warning stickers and extending the plug pins.  By so doing agents are suspected to have avoided the Regulation; the authorities are urged to step up their inspection and monitor to ensure compliance of the law.    
Attention is also drawn to the recent practice by many organisations offering USB travel chargers with multiple ports as souvenir gifts to the public or their clients. The Council reiterates that product safety is an important condition in the safeguard of consumer rights and interests.  Regardless of whether for own use or souvenirs, consumers should consider carefully in the choice and use of the product and must not take it lightly.
In the use of USB travel adaptors, pay heed to the following for safety:
  • Only the suitable set of plug pins is extended for use each time, and ensure the pins are firmly secured in contact; 
  • Unsuitable for use with high power electrical appliances and electrical appliances with earthing, for example, electric kettle, iron and cooking pot, etc.
  • Pay attention the voltage matches the local voltage; the Hong Kong voltage is 220V suitable for use across the Mainland, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, and Southeast Asian countries.  For travel to North America, Japan and Taiwan, make sure it is equipped with voltage selection; 
  • If the need is for only USB charging in outdoor travel, consider the use of USB travel chargers with multiple ports; 
  • After use, disconnect the adaptor from the socket and retract the plug pins immediately;
  • As travel adaptor is designed for use during traveling, 13A 3-rectangular–pin adaptor conforming to BS1363 should be used in Hong Kong.

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