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Brussels, 2 December 2009

Consumers: 30% of Christmas lights are a "serious safety risk" in the home, warns EU report

30% of Christmas lights present an obvious and direct risk of fire and electric shocks according to a new report published today by the European Commission. The report presents the conclusions of a joint market surveillance project involving authorities from 5 Member States - Hungary, Germany, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Netherlands - as well as the European Commission. Testing was carried out between November 2007- May 2009 at different intervals on 196 random samples of lighting chains across the entire price range. The samples were checked against over 20 administrative and technical requirements. Many lighting chains failed multiple tests.

Commissioner Meglena Kuneva said: "If we are going to "keep the lights on" at Christmas, consumers need to be confident that there are no compromises on safety. Consumers want value for money and choice when they shop around at Christmas but never at the expense of safety. This report is a "wake up" call. National authorities and industry will redouble efforts to crackdown on the gaps and loopholes that can let shoddy goods into shops and our homes. But consumers also need to work to minimise safety risks: so be vigilant, be active and be aware, that way everyone can have a safe and happy Christmas."

The main results

Serious non-compliance problems leading to increased risks of electric shock, fire hazard or both were found in 30.4% of investigated lighting chains. Generally, serious non-compliance problems mean failing technical safety requirements relating to the construction of, for example: plugs, cord anchorages, wiring, insulation, protection against electric shock. Less serious problems with non-compliance, i.e. deficiencies which do not immediately jeopardise the safety of the user were found in an additional 40% of lighting chains tested. These include certain labelling, instructions or administrative deficiencies.

The 3 main problems found were:

  • 1. 25% of lighting chains failed the safety tests for the cord anchorage. Insufficient cord anchorage can lead to the electric wires coming loose with a high risk of electric shock (serious non-compliance).

  • 2. 23% of lighting chains failed the requirement for "cross sectional area." This means that the wiring is too thin for the electric currents it is carrying, which increases the risk of overheating and fire (serious non-compliance).

  • 3. 28 % failed the safety tests for cables. This means the insulation and construction of the chain is such that there is a risk of electric shock (serious non-compliance).

In addition:

  • A number of other technical requirements are also regularly not met, though less frequently, for example basic mechanical problems that can result in an injury from sharp edges.

  • Nearly 15% of samples did not carry the correct "technical markings" required. More importantly, warnings were lacking in 41% of the samples and proper user instructions in almost 35% of the samples.

  • Lighting chains regularly fail more than one of the safety tests. Some lighting chains failed nearly all the technical tests and many failed 4 to 7 tests.

  • The level of non-compliance varied from one Member State to another. While in Hungary, 95.7% of chains tested showed serious hazards to consumers, only 56% of those checked in the Netherlands showed any type of non-compliance. This is partially because the Netherlands has been carrying out market surveillance on lighting chains for 8 years and through these efforts has managed to halve the number of dangerous products destined for the market. (See MEMO/09/532 for details).

  • With regard to origin of the dangerous products, China accounted for approximately 41% of the 196 samples tested.

Next steps

Given the very high level of non-compliance found by authorities, public surveillance and enforcement activities which specifically target lighting chains will continue as a priority, using coordinated action, with as many Member States as possible. Industry will also need to step up controls. Under EU law, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and importers are legally responsible for the safety of the products they put on the market.

Advice for consumers

Consumers must be vigilant and take basic precautions to minimise risk. There is strong pressure on manufacturers and retailers to produce Christmas lights as cheaply as possible, as consumers often do not want to spend much money on what are temporary decorations. This can lead to gross violations of safety standards.

  • Buy Christmas lights from reputable dealers where basic safety standards should be assured.

  • Never leave Christmas lights on when you are out of the house or at night when people are asleep.

  • If you suspect there is any kind of electrical or mechanical problem, with new lights or lighting chains you have already been using, don't take a chance. Stop using them and bring them back to the shop and complain.

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