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MEMO/09/532

Brussels, 2 December 2009

Christmas Lights - Frequently asked questions

Why Christmas lighting chains?

Often Christmas chains are offered for very low prices, presumably because consumers do not want to spend much for these products, which only serve for temporary decoration. Because these products are offered very cheaply there is strong pressure on the manufacturers and importers to keep the costs of these products as low as possible.

Frequently this results in poor design and material savings that have led to lighting chains being offered that grossly violate the safety standards in the European Union. This is illustrated by the number of RAPEX notifications concerning lighting chains, which totalled a number of 166 between 2005 and 2009.

What are the main risks associated with unsafe lighting chains?

The main risks are related to risks of electric shock and fire hazards. The electrical risks are of course that a consumer can get an electric shock, which in severe cases can cause serious injury. This risk is associated with the construction of the lighting chain, the quality of the insulation, etc.

Fire hazard also depends on the construction, but also on the cross diameter of the conductors in relation to the current drawn (i.e. that the wiring is not too thin for the size of the current being passed) and the fire resistance of the insulation.

Finally, lighting chains may present mechanical hazards when they have sharp edges or points that are accessible during installation, normal use or maintenance.

What are the EU rules that Christmas lights have to comply with?

Lighting chains fall under the scope of the Low Voltage Directive (Directive 2006/95/EC) which is one of the oldest Single Market Directives adopted before the "New" or "Global" Approach. For electrical equipment within its scope, the Directive covers all health and safety risks, thus ensuring that electrical equipment is safe in its intended use.

In practice this means that electrical equipment needs to comply with the requirements of harmonised standards published under the Low Voltage Directive. For lighting chains the relevant standard is EN 60598 part 1: Luminaires - General requirements and tests; and part 2-20: Luminaires - Lighting chains.

Also the General Product Safety Directive (Directive 2001/95/EC) applies to these products, especially as regards the market surveillance provisions including the requirement for Member States to notify measures taken against unsafe products under the RAPEX system.

What were the main tests for lighting chains undertaken during the joint action?

The joint action focused both on the administrative as well as the technical requirements for these products, including the following elements:

Administrative requirements:

  • CE marking

  • Availability and content of the EC declaration of conformity (DoC)

  • Technical documentation (TCD)

  • Certificate(s) issued by the competent organisations

Markings:

The presence and durability of the markings prescribed in the applicable standards. These markings typically include type references, identification of the manufacturer/importer, rated voltage and wattage and where applicable the class symbol.

Additional information required:

This is information the user needs for safe use of the product and which is required by the applicable standard, including warnings like:

  • do not remove or insert lamps while the lighting chain is connected to the supply (standard B, 20.5.1),

  • for series connected lamps, replace failed lamps immediately by lamps of the same rated voltage and wattage to prevent overheating (standard B, 20.5.1).

Technical requirements:

In the action the Christmas lighting chains were checked for compliance with a selection of requirements and tests from the applicable standards EN 60598 -1 and EN 60598-2 -20, based on their relevance with respect to the safety of the chains and because in the past lighting chains have been shown to regularly violate these requirements. All chains were tested against 15 requirements concerning technical aspects relating to quality of insulation, cables and wiring, the protection against electric shock and the resistance to fire (see the project report for more details).

When were the checks carried out?

Over the period from November 2007 till May 2009 the market surveillance authorities in 5 Member States sampled and investigated 196 lighting chains. Sampling took place in the period before Christmas and, in cooperation with custom authorities, when shipments arrived and were distributed.

Which were the authorities involved?

  • Hungary: Fogyasztóvédelmi Fófelügylöség, the Hungarian Authority responsible for market surveillance in the LVD area was the coordinator of the project.

The other partners were

  • Germany: Landesinstitut für Arbeitzschutz und Produktsicherheit im Landesamt für Gesundheit und Lebensmittelsicherheit in Munich,

  • Slovakia: The Slovak Trade Inspection

  • Slovenia: The Market Inspectorate of the Republic of Slovenia.

  • The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority also participated in the project.

What were the main results?

The 3 main technical problems found were:

  • 1. 28% of lighting chains failed the safety tests for cables, which cover the quality of the insulation of the cables.

  • 2. 25% of lighting chains failed the safety tests for cord anchorages. Insufficient cord anchorage can lead to the electric wires coming loose.

  • 3. 23% of lighting chains failed the requirement for "cross sectional area". This means that the wiring is too fragile increasing the risk of damage and cuts.

Taken together this means that frequently the wiring used in lighting chains is too thin and fragile, which increases the risk of overheating and fire, and that the insulation and construction is such that there is a risk to get an electric shock. 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.

Lighting chains regularly fail more than one of the safety tests. Two chains failed nine out of 15 tests; chains failing 5 or 6 tests occur regularly. Failing more than one test is likely to increase the risk associated with the product.

In addition, 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.

The overall conclusion is that far too many types of lighting chains do not fulfil the safety requirements the European Union has set for these products and therefore present risks to consumers that are considered unacceptable in the EU.

What is the breakdown of results per Member State?

The table below shows the results per participating Member State.

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED


Not all non-compliances are equally serious; omitting some of the required labelling does not immediately jeopardise the safety of the user, while some of the technical shortcomings can present serious risks. The risk presented by the product plays a major role when the market surveillance authority decides on appropriate interventions and legal measures. Indeed, interventions have to be proportional to the risk presented by the product.

In the lighting chain action the authorities reported an overall assessment of the seriousness of the

Non-compliances found, using the following designations:

  • F1 (Remark): A deviation from the product provisions which is not a direct safety hazard for persons, domestic animals or property

  • F2 (Criticism): Deviations which can be a direct safety hazard for persons, domestic animals or property

  • F3 (Serious criticism): Obvious and direct safety hazard for persons, domestic animals or property.

  • P (passed the test parameters)

These codes basically follow the Nordic Market Surveillance Codes for Common Deficiencies. This code system corresponds to the seriousness of the shortcoming, whereby F1 is the lowest level of non compliance, and classifications F2 and F3 correspond to increasingly serious shortcomings.

The fraction of lighting chains with serious non-compliances (F3) varies from 8.8% in Slovenia up to

95.7% in Hungary. The fractions classified as F2 (criticism) and F1 (minor non-compliance) also vary between the participants, both between 0,0% and ≈45%.

The best chances to obtain lighting chains that fulfil the legal requirements are found in Slovakia and the Netherlands, where respectively 36% and 44% of the investigated samples passed all tests. For the Netherlands the relatively “high” fraction of compliant chains may be the results of market surveillance activities in this field having been performed for many years. In the other countries the fraction of samples passing the tests is less than 15%.

What measures were taken against non-compliant Christmas lights?

The measures differ somewhat between the participating Member States but generally products that have shortcomings classified as F3 were withdrawn from the market and banned from further sales. In some of these cases voluntary recalls were issued. F2 non-compliances also often result in sales bans although also remedial actions are imposed, for example an obligation to mark the products according to the legal requirements or to remedy shortcomings before sales can resume.

What are the recommendations from the project?

The recommendations coming out of the joint action indicate a strong need to continue market surveillance targeted towards lighting chains on a yearly or biannual basis. This could be based on a smaller set of technical tests to increase the number of products being tested.

Moreover, closer cooperation with the sector is necessary to ensure the safety of lighting chains is given more attention by economic operators. The Member States will discuss these recommendations in the context of administrative cooperation under the Low Voltage Directive.

What is the advice for consumers?

The main advice for consumers is;

  • To buy their Christmas lights from reputable businesses;

  • To switch of their Christmas lights before leaving the house and going to sleep at night;

  • To return the lighting chain to the shop if it turns out to be faulty.


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