TC work helps keep households safe

Safety begins at home

By Morand Fachot

The large and rapidly increasing number of electrical appliances used in the home and elsewhere means that new and updated standards are constantly required to deal with safety issues connected with their use. IEC TC (Technical Committee) 61: Safety of household and similar electrical appliances, prepares International Standards to protect users of such equipment from a wide range of hazards.

Safety paramount as user base expands

All homes in industrialized countries use electrical appliances in growing numbers. The same is increasingly true in developing countries as electricity is reaching more and more households from the grid or other sources. With this expanding user base, the safety of appliances is crucial. Many countries enforce legislation to protect consumers’ health and safety.

To manage compliance with legislation, manufacturers use and comply with standards that are accepted by government regulators as proof of conformity with legislation. Many of these standards are IEC International Standards or standards adapted from them to meet local conditions .

Huge market

The household appliances market reflects the sale of refrigeration, cooking, washing, and so-called room comfort and water heater appliances (which include air conditioning, circulating and ventilation fans, space and water heaters), as well as that of vacuum cleaners and dishwashers. The sector had total revenues of nearly USD 270 billion in 2011, according to a May 2012 Global Household Appliances industry profile.

The value of the overall market covered by TC 61 International Standards is even larger as the standards also cover "other equipment and appliances in similar fields where there is no IEC Technical Committee in existence."

Extensive standards address multiple risks

The use of household appliances and other equipment entails risks of different kinds. The comprehensive IEC 60335 series of International Standards on safety for household and similar electrical appliances are issued by TC 61. The first was published in 1970. The standards cover requirements and test criteria for the following hazards:

  • electric shock
  • thermal: burns, overheated surrounds, insulation
  • mechanical: cutting, crushing, explosion
  • fire: ignition of appliances due to internal faults
  • radiation and toxicity: effect of non-ionizing radiation and of poisonous gases.

Electric shock hazards may exist as a result of the effects of heat, humidity, pollution, country-specific climate and infrastructure conditions on appliances. There may also be other causes.

Thermal hazards provoked by the overheating of appliances or materials in their immediate proximity can cause burns to individuals and damage to equipment or surrounding areas.

Mechanical hazards – for example, crushing resulting from the operation of doors or at pinch points in amusement machines, cuts caused by accessing blades in kitchen robots, or being hurt by breaking glass from oven doors, for instance – can also result in serious injuries being caused to individuals.

Fires may result from the existence of flammable materials close to appliances. Overheating can result from abnormal operation, misuse or internal failure. The results can be catastrophic.

Radiation and toxic hazards can be reduced by banning certain toxic substances from being used in appliances’ construction. However, some appliances produce toxic substances when in operation and standards may place limits on their emissions. This is the case for pyrolytic self-cleaning ovens, which produce CO (carbon monoxide) or air-cleaning appliances that produce 03(ozone).

Evolving business environment requires continuous work

The growing use of international safety standards, the increased interest in certification and the fast growing number of appliances that come within the auspices of TC 61, give the Committee continued impetus in preparing and maintaining International Standards in a timely and efficient manner.

The standards produced will fulfil the needs of certification bodies, consumers, manufacturers and national authorities responsible for safety. The requirements are written so as to facilitate international trade in electrical appliances and minimize the need for national differences.

International Standards produced by TC 61 are used for certification purposes in the IECEE scheme, as well as for the certificates issued to obtain or cover international market approval requirements.

Market and technology trends

The electrical appliance industry is a mature industry. This means that the coverage of the current standards produced by TC 61 and its subcommittees is sufficient for most products. However, the standards produced require frequent amendments in order to respond to new safety problems encountered in the field and to allow manufacturers to gain certification for added features on existing appliance types.

Additional original standards have to be developed in response to the production of new appliance types, and as a result of the increased use of electronic circuits in devices to provide a safety-related function.

Manufacturers are also using telecommunication networks to enable remote control and servicing of appliances that incorporate programmed electronic circuits. This trend is bound to expand in the networked homes of the future, creating a further market for the production of new standards.

Multiple liaisons, intricate structure, full agenda

As household and other appliances incorporate a multitude of components, TC 61 maintains liaisons with more than a dozen IEC TCs and SCs (Subcommittees) such as TC 20: Electric cables, SC 23F: Connecting devices, SC 23G: Appliance couplers, SC 23J; Switches for appliances, and TC 72: Automatic controls for household use, to name just a few.

The wide variety of appliances means that the TC has six SCs preparing standards for various types of devices such as microwave, refrigeration, cleaning and air-conditioning appliances.

The TC also hosts two WGs (Working Groups) and six MTs (Maintenance Teams) to maintain and update existing standards. With the global market for household appliances forecast to grow by around 5% a year, to exceed USD 343 billion in 2016, TC 61, its SCs, WGs and MTs will have a very busy agenda in the foreseeable future preparing and maintaining International Standards.

MUM 5 kitchen robot (Photo: Robert Bosch Hausgeräte GmbH) MUM 5 kitchen robot (Photo: Robert Bosch Hausgeräte GmbH)
Washing machine (Photo: Whirlpool) Washing machine (Photo: Whirlpool)