Safety first

Paving the way to safer electronic equipment

By Zoë Smart

The theme of this year’s Workshop for Industrializing Countries was "Challenges to Ensure Safety of Electronic Equipment". Held during the IEC General Meeting in Tokyo, Japan, the meeting aimed to facilitate the sharing of experiences and help highlight solutions to a particularly pertinent issue for developing countries.

participants Participants at the session

Protecting consumers

IEC Affiliate Leader Phuntsho Wangdi opened the workshop with a speech that underlined the major issues surrounding the safety of everyday electric and electronic appliances. While widely traded in emerging economies, these products are often of dubious origin and that, coupled with improper handling, can have devastating effects for end users.

An important first step Wangdi stated to safeguarding consumer’s health is to ensure electrical and electronic products conform to IEC International Standards. Doing so also facilitates trade and fosters confidence amongst governments and consumers. In order to achieve this, however, governments and regulators need to put in place mechanisms to help regulate the import of safe goods and fight counterfeit products.

Providing developing and newly industrialized countries with the necessary tools

During his mandate as Affiliate Leader, Wangdi said he had reached out both to "IEC CAB (Conformity Assessment Board) and the SMB (Standardization Management Board) seeking support for Affiliates to strengthen our skills and capabilities to challenge the institutions engaged in unscrupulous trading of counterfeit products and the eradication of this menace from the marketplace".

The Affiliate Secretariat works closely with the various IEC Systems in order to provide developing countries with the necessary knowledge and tools to build their professional capacities. The Workshop for Industrializing Countries is an example of a very concrete way in which countries can learn from highly experienced professionals and use that knowledge to raise awareness of important issues and help establish solutions in their home countries.

Experts share their experience

A total of 75 participants attended the workshop. Of those 45 were Affiliate country delegates from Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Lebanon, Namibia, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Sudan, Suriname, Tanzania and Zambia. The remaining 30 were delegates from a total of 13 Member countries.

The first speaker to take to the floor was R.A. Kaakunga, Chief Executive Officer of the Namibia National Standards Institution. Kaakunga spoke about the current situation in Namibia whose economy is growing fast. This means there is a high inflow and outflow of products but due to the lack of regulation and mechanisms to control them a large number of these goods are substandard and put consumer’s health and safety at risk. He outlined some of the biggest hazards posed by faulty home appliances. These include electrical shocks and burns to users as well as elevated thermal and fire, mechanical and radiation risks.

Although the adoption of IEC International Standards is in process, Conformity Assessment Systems are not in place yet and the inspection of goods also needs strengthening. However, Kaakunga noted the NaEC (Namibia Electrotechnical Committee) strongly supports IEC activities and expressed his hope that through consumer education and the strengthening of controls such risks could be minimized in the future.

Anand A. Kalpoe from Suriname, was the next speaker to address participants, giving a presentation on "The use of power strips and adapters to connect appliances with a heat element or a small motor to the power grid". Kalpoe began with a brief overview of Suriname and electrical energy production in the country. He went on to expand on the issues faced due to the large number of plugs and sockets used and problems caused by power strips and the use of adaptors and multiplugs, as well as different voltage levels.

Kalpoe ended his presentation with a proposal to help make Suriname’s electrical infrastructure safer. This included adoption of the IEC 60364 series on low-voltage electrical installations, the development of a “Suriname Electrical Code” based on the series and a “Guide for Installers and Verifiers” based on the “National Electrical Code”.

IEC helping to make electronic equipment safer

With IEC TC (Technical Committee) 61: Safety of household and similar electrical appliances, one of the most popular TCs amongst developing and newly industrialized countries, it was particularly pertinent that its Vice Chairman, Dejun Ma was present at the workshop to give a general introduction to the TC and its scope. After presenting the content and development of International Standards by TC 61, Ma went on to lay out the benefits that Affiliate countries could garner from active participation in the TC. These include but are not restricted to, strengthening of governmental supervision, helping to promote industry development, protecting consumers and stimulating international trade.

The next speaker was Executive Secretary and COO of IECEE and IECRE, Kerry McManama. He gave a detailed overview of IECEE and its Conformity Assessment Schemes, IECEE CB and IECEE CB-FCS. Referring to the schemes, McManama said: “they are intended to reduce obstacles to international trade, which arise from having to meet different national certification or approval criteria”. McManama then outlined the benefits of participation for industry: opening up the worldwide Global Market, optimization of production and certification costs, expanded development of technologies within the country and improved safety and reliability of products in the marketplace.

The last speaker of the day, Ir Abdul Rahim Ibrahim, Director of Electrical Safety Regulation Energy Commission of Malaysia, took to the floor to expand on the challenges faced by Malaysia to ensure the safety of electronic equipment. While a Certificate of Approval is required for the importation or manufacturing of electrical appliances and equipment in Malaysia and a process for the labelling of goods has been established, a number of challenges still present themselves. These, Ibrahim said, included national deviations in voltage, frequency and plug top configuration as well as counterfeit products and products with fake labels entering the market. Other issues are the need for standards to remain up to date with the increasingly fast technological progress and the difficulty in stopping consumers from buying counterfeit products when they are so cheap.

Learning from each other

The workshop ended with a Q&A session moderated by International Standardization and Conformity Assessment Liaison Officer for Developing Countries, Françoise Rauser. Proving that the workshop was a success and the topic of particular interest, participants showered the speakers with questions and mentioned examples from their own countries.

Rauser concluded the meeting by thanking the speakers for sharing their experiences and challenges and for providing answers and solutions to help countries move towards a future with safer electronic equipment.

Francoise Rauser at IEC Affiliate Forum Françoise Rauser introduced the speakers
Panel The panel at the Workshop for Industrializing Countries
participants Participants at the session