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WARNING: Take care with Christmas lights

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09 Dec 2010
Victoria’s energy safety regulator and fire authorities are urging the community not to buy cheap decorative lighting products which have not been approved for supply by Australia’s electrical safety regulatory authorities.

Energy Safe Victoria (ESV), the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) and the Country Fire Authority (CFA) also warned the community to take extreme care when installing and using Christmas tree lights or other decorative lights over the festive season.

Unapproved lights can be dangerous with the potential to start fires in homes and cause people to receive electric shocks, the authorities warn.

Christmas tree lights and other electrical products are only approved for sale in Australia once they have been exposed to rigorous testing by accredited test agencies.

Audits of some “bargain” stores by ESV Compliance Officers over recent weeks have detected a number of non-compliant imported Christmas light products. In some instances, products displayed counterfeit approval numbers.

Of particular concern are non-compliant controllers provided with lighting sets. ESV has detected evidence of overheating in units, along with exposed “live” parts and inadequate insulation.

Hazards associated with unapproved Christmas lighting products include:

 Light sets designed for (overseas) voltages less than 230 Volts (normal supply voltage in Australia is currently 240 Volts);
 Plugs incompatible with Australian socket outlets (power points);
 Dangerously thin electrical insulation on the flexible leads;
 Incorrectly rated globes that may overheat and cause surrounding materials to catch fire;
 Inadequately attached cords that may pull out of lamp holders.

The authorities provide the following advice:

 Always ensure Christmas lighting products have been approved for use in Australia;
 Check for a compliance number on the product. If in doubt seek the advice of the store manager or do not purchase the product until satisfied that it is safe and complies with Australia’s strict electricity safety requirements.

The authorities warn that while Christmas can be an expensive time for families, they should never be tempted to buy cheap or second hand lights at markets and bargain stores that are not approved for use in Australia.

Outlets selling unapproved electrical products face hefty fines of nearly $5,000 for individuals and nearly $24,000 for companies.

People aware of unapproved products being offered for sale should contact Energy Safe Victoria (03) 9203 9700 or 1800 800 158 as soon as possible.

Christmas is a happy time of year for most people. Do not turn it into a time of tragedy through fires or injuries as a result of installing or using defective Christmas lights, said the authorities. 

Other advice for the safe operation of Christmas lights includes:

 Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding assembly, installation and globe replacement;
 If using the same lights from year to year, make sure they are in good condition and there is no exposed (uninsulated) wiring before installation. Also, make sure they are dismantled and packed away carefully after use;  
 Do not use damaged or faulty decorative lights;
 Never use decorative lights outdoors unless they are specifically designed for such use. Similarly make sure extension cords are suitable for outdoor use;
 Do not cover or modify decorative lights;
 Always switch off and unplug decorative lights when unattended or when watering a Christmas tree;
 Observe and monitor the correct operation of your decorative lights when unpacked and initially used; and
 In households with infants and young children, consider using extra-low-voltage (less than 50 Volts AC) decorative lights supplied from an approved transformer.

 

For more information please contact: MFB Media & Communications on 9665 4699 or media@mfb.vic.gov.au

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