The ACCC Is Cracking Down On Cheap USB Chargers

After the death of a Sydney woman in June due to electrocution from a faulty USB phone charger, the dangers of cheap and poorly constructed electronics sold within Australia are being brought further into light. The ACCC looks to be increasingly turning its attention to potentially dangerous USB chargers, with over 1000 Officeworks chargers being recalled yesterday.

The charger, an "Insystem Power Pack USB Wall Charger" sold between July 19 2013 and August 2 2014, has the potential to overheat, melting the external casing and exposing the charger's live low voltage circuitry. Customers who bought the charger, sold for $12, are being urged to return them to any Officeworks store around the country for a full refund. The recall is being initiated voluntarily by Officeworks, but the ACCC is pursuing the issue more broadly.

Insystem is widely stocked by Officeworks, with products including CD cases, USB cables and other electrical paraphernalia. Insystem is not an Officeworks house brand, though -- according to Appliance Retailer the USB charger in question was supplied through a third party Australian sourcing agent. That sourcing agent is Ingram Micro, Australia's (and the world's) largest distributor of technology products to resellers and retail stores.

This most recent recall underscores the safety concerns of using a poorly engineered USB charger or cable, even if that charger has passed Australian Standards compliance. Australia's C-Tick compliance certifies electrical devices sold in Australia for various tests around electromagnetic energy and electromagnetic compatibility, but certification is a lengthy and expensive process and the charger implicated in the recent death was imported into Australia without these tests. According to Approvals Blog:

Testing of a wall mount USB power supply involves compliance to numerous electrical standards, including AS/NZS 3112 for the insulated pins, AS/NZS 60950.1:2011 or AS/NZS60335.2.29 for the power supply, AS/NZS 4665 for energy efficiency and ACMA requirements related to electromagnetic compatibility. Full testing costs are in the range of $5,000~$6,000, excluding the electrical safety approval cert and energy efficiency data base lodgements. Based on the substantial testing and approval costs, any importer or even consumer, should be extremely sceptical of a power supply that can be purchased for only a couple of dollars.

Many USB chargers sold on eBay, DealeXtreme, and other online stores that allow Australians to purchase directly from international vendors are not compliant with Australian standards. If you are buying a charger off one of these sites, and you are not completely certain that it is approved for sale within Australia and is safe for use, do not buy it. [Recalls]

Update: Officeworks has supplied Gizmodo with a statement: The safety of Officeworks’ products is our absolute priority. As such, we have voluntarily elected to recall one line of USB wall chargers (model MS10071223). We are currently conducting further testing, however on a precautionary basis we recommend customers return the model in question to their local stores for a full refund. Customers with any concerns can contact 1300 OFFICE (633 423).