Charged up for safety

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 29 May 2016

The recent incidents of phones and other gadgets exploding or electrocuting users should not be brushed off lightly. With more and more uncertified and potentially dangerous electronic items being sold openly, the Energy Commission is beefing up enforcement activities to ensure these products are taken off the market.

LAST month, 30-year-old Suhana Mohamad was electrocuted to death while talking on her mobile phone that was being charged at her home in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.

That’s a scary thing to hear because we Malaysians love our phones – there are 1.4 mobile phones for every person in the country, with the number continuing to rise as technology becomes more and more a part of daily life.

But as more products come into the market, it is vital that Malaysians are smart about what they buy and how they use it.

In Suhana’s case, the charger that caught fire and led to her electrocution was not from the manufacturer that produced her phone, according to an initial investigation by the Energy Commission (Suruhanjaya Tenaga).

The incident sent shockwaves through the nation, galvanising the commission to begin inspecting premises selling mobile phone chargers.

“From the inspection, it was found that a significant number of chargers checked did not have a Certificate of Approval (CoA) and Sirim-ST label,” the commission reveals, referring to the Standards and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia.

In a bid to prevent tragedies like Suhana’s and other recent incidents of phones and other gadgets exploding or electrocuting users, the commission will be intensifying its enforcement activities to weed out unsafe and uncertified mobile phone chargers and electronic equipment in the market.

Such efforts will include conducting more checks and raids to curb the manufacturing, importation and sale of equipment that has not been certified by the commission and Sirim. The commission will also embark on joint enforcement operations with the police, the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism, Sirim, and related agencies.

“Other than that, we are also carrying out consumer awareness initiatives on the matter in print, electronic and social media,” the commission explains in an e-mail to Sunday Star.

It doesn’t help that uncertified mobile phone chargers are being sold openly to the public today, at prices as low as RM10.

After inspecting 157 premises, the commission found 653 adapters and charger units of various brands that do not have the Sirim-ST label.

“These premises were given a warning notice to withdraw, dispose of or return the unapproved chargers. If the notice is not complied with, the chargers will be confiscated and legal action will be taken by commission,” the commission’s e-mail says.

If convicted, the owners of the premises can be fined up to RM5,000, jailed up to a year, or both.

There are more and more of these uncertified and unapproved devices being sold lately, with their cheaper prices appealing to the consumer.

However, the commission points out that, “Consumers must be aware that these devices are harmful as they are not properly tested.

“Buying only certified and approved devices is one way to curb the sale of those uncertified and unapproved ones,” it says.

The commission urges consumers to report the location or premises that sell such uncertified products by going to its website,

“Users should also refer to safety procedures in user manuals should they have any doubts about using or charging their device,” it advises, adding that mobile phone owners should also refrain from using their device while it is being charged – if the charger is faulty, electricity can leak out and harm the user.

Besides incidents involving mobile phones, the commission also recorded a case involving a victim electrocuted to death by a laptop charger in Malim Nawar, Perak, in March 2012.

It is also currently investigating the case of a fisherman in Yan, Kedah, who suffered serious injuries last month when the phone he was charging exploded just as he was about to answer a call.

While the authorities are taking action, it is ultimately up to consumers to wise up about their smartphones and other devices.

Where there is a demand, there will be supply, so consumers need to stop demanding and buying uncertified products even though they are cheaper than original brands to stop the supply of such items.

Amin Ashaari, co-founder of tech website, says the level of awareness among consumers when it comes to digital devices is still wanting.

“Enforcement efforts by the authorities are not enough. We need smarter consu­mers.

“A lot of uncertified mobile accessories are easily available for sale. Some chargers are sold in petrol stations and are packaged in just a plastic bag.

“The safety of these accessories is suspect but some people still buy them for their convenience,” he says, noting that some uncertified chargers could cost as low as between RM10 and RM20.

Amin also points out that the high mobile phone penetration in Malaysia is a factor that contributes to the higher risks of mishaps continuing to occur.

“This risk is there as long as you use unauthorised products,” he says, adding that some of these products are not built with safety features such as circuit breakers and overcharge protection.

Amin also hopes major mobile phone manufacturers will also play a role in educating users to buy original products.

Expressing concern over the recent spate of incidents, Institution of Engineers Malaysia president Tan Yean Chin says the institution hopes that current regulations can be further enforced to ensure the safety of consumers.

Currently, to protect users, there are regu­lations requiring homes to be equipped with a residual current device (RCD) to cut off power supply when an unbalanced electric current is detected. However, Tan says some houses may not have this system in place or may have very low quality RCDs installed.

“The purpose of the RCD is to detect any leakage of currents that may be caused by short circuits or overheating of equipment.

“It is critical to install and maintain RCDs to ensure safety, as they serve as the second tier protection if there is any explosion or leakage from malfunctioning equipment,” Tan says.

He adds that the institution, through its Electrical Engineering Technical Division, is willing to assist the Government and related agencies such as Energy Commission with the necessary technical advice.

“We can also assist in the investigation of the incidents and help to raise awareness of consumers in using electrical equipment,” he says.

Mobile phone mishaps

May 7, 2016
A girl’s mobile phone reportedly caught fire when it was charging at her home in Setiawangsa, Kuala Lumpur. Half an hour after plugging it into the charger, the phone started emitting smoke and flames, burning the pillow it was resting on.

April 23, 2016
Fisherman Muhammad Syawal Md Isa, 28, of Kampung Titi Serong in Yan, Kedah, suffered serious injuries when the mobile phone he was charging exploded as he was about to answer a call. He said the phone was hot to the touch before it exploded, knocking him unconscious.

April 15, 2016
A woman was electrocuted to death while she was talking on her mobile phone as it was charging. Suhana Mohamad, 30, died at her home in Taman Desa Baiduri in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, at 11.30pm.

March 2012
A user was electrocuted to death in an incident involving a laptop charger in Malim Nawar, Perak.

March 19, 2016
A power bank belonging to a 72-year-old retired engineer exploded in the glove compartment of his car. Tan Heng Swee was unhurt as the incident happened when he was not in his Proton Iswara in Nibong Tebal, Penang.

February 2015
A mobile phone user was electrocuted to death in an incident involving the device’s charger in Selama, Perak.

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