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Protecting our children has spawned an industry driven by fears over health and safety - but some of the safety devices we buy into do little to lower rates of accident. Every home has electrical sockets around the walls, electricity is dangerous, it therefore seems logical to block sockets with a plastic cover. Surely that's sensible?
Well, actually, no! Yes, electricity is dangerous...but electrical sockets in the UK have built in safeguards. Examine a three-pin plug - there are three prongs, the one at the top is longer than the two at the bottom. The longer prong is the earth contact, this ensures that devices plugged in are earthed and makes a faulty device safer. The long prong actually plays an important role - the reason it is longer than the other two is that the two lower plug holes are blocked with a gate. As the earth pin is inserted into the socket, it opens up that gate allowing the other two prongs to slide into place. This makes electrical sockets virtually tamper proof.
But surely there's no harm in putting in a plastic socket guard, it must make things safer? Er, not necessarily! In fact, these guards could lead to a far more dangerous hazard. Yes, a guard in place prevents little fingers from poking into the electrical contacts. But without the guard, those contacts are already blocked to little fingers. A guard in place is safe - but imagine that your baby managed to unplug that guard. No problem, the socket is still safe - the built in gate prevent access to the live contacts. Now imagine that your baby takes the guard, turns it upside down and puts the earth prong into its hole. Now you have a major hazard! The gates protecting the live and neutral contacts are now opened by the earth prong, and suddenly your baby has access to poke their fingers in to the live electrical contacts. That is extremely dangerous.
There are no recorded incidents in the UK for children who have met with such an accident, but there is a strong lobby group campaigning against the use of socket covers as safety devices. There have been no deaths recorded in the UK for anyone poking their fingers into sockets since at least 1990 when improved sockets became mandatory. In 2002 (for which we have data) there were only 14 recorded incidents in the UK from children aged 0 - 4 years suffering electrical shock at all, from light fittings, hairdryers, toasters and all other gadgets. Admittedly unrecorded incidents will probably be higher, but on the whole, electricity is well contained and managed in our devices around the home.
Before spending money on every safety device on the market, look at it, assess what it does, and ask yourself 'Does this really improve things, or am I just buying into something to ease my conscience?!'
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