Socket covers - safe or unsafe?

Many homes I see have these socket covers fitted without any thought as to what effect the cover may have. Plastic socket covers are often sold on the grounds of making standard 13amp sockets safer for children or toddlers. These are the sockets which you will find in your home, schools, nurseries or place of work. On the face of it, a plastic, non conductive cover over what appears to be a hole into the dark and mysterious world of live electrics seems to be a good idea. But on 30th June 2016 the department of health issued the following advice within an alert;

“13A electrical socket inserts should not be used in health or social care premises, nor supplied for use in a home or residence. Any socket inserts currently in use should be withdrawn from use and responsibly disposed of.”[1]

So if these covers are safety devices why would the department of health issue that alert?

In 1947, BS1363 was introduced as the British Standard that covers the production of sockets in this country. Since that time sockets designed to BS1363 have been made with safety shutters that cover the live and neutral pins of the socket. These shutters only open when a plug is inserted - you will notice by looking at a modern plug that the top pin (the earth pin) is longer that the other two, and that longer pin opens the safety shutters of the other two. This means that if no plug is inserted, the socket is safe, and little fingers, bits of food, small toys etc can’t be placed into a socket.This negates the need for any additional devices.

So we’ve established that there is no need for the covers, but can they actually be harmful as opposed to merely unnecessary?

An often used argument in defence of their use has been that they surely just provide additional protection don’t they? And nursery and school managers have said that they provide peace of mind for parents. But there is currently no British Standard that covers the manufacture or design of these covers (unlike the sockets themselves). So they come in all shapes and sizes, some of which are not produced using high quality materials or manufacturing processes. By their very design, they immediately open the safety shutters that ARE designed and built to a British Standard.

The cheap plastics used can often be bent, so that the sometimes very short bottom pins can be pulled out while the top “earth” pin remains in place. This keeps the bottom shutters open, and leaves children vulnerable to shock if they insert items into the holes. A common flaw is that the covers can be pulled out and inserted upside down by inquisitive children. This again opens the safety shutters. So with this in mind, the answer to the earlier question is yes - they can cause much more harm than good. Hence the Department of Health alert which (at the time of writing) can be accessed by clicking here.