Work Matters: Socket Covers - Shock tactics

They were invented to keep young children from getting electrical shocks, but now a pressure group says socket covers actually present a dangerous risk to them. Annette Rawstrone reports.

Child safety socket covers have been declared a 'hazard', but confusion about whether to use them in early years settings remains.

Practitioners are continuing to report that some Ofsted inspectors still regard socket covers as a safety requirement, even though Ofsted has officially confirmed to Nursery World that it does not recommend that they are used in nurseries.

Writing on an early years forum, practitioners have commented: 'I had a fit person interview last month. It went really well, then on the way out the inspector pointed out that one socket didn't have a cover in the reception area.'

'We have covers on all sockets and even though I and other members of staff have broken many a fingernail when trying to remove them, I wouldn't be without them. When we were Ofsteded last year our inspector actually checked that each socket was covered!'

Campaign argument

Socket covers were designed to protect children, but they have been deemed 'absurd and dangerous' by the Fatally Flawed campaign. Launched by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the campaign wants the sale of plug-in covers banned.

The campaigners argue that the UK has the safest power sockets in the world. The BS 1363 system of Plugs and Sockets, used since 1947, have built-in shutters that prevent children from poking objects into the holes, making plug-in covers redundant.

Furthermore, the unregulated covers can make sockets more dangerous by disabling the approved safety device. David Peacock, co-founder of Fatally Flawed, said, 'Socket covers are completely unnecessary with UK sockets, but all socket covers we've tested introduce dangers that are not present if you do not use them.

'The possibility of inserting the socket cover upside-down and therefore opening the safety shutters allows children to poke things in. Additionally, the two most popular types of socket covers introduce holes into which children can insert objects.'

He added, 'A number of people question whether children can remove the socket covers. The fact is that children do, and also often succeed in putting them in upside-down. It is not theoretical, it really happens.'

An Ofsted spokesperson said, 'Ofsted can confirm that we no longer recommend the use of socket covers, but nor do we criticise their responsible use as part of a risk-assessed approach to electrical safety.

'We do not judge the safety of a setting based solely on whether or not socket covers are in use, rather we make our judgements on whether or not a setting is a safe environment for children. Registered childcare providers must ensure and demonstrate to us at inspection that their premises are as safe as possible for children. It is for the provider to decide as part of the risk assessment they carry out at their premises how best to protect children from dangers associated with electric sockets and appliances.'

Safety groups' view

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) states that it does not consider the use of socket covers necessary because of the British power sockets' shutter mechanism preventing inappropriate access to live connectors. The safety charity also actively discourages the use of decorated socket covers which can attract young children to the power points. It recommends that small children are warned to keep away from electrical equipment until they are capable of understanding the risks and are able to use them safely.

A RoSPA spokesperson added, 'In a nursery setting we would normally recommend that sockets are out of reach in the first place. Generally, given the levels of supervision in a nursery and the BS-compliant sockets, covers would not be necessary.'

Pam Prentice, campaigns manager at the Child Accident Prevention Trust, says, 'It is very difficult for toddlers to get an electric shock by playing with a socket. You do not need socket covers to make them safe, as they are designed to be safe.

'Socket covers may stop young children plugging in appliances that can cause nasty burns, or even start a fire, but they should not be relied upon to prevent electric shocks, as they are not registered. It is better to make sure the appliances are safely put away.'

FURTHER INFORMATION

For more information on the issue of socket covers, including video and photo evidence, go to Fatally Flawed campaign's website at www.fatallyflawed.org.uk

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