20 Sep 2016, Catherine Gaunt
A safety alert circulated by the Department of Health highlights the dangers of using plug socket covers, and calls for their removal from health and social care settings.
It was brought to Nursery World’s attention by Jenna Geggie, operations manager at Honey Pot Nurseries. Socket covers are still commonly used in nurseries and other early years settings, and the associated risks appear to be unclear.
Ms Geggie said, ‘I think it could be because the message hasn't really been "put out there" that plug socket covers are actually more unsafe than not using any.
‘I think a lot of nursery providers would worry that by not using plug socket covers they could land themselves in hot water at an Ofsted inspection or a Health and Safety audit.’
On an early years online forum, one practitioner said, ‘We use them. I have been told that they are not necessary but have never heard they are dangerous! We use them because of people's perception of the danger of not using them. I just thought if they make no difference, it's better for people to see that we are safety conscious than nothing at all.’
Ofsted has no official position on the use of socket covers and does not refer to them in guidance for inspectors. Ofsted advice issued in September 2011 states, ‘We neither encourage nor discourage the responsible use of socket covers as part of a risk-assessed approach to electrical safety.
‘Inspectors should not set actions or make recommendations in relation to the use of socket covers and should not refer specifically to these in their reports.
‘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 any dangers associated with electric sockets and appliances.’
The advice is now archived. Nursery World asked if Ofsted would be providing additional guidance to inspectors in light of the recent safety alert.
A spokesperson for Ofsted said, ‘I can confirm that we have no official position on this specific issue. Providers are expected to ensure their premises are safe and suitable for childcare, and to form their own assessment on this within the requirements of the early years framework or childcare register requirements.’
The presence or absence of plug socket covers in early years settings will not impact Ofsted inspections, but the proven safety risks call to question their suitability for use around young children.
Commonly sold as safety accessories, socket covers are unregulated - they come in many different sizes and shapes and therefore rarely fit sockets correctly.
The use of covers negates existing safety measures in the form of protective shutters, exposing the live electrical contacts. Covers can come loose or be easily removed by children, resulting in risk of electrocution.
Covers can also damage the socket, which may lead to overheating and risk of fire.
As of June, the DoH requires that ‘13A electrical socket inserts should not be used in health or social care premises, nor supplied for use in a home or residence’, and that ‘any socket inserts currently in use should be withdrawn and responsibly disposed of.’
Fatally Flawed, a campaign dedicated to the protection of children from the dangers of socket covers, wants the sale of plug-in covers banned.
David Peacock, the co-founder of campaign said, ‘Fatally Flawed was delighted to hear that the NHS had reached its own conclusions about socket covers and requires them to be completely withdrawn from all NHS premises, as well as advising others, including all doctors and dentists surgeries, social care providers and independent healthcare providers, to take the same action.
‘The engineers who defined the requirements of the British mains socket we all use today were quite specific about the need for child safety. They stated, as the very first requirement of the new socket, that, “To ensure the safety of young children it is of considerable importance that the contacts of the socket-outlet should be protected by shutters or other like means, or by the inherent design of the socket outlet.” It is time that we stopped compromising their good work by the use of unregulated and unapproved external socket covers!’
Advice from the Child Accident Prevention Trust
It should be clear if an electrical socket is unsafe: look out for frayed wires on the plug, scorch marks or any other damage. The Child Accident Prevention Trust suggest many ways in which to minimise the risks associated with plug sockets and electrical appliances, which don’t require the use of socket covers.