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The High Price of Buying Cheap

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Australian electrical contractors and systems integrators are being warned against the use of cheap electrical products arriving from overseas or from dubious websites. Make sure your sparkie isn’t using such products in your home – it’s not worth the risk.

Put one weak product in a chain of other equipment, and you put everything at risk. And when you’re talking domestic electrical products, that’s a risk that simply isn’t worth taking. “These days, there are alternate ways of purchasing products – either from rogue wholesalers, or from electrical websites,” says Gary Busbridge, Standardisation Manager at Clipsal. “There are many new channels to buy electrical products, and many more brands selling similar electrical products. But are the new cheap products really the same?”

The simple answer, of course, is no. The aim of the companies selling such products is, very often, simply to make and sell as many of them as possible by offering the cheapest price. They do their best to make the products appear genuine, often with small images on their websites and specs quoted alongside. But many products from rogue suppliers are close copies of a reputable manufacturers products which may be breaking copyright design or patent trademarks. And more worryingly for the end user, they potentially don’t comply with Australian Electrical Safety Standards. These products are often made from inferior materials, and the companies have little regards for the process required to comply with stated ratings or safety requirements as required by Australian Electrical Safety law. Our message is that buying these cheap products may seem like a bargain for the electrical contractor at the time, but there are very real risks if buying products that don’t comply.

The peak national body for electrical contractors in Australia is the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA). It represents more than 4000 electrical contractors, and NECA’s CEO, James Tinslay, is equally clear on the issue of non-compliant products. “NECA fully support the need for electrical contractors to only use compliant products,” he told Smart Home Ideas. “They are safer and it is illegal to use products that do not comply with Australian Standards or are not approved by the appropriate electrical regulator. As the peak national industry body, NECA advises all of its members and the broader industry to only purchase and use products from reputable companies to ensure the products are compliant.”

But is this just a case of another industry protecting its market against grey imports and low-cost overseas products, to prevent what has been seen in the music and publishing industries? Busbridge dismisses comparison with buying cheap books or clothing online from overseas. “When you buy cheap, you probably don’t expect the products to last as long, or to perform as well. But when we are talking about electrical products, you are placing other people’s lives and property at serious risk. For an electrical contractor, they’re risking their business, their reputation, and most importantly, their customers.”

Who is responsible?

While you might assume that the manufacturer would be liable if products don’t comply with Australian Standards , this is not always the case. Under Australian Electrical Safety Law, whoever imports the product is legally recognised as the distributor of the product, and they are also liable should a product fail or cause harm. If your electrical contractor purchases online, direct from overseas, they will be considered 100% liable as the ‘distributor’ of the product. “Electrical contractors risk both civil and criminal litigation from injuries and property damage caused by non-compliant products,” confirms NECA’s James Tinslay. “And further, they risk the validity of their insurance and contractor licence. Using compliant products protects them, their business and their customers. It really is not worth the risk.”

As Tinslay points out, if a cheap product fails once it’s already been installed and causes damage to property or person, your electrician’s insurance cover will likely be invalidated because of the installation of products that don’t comply with Australian Electrical Standards. This leaves the customer with the unpleasant path of civil action and direct monetary costs for damages. “This is why it’s so important to make sure your electrician is buying from a trustworthy wholesaler, because if the product does ever fail, there is very real support,” says Clipsal’s Gary Busbridge. “If you buy products from a rogue wholesaler, can you trust them to take responsibility? Unlike genuine manufacturer’s products, there is rarely a service, warranties or after-sales support networks.”

How do you know?

You should always ask your electrician or electronic systems professional how they source their components. But of course if they are shonky sparkies, would they tell you? “Licenced electrical contractors should only use compliant products,” advises James Tinslay. “If consumers are worried that an electrical contractor is using inferior products they should ask to see the contractor’s licence, ask what brand the product is and whether it meets Australian Standards. If members of the public are still worried, they should contact the electrical regulator in their state or seek another electrical contractor to inspect the installation that is of concern.” The legal risks of buying products that don’t comply to Australian Electrical Safety Standards include severe financial penalties, potential criminal charges and possible loss of contractors’ electrical licence. A good tradesperson should themselves be checking their wholesale suppliers and looking for the tell-tale signs on shonky product, such as:

  • No certification marks;
  • Difficult-to-insert plugs into socket outlets;
  • Difficult-to-activate switches;
  • Breakages upon removal from packaging;
  • Poor installation advice with the product;
  • Damage when installing; or
  • Incorrect spelling of words on product, packaging or instructions

The lesser issues

Obviously the danger of harm or damage from device failure is the number one reason for avoiding non-compliant components. But there are also less extreme consequences, even for non-critical components. “An electrician might think – “well I can buy cheap products, and I might be responsible for replacements, and I’d have to pay to replace some of them myself. Is that much of a risk?,” says Clipsal’s Gary Busbridge. “But that’s not all they’d be risking. Customers lose faith in workmanship if an install keeps failing. Their reputation suffers – they might lose valued customers as a result. Who wants to be known as a cheap but unreliable electrician? And who would want to use one?”

Smart Home Ideas Magazine

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