For parents and caregivers of young children, one of the many everyday risks in our homes is potential burn and shock hazards associated with household appliances.
Each year, Health Canada gathers consumer product incident reports and classifies them according to product type. Consistently, the category, “kitchen appliances,” shows the highest number of reported incidents, amounting to more than double compared to any other category.
Of course, child-proofing a home helps to reduce the likelihood of these risks, but what else is being done to keep families safe? Is it possible to reduce incidents through improvements to the design of these appliances? The answer is yes.
The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has established a set of standards, referred to as the 60335 series, which aim to guarantee the safety of household appliances. This series is divided into two parts: the first part outlines general safety requirements that apply to all appliances, while the second part specifies requirements for particular device types. By adhering to these standards, household appliances can safeguard against a variety of hazards, including electrical, mechanical, thermal, fire, and radiation risks, under normal operating conditions. Additionally, these standards take into account the potential impact of electromagnetic phenomena on the safe functioning of appliances.
IEC Technical Committee 61
An international technical committee, known as IEC Technical Committee 61 (TC 61), is working hard to help further current safety standards for household appliances. Specifically, the IEC TC 61 has been assigned the following task:
To prepare safety requirements for electrical appliances primarily for household purposes, but also for other equipment and appliances in similar fields where there is no IEC Technical Committee in existence.1
Although TC 61’s scope covers the safety of all electrical appliances and is intended to protect more than just children, and more than just hazards around the home, in recent years, an increased focus has been devoted to the safety of children, specifically with respect to burn and shock hazards. TC 61 has assigned this task to a subgroup called MT 4. The mandate of this subgroup of TC 61 is to address, “temperature limits, resistance to heat and fire, use of test probes and presence of children,” within the safety standards for all electrical appliances.
Fulfilling this mandate within MT 4 has been challenging. Each product type presents a different type of hazard and consequently needs to be examined one product at a time. We also must consider that there needs to be a balance: as a rather obvious example, if we limit the surface temperature of a cooktop’s functional surface to a level that is safe to touch, the food being prepared may not be cooked appropriately. However, the surface temperature on the face of an oven door can be limited to a reasonable level while maintaining the performance of the oven. When young children are learning to walk, and using anything they can to hold themselves up, the surface of an oven door becomes a hazard, resulting in burns to hands and faces.2
In determining to what level such temperature rises should be limited, several factors are considered. For example:
- What is the surface made of? Some materials conduct better than others; and this conductivity has an impact on the damage that a high temperature can do to the skin. Consequently, a surface made of bare metal should be permitted a lower temperature rise than one made of plastic.
- Who may come into contact with the surface? At what height will the surface be when the appliance is properly installed or placed?
- The skin of very young children is more sensitive than that of an adult. Children also have a slower reaction time when they experience a high temperature.
Similar approaches are taken for protecting children from shock hazards. The openings of an appliance’s enclosure can allow for the entry of those little fingers, so probes that represent a child’s finger/hand have been introduced into electrical appliance standards to confirm that the risk of electric shock to children is obviated.
When electrical appliance safety standards are published by TC 61, many of them are adopted in Canada as National Standards of Canada, within Canada’s National Standards System, which is overseen by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). TC 61’s standards are also adopted using similar processes in many of the world’s regions and countries. The work of MT 4, under the direction of TC 61, and together with manufacturers, will similarly contribute to impacting the safety of children all over our planet.
We are making leaps and bounds within MT 4 and TC 61 on the safety of electrical appliances when it comes to the presence of children, which will provide better peace of mind for families and caregivers. However, one critical point remains – we are helping manufacturers to mitigate risk, not eliminate it. Proper supervision is still essential and always will be. The ongoing improvements, however, to the safety standards for electrical appliances are reducing the likelihood of threats to children and improving the outlook for safety in our homes.
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