Imagine you’ve built a new home or done renovations for your family over the past two years. You endured all the disruption, the drama, the mess and the financial stress. Now you’re enjoying your new space in the knowledge that’s all behind you . . .
Imagine you’ve worked hard in your electrical supply business to manage costs by sourcing electrical cable that enables you to sell it at a competitive price . . .
Imagine your time as a sparky is in constant demand from home owners and your builder contractors. You’ve done loads of jobs over the past two years and are still as busy as ever . . .
But now you’ve heard there is a recall of electrical cable THAT HAS BEEN INSTALLED in homes from 2010 to 2013!
The Infinity Cable Co imported and supplied substandard cables to hardware retailers, electrical wholesalers, builders and electricians across Australia between 2010 and 2013.
Used for wiring houses, offices and other buildings, Infinity cables have been revealed as having a substandard insulating plastic. The cables currently present a low safety risk, but are likely to have a substantially reduced service life and the risk will increase over coming years.
Over time the PVC plastic is likely to deteriorate and become brittle, exposing live wires. Reels of the cable were recalled in 2013.
On 27 August 2014 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announced a national recall program to deal with the cable that’s been installed.
How did this happen?
Cheaper raw material?
Local retailers and trade suppliers are under pressure to provide well-priced product in a competitive market.
Manufacturers and importers look for ways to reduce their price and manage their bottom line.
A media report on the Infinity cables in October 2013 claimed ‘It is understood the manufacturer left out thermal polymers in its formula. It is this ingredient that gives the plastic coating durability over time. It is also the most expensive element in the formula.’
The ACCC does not give a reason for the cable fault, but use of cheaper material seems a likely cause.
The ACCC’s website states that substandard PVC plastic was found in the cables’ insulation when tests were run in 2013. It says the product had initially been supported by accredited testing certification.
Generally speaking manufacturers, or in the case of imported product, importers are responsible for the safety of all products they supply.
If the Infinity Cable company as importer held accredited testing certification for its cables, then this would have provided some assurance for its trade customers.
Australian importers need to check for initial compliance with product specifications, but also need to understand how to ensure ongoing quality for the life of the product’s supply.
These days supply chains are complex systems of wholesalers, manufacturers, raw material suppliers and chemical suppliers, potentially all advised by testers and product consultants.
Importers need to manage quality and safety compliance with their suppliers overseas. Importers may deal direct with the factory or through overseas vendors.
The Infinity Cable company does not appear to have monitored compliance and quality with its cables.
The ACCC argues this case demonstrates the need for good quality assurance practice. In the ACCC’s 27 August media release, Chairman Rod Sims says
‘This recall serves as a reminder that companies sourcing or accepting products from less expensive overseas suppliers must have quality assurance processes in place to ensure the safety of consumers.
Consumers usually know that the better the bargain the more wary they need to be; consumers would expect companies selling such goods to be wary on their behalf.’
Wider industry role
The local industry operates the Australian Cablemakers Association and runs the ‘Approved Cables Initiative’. The Initiative was set up in 2013 and appears to be modelled on a similar program in the UK.
According to the ACA website, the Infinity Cable problems were identified through the Approved Cables Initiative. The website adds that once the problem was identified, the ACA alerted government electrical authorities.
The ACCC’s FAQs on Infinity cables states that the product had initially been supported by accredited testing certification.
The FAQs further note that state government electrical authorities apply a risk-based approach to pre-market testing. I take this to mean that not every shipment of a product is tested by the authorities.
Responsibility for compliance has been placed on suppliers under state legislation. Electricity authorities educate companies on the importance of supplying safe, compliant product and they enforce the legislation.
The state and federal regulators measure the acceptability of products against specific mandatory standards, asking Does the product comply with the standard? They also ask Is the product safe? Is it fit for purpose? Does it meet reasonable expectations on performance? Does it actually do what is claimed for it?
Managing the risks
Risk management principles state that it’s important to evaluate and understand the external context of any organisation. The external context includes regulatory, economic and social environments.
So, it might be a price-competitive market, but supplying cheaper product needs to be considered against the potential cost to the community.
Risk is analysed in terms of consequences and likelihood. Consequences can be a product causing injuries and property damage. Likelihood is the chance of that happening.
Risk management for supplying electrical cables
For electrical cable, the quality of the insulation material that covers the wiring is critical. A simple analysis shows numerous risks in supplying electrical cable.
1. The consequence of exposed live wiring is readily acknowledged as electrocution and causing fire. The likelihood of that happening increases if the material used is not capable of insulating the wires.
2. The consequence of selling unsafe cable over time is it being installed into buildings and not easily retrieved. The likelihood of that happening increases if raw materials and production are not monitored for quality and compliance.
3. The consequence of supplying substandard electric cable can be business failure. The likelihood of that happening increases with inadequate quality and compliance management.
All business involves risks and all businesses need to manage the risks. It’s not an option.
And it’s not just business, but all players in the supply chain and the community who need to play a part.
Preventing recurrences of this problem requires everyone to be alert to the risks. We can’t afford to be complacent.
See also my blog Infinity cable – A Shock to the System
Chinese imported electrical cable could cause fires and electrocution Courier Mail, 11 October 2013  National Infinity electrical cable safety recall https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/national-infinity-electrical-cable-safety-recall AS/NZS ISO 3100:2009 Risk management – Principles and guidelines