A new and dramatic saga is about to unfold in Australian product safety history.
In August 2013 the Infinity Cable Company recalled electrical cable which had been widely sold across Australia.
But this recall was only the start of the story. The next chapters will reveal a big and messy problem that will affect thousands of Australian homes and businesses for years to come.
From 2010 to 2013 the Infinity Cable Co imported and supplied substandard cables to hardware retailers, electrical wholesalers, builders and electricians.
Used for wiring houses, offices and other buildings, Infinity cables were revealed as having a substandard plastic sheathing and insulating compound which could lead to a reduction in the cables’ insulation integrity.
Specifically ‘TPS’ cable and ‘Orange Round’ cable are of concern. They were sold in the A.C.T and all states except Tasmania. Some Infinity cable was also sold with the brand name Olsent.
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.
There are two potential hazards
- exposed wiring causing fires
- severe electric shock to anyone touching the wires
While existing reels of Infinity cable were recalled in August 2013, the big problem lies in cable that’s already been installed!
The Problems – Where to start . . . ?
The faulty cable has been installed into buildings. That is, it will be inside the walls, roofs and floors of homes, offices, shops and community buildings across Australia.
Any building that has been built, extended or even had minor electrical repairs could contain the faulty cable.
Although labelled, the cable is hidden inside wall cavities, under floors and so on. To work out if a building has the Infinity cable, you need to see the cable itself. You need to have access to the cable – but it’s probably inside a wall or somewhere else that’s not normally accessible.
So, the faulty cable is very difficult to identify because it is hidden from view.
This means it will also be expensive to access, to assess and then replace cable that’s been installed.
Electrical tradespeople and others who used the cable may not have a record of purchase or where they have used the cable.
People may need to conduct expensive investigations such as cutting into walls to access and assess their wiring.
In this regard, there are some parallels with the current Mr Fluffy home insulation disaster. Homes in the A.C.T and NSW were supplied blow-in insulation containing asbestos. The insulation material is now found beyond the roof space, having fallen down wall cavities over time.
Who will fix it?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the importer – Infinity Cable Co – has gone into liquidation.
A major retailer from late 2012 to August 2013 was Masters Home Improvement stores. Masters has a statement on its website, saying that anyone who purchased the Infinity cable from its stores and is concerned about the hazard can request an assessment and Masters will send out a qualified assessor.
Today a new recall notice has been placed on the Product Recalls Australia website, advising the list of suppliers by year and state.
State and federal governments are also exploring the best remedy and have set up a taskforce.
Since the recall, key government authorities have formed a taskforce to work out ways to tackle the situation with installed Infinity cable.
The ACCC has formed the Infinity Cable Taskforce to develop and implement a national response for thousands of consumers with potentially unsafe electrical wiring. 
The taskforce consists of officials from electrical safety regulators, building regulators and consumer affairs agencies from across Australia, chaired by the ACCC.
The taskforce has been consulting associations representing electrical contractors and builders, relevant experts and the remaining suppliers of the cable.
As well as safety, the government taskforce has been considering the consumer protection and supplier obligation issues. This will be addressed in its forthcoming announcements.
The taskforce has now provided guidance to help building owners, residents and tradespeople understand their own situation.
The taskforce made its first announcement today.
The only good things . . .
The only helpful aspects of the Infinity cable story is that the risk of injury and property damage is not imminent and there is time to plan the response.
The hazards will develop over time. But action is needed now if there’s any chance of managing the risks.
Forewarned can be forearmed. The challenge will be in getting the message out and finding the most cost-effective ways to fix everything.
For more details see my second blog Infinity cable – Future Shock!
 Asbestos: The Mr Fluffy fiasco, ABC Radio National, 10 August 2014
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ‘ACCCount’ activity report April-June 2014