CAN YOU TRUST A LETTER OF AUTHORITY?
A number of electrical products used by consumers and installed in buildings for use by occupants are subject to compulsory specifications in order to protect people. “These requirements also have the effect of protecting assets,” says Pierre Nothard, chairman of The South African SAFEhouse Association. “The Letter of Authority (LOA), issued in good faith by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) on the strength of a product’s test report by an accredited laboratory, is usually produced by distributors as proof of compliance with regulations and their safety requirements,” he explains. However, Nothard warns that, for one or more of the following reasons, and possibly others, this is not always the case:
- Unscrupulous manufacturers and distributors submit specially-prepared, ‘golden samples’, solely for the purpose of obtaining the LOA.
- Manufacturers’ quality-control processes may be, or may become, deficient.
- Changes in a product’s internal design, or materials and components used, may render it non-compliant, whilst its appearance remains the same and compatible with its description on the LOA.
- Errors and oversights by the testing laboratory, whose report is the basis for the LOA.
- Fraudulent test reports and Letters of Authority produced by unscrupulous suppliers. “This reality and, amongst other reasons, the regulator’s inability to conduct effective surveillance of the market to monitor compliance, results in the proliferation of sub-standard electrical products,” says Nothard.
What can end-users do?
- Buy known and trusted brands.
- Buy from reputable suppliers and outlets.
- Beware of copies of prominent brands.
- Be suspicious of prices substantially lower than other, similar products or services on offer.
- Try to make contact with the seller’s supplier and judge responses critically.
- Be suspicious of lack of information on or with the product packaging and on the product itself. Specifications require certain minimum markings and packaging should describe the electrical capacities and the correct application of the product. Look out for contradictions between data provided, for example, different voltage ratings for the same product.
- If the purchase is substantial enough, ask the supplier for references to other users and contact them.
- When dealing with an electrical contractor, ask about membership of the ECA(SA) (Electrical Contractors’ Association of South Africa) and/or call the ECA(SA) in your region to check credentials.
- Be wary of suspect installations or of Certificates of Compliance (CoCs) that are issued too easily.
- Ask the supplier to prove compliance with regulations and NRCS approval.
- Look for certification marks such as SABS, VDE and UL.
- Beware of fraudulent use of well-known marks, such as the SABS mark.
- A CE mark in its own is not proof of conformity or of independent testing – be careful.
- Report any electrical product failure to the dealer, manufacturer, the NRCS and, if applicable, the National Consumer Commission.
- If in doubt, check with the SAFEhouse Association for possible information it may have to help you.
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