Taking Action Against Counterfeits

Ensuring a workplace follows proper electrical safety guidelines is important for creating and maintaining a safe work environment in any facility. Whether you're a human resources professional working in an office, a forklift driver in a warehouse or a mechanic in a garage, the electrical wiring and devices in the facility you work in and the technology you use all pose potential safety risks.

We take for granted the safety of the electric power in our homes, offices and facilities. Electrical manufacturers have worked for over 100 years to provide the safest, most reliable and energy efficient solutions for our ever-increasing power demands. Unfortunately, counterfeit electrical products are also finding their way into our lives, compromising the safety that we have come to expect and rely upon.

A counterfeit electrical product can pose tremendous safety hazards to work facilities and employees, including malfunctions that can cause overheating or short circuits, leading to fires, shocks or explosions, and even death. Counterfeit electrical products, many of which are intended to serve as protective devices, are unsafe lookalikes. These dangerous mimics, including circuit breakers, extension cords and surge protectors, often lack independent testing and may not even meet minimal performance specifications.

Relying on deception, counterfeit manufacturers use the internet and attractive pricing to find their way into the workplace. In most cases, a counterfeit product is a nearly indistinguishable cosmetic copy of the original. This makes detecting the difference between a counterfeit and an authentic product difficult, especially as counterfeiters become more sophisticated.

The potential failure of a counterfeit electrical product can result in significant property damage, including fires. According to the latest data available by the National Fire Protection Association, in 2011, an estimated 16,400 non-home structure fires reported to U.S. fire departments involved some type of electrical failure or malfunction as a factor contributing to ignition. These fires resulted in 13 civilian deaths, 243 civilian injuries, and $501 million in direct property damage.

It is important for all professionals to understand the prevalence and dangers of counterfeit electrical products and how to avoid and identify them.

How to Avoid and Identify Counterfeits in the Workplace
As a professional working in an electrical environment, you can help ensure that counterfeit electrical products are not utilized in the facility. The following tips can be followed to identify and avoid counterfeit products and prevent them from entering facilities:

1. Buy authentic. The best way to avoid counterfeit electrical products is to purchase products from the manufacturer's authorized distributors or resellers. A procurement policy or procedure can reinforce this and help mitigate the risk of counterfeit products by ensuring only authorized resellers are used. There is a higher risk of procuring a counterfeit if one cannot trace the path of commerce to the original manufacturer.

2. Verify authenticity. To confirm authenticity, check for testing certification labels from organizations such as Underwriter's Laboratory® (UL). If the certification mark is present only on the packaging, but not the product, there is a good chance the product is fake. Some manufacturers and testing organizations have online product registries where you can look up a particular product to verify the certification. For example, Eaton's Circuit Breaker Authentication (CBA) tool allows customers to detect if Eaton circuit breakers are authentic. To access the tool, visit www.eaton.com/counterfeit.

3. Scrutinize labels and packaging. While identifying a counterfeit product is difficult at first glance, scrutinizing labels and packaging can often help determine if the product is suspect of counterfeiting. It is important to reject lookalike products that lack branding or affiliation. If a product appears to be tampered, altered, or has missing information, this indicates that the product may not be genuine. Professionals should also be wary of poor-quality labels, out-of-date product codes, non-genuine packaging, and products that seem flimsy or are noticeably poorly made. If a contractor is purchasing electrical products on your behalf, they should be able to provide documentation that the products were purchased from an authorized reseller with full factory warranty.

4. Question bargains. In addition, professionals should also be cautious of "bargains" when purchasing electrical products. It helps to compare the price of products to similar products at a different retailer. If the price seems too good to be true, the odds are it is.

5. When in doubt. Contact the original manufacturer of the product for assistance. If a product is suspected to be counterfeit, it is recommended to contact the brand owner. This will allow authentication of the suspect product and ensure that the potentially unsafe device is removed from the marketplace.

Stopping the sale of counterfeit products is everyone's responsibility. It is crucial to work together to prevent these unsafe counterfeit products from causing harm to people and property. For more information and additional tips for avoiding counterfeit electrical products, visit www.eaton.com/counterfeit.

Tom Grace is a brand protection manager for Eaton's Electrical Sector – Americas.

Posted by Tom Grace on Sep 26, 2014