Many Christmas tree lights could cause serious injury or death, according to secret tests revealed today.
A random check by the European Commission revealed that 30 per cent of lighting sets were so poorly constructed they could cause an electric shock or start a fire. Many of the lights failed several of 20 different rules on wiring, insulation, plugs and other issues. Half of the lights tested were made in China.
Five countries carried out the checks for Brussels – Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia – but the Commission said the same faults were likely to be found across Europe, including in Britain.
The EU urged consumers to buy lights from reputable dealers, take them back if any problem emerged and to switch them off before leaving home or going to sleep. A minority of fires in the home are caused by faulty wiring and other electrical problems and one-tenth of fires happen in the run-up to Christmas.
In 2002, 350 people needed hospital treatment after falling down while putting up Christmas lights or from receiving electric shocks or burns from faulty lights.
According to the EU, "serious non-compliance" problems raising the risk of electric shock, fire or both were found in 30.4 per cent of lights checked.
Generally, serious non-compliance problems meant failing technical safety requirements on plugs, cords, wiring, insulation and protection against electric shock. In a quarter of lights, cords were not anchored firmly, risking wiring coming loose with a high risk of electric shock. In 23 per cent of lighting sets, the wiring was too thin for the electric currents, increasing the risk of overheating and fire, and 19 per cent of lights were so poorly insulated that they failed the tests for protection against electric shock.
Less serious problems were found in a further 40 per cent of sets, meaning there were problems with 70 per cent of all lights tested.
The EU advised customers that, unsurprisingly, the cheapest lights tended to be the riskiest.
The electrical industry's professional body, NICEIC, urged people not to try to "keep up with the Joneses" by bedecking their homes with thousands of lights. "We all like a spot of Christmas spirit but every year the odd few get too carried away with festive lighting, putting the household's safety in jeopardy," said Tony Cable, NICEIC's electrical expert. "Too many lights and decorations are not a good idea so try to limit the amount of plugs per socket and when you turn the lights off, make sure you also switch them off at the plug."
NICEIC said low-voltage lights with LEDs were safer than filament bulbs.
Of all Christmas lighting sets are so badly made they could cause a fire.