IEC publishes revised standard on the safety of household appliances

Household appliances have developed into an immense industry. According to Statista, global sales of domestic appliances amounted to more than €200 billion in 2019. This is unsurprising given the many household appliances used each day.

The list of such appliances is long and includes both large white goods (refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers) and small appliances (toasters, hairdryers, irons) as well as unexpected items like vending machines or whirlpool baths. The market for such household appliances is expected to grow as new products become available and as developing and newly industrialized countries expand their middle class.

Regardless of the type or brand of household appliances, the expectation remains that products function properly and safely.

Since 1970, the IEC has published a series of standards to ensure the safety of household devices. Known as the 60335 series, it is comprised of two parts, with the first part consisting of the general safety requirements for all appliances while the second part addresses the requirements for specific device types.

As the number of these household appliances multiplies and their complexity increases, the IEC has regularly updated the general safety requirements: IEC 60335-1, Household and similar electrical appliances – Safety – Part I: General Requirements. It has now published the latest updates in its sixth edition of the standard.

This standard provides protection against many types of hazards such as electrical, mechanical, thermal, fire and radiation when appliances are used under normal conditions. It also considers how electromagnetic phenomena can affect the safe operation of appliances.

According to Randi Myers, the Project Leader who managed the updates to the latest edition of IEC 60335-1, “household appliance safety plays a big role for society considering the impact these products have on the day-to-day life of consumers and their dispersal across society”.

The updates to the latest addition of IEC 60335-1 reflect the changing nature of household devices. With the introduction of the digital environment into consumer goods, new safety requirements have been put in place that address cyber security and software management. New requirements for battery operated appliances have also been included as well as clarifications for protected extra-low voltage (PELV) circuits, moisture resistance testing and the mechanical strength for appliances with integral pins used in socket outlets.

Addressing a ‘smart’ environment

Connecting household appliances to the internet is a growing trend. Devices can be controlled remotely and even programmed to remember preferences and provide guidance. Despite the novelty and convenience of these new features that require a connection to the internet, they also generate new safety risks. As Myers notes, “Security, in particular security in transactions over the external public network and the web, are of a great concern”.

Myers highlights three areas of distinct risk: the impact on the control and management of appliances from remote location, the possible consequences on the malfunction or safety of appliances and cybersecurity related matters such as security in transactions, privacy and the treatment of personal data.

IEC 60335-1 has been updated to include cyber security requirements in order to avoid unauthorized access and mitigate the effects of transmission failures via remote communication through public networks.

Updating battery requirements

Household appliances are increasingly powered by batteries. To ensure the safety of these products and reduce fire hazards, IEC 60335-1 has been updated with new requirements for battery-operated appliances that are non-rechargeable as well as appliances that use lithium-ion batteries.

According to Myers, “Since batteries for appliances are submitted to different use patterns (such as rough use, high charging and discharging currents, wet or hot environments), their safety can be evaluated only by the additional requirements in the standard”.

Helping to navigate the regulatory environment

Governments put in place regulations to help protect consumers and it is the role of manufacturers to ensure compliance with these regulatory regimes. However, regulatory regimes vary between countries.

Some countries adhere to a pre-market intervention regulatory environment that puts in place rules before a product can be introduced in the market. Other countries adopt a performance-based regulatory approach that focuses on outcomes rather than prescriptive processes and procedures. Nevertheless, as Myers notes, IEC 60335-1 is suitable for both types of regulatory regimes. “In both cases, IEC 60335 standards are vital for the appliance industry to manage the risk associated with electricity and appliances”.

With the growing use of international safety standards around the world and the increased interest in certification, IEC 60335-1 helps manufacturers comply with government regulations.

Publication of a Commented version

Alongside the publication of IEC 60335-1, the IEC is also making available a Commented version of the standard.

The Commented version clearly identifies the differences between the previous version of the standard and the new version and also provides comments on each of the main technical changes. By doing so, the IEC seeks to provide the standards user with the rationale for each of the key changes.

IEC 60335-1 is one of the first IEC Standards to be offered as a Commented version (CMV).