DUBAI // Safety inspectors have begun to remove toasters and other household appliances from shop shelves because they use two-prong plugs that government officials have declared unsafe for use with the UAE's three-pin sockets.
The ban on the import of two-pin plugs was expected to start next year, but government officials have already begun to inspect retailers and remove items.
"What they [the Government] are trying to do is prepare for the deadline," said Omar Abushaban, the general manager of Plug-Ins Electronix. "They have not started to fine people yet because the hard deadline is 2012, but they are forcing us to pull a product off when they see it."
Stores have had some empty shelves in the past two days after compliance officers asked them to stop selling items with two-pin plugs. Mr Abushaban said shops, in turn, have been contacting suppliers to switch products.
Mr Abushaban said 95 per cent of the products that violated the rules were small household appliances such as toasters, sandwich makers and blenders.
"Effectively ... we are at the mercy of the people that come into the store to give us feedback and we go on that," Mr Abushaban said.
"If it is not compliant, we have had to pull it off the shelves. The local distributors are the people responsible for ensuring the products are compliant, but the authorities inspect the retailers."
He said that in the short term, the inspections had made for a lot of unplanned turnover.
"It may cost us in the short term but beyond that there are not bigger implications, and if it's deemed safer then there's no reason to challenge that," he added.
The Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (Esma) has told traders and manufacturers that all plugs for electrical appliances below 13 amps must be the standard three-pin models.
The move will force the adoption of the British-style three-pin UAE/BS 1363-5 standard for all home and office appliances.
Esma is making the change because of the threat of fire while using the two-prong plugs, and to have better standardisation across the country.
No one from Esma was available for comment yesterday.
Consumers said they were glad that the inconvenience of using the wrong plugs would soon be resolved.
Amanda Kane, of Australia, said most of her appliances had two prongs, and only one came to mind that had three prongs.
"I think my hairdryer is the only thing I have like that," she said.
Nabeel Khan, from the UK, said he had not known that using two-pin plugs could be dangerous.
"I see so many people using pens and screwdrivers to push in the plugs that I thought it was normal," he said.
Retailers have largely welcomed the push to phase out two-pin plugs.
V Nandakumer, a spokesman for the LuLu supermarket chain, said: "Naturally, we cannot be selling goods that do not comply with the regulations. So if 2012 has been set as the date then we will be compliant. I guess the [distributors] are already working on meeting the deadlines."
Jamal Maraqa, the managing director of Pro Technology, a computer and electronics retailer and distributor, said many manufacturers and shops had not seen the use of the correct plugs as a priority.
"Most of the world uses two-pin plugs, so manufacturers and retailers haven't really paid attention to the requirement of three-pin plugs in the UAE," he said.
The company will now inform its suppliers that it will not accept two-pin plugs for appliances.
However, online grey market shops are likely to lose out more than walk-in shops.
"If we have to provide the right plug or converter, that's something we will have to include in our costs," said Julien Pascual, the chief executive and founder of EmiratesAvenue.com.
"We are based on volume so we will buy converters in bulk so it should not cost much. If we cannot import two pins, it will be very problematic."
Neil Wallington, a former British chief fire officer and editor of Fire Middle East Magazine, said people who forced two-prong plugs into three-pin sockets risked electrocution and fire.
"If somebody is using a metal screwdriver, for example, to push down on the connection, it's very easy to pass through and touch an internal contact accidentally and get electrocuted," Mr Wallington said.
He said he had seen many cases of fires starting because people used the wrong plugs in the wrong sockets.