Counterfeit electrical products create workplace hazards

September 1, 2009

Manufacturers and trade associations have devoted much attention to the effects of counterfeit electrical products on consumers. At the same time, individuals who work in manufacturing facilities should be mindful of the dire consequences of using inferior goods marketed deceptively under brand names of reputable companies. Such items known to be counterfeited include control relays, circuit breakers, receptacles, ground fault circuit interrupters and conduit fittings.
In many instances, counterfeit products appear to be genuine, but they are unable to meet minimum performance specifications. Manufacturers of counterfeit products often use inferior materials without regard for meeting published ratings or safety. These "knock-offs" consistently fail independent certification testing from organizations such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Instead, counterfeit product manufacturers rely on deception and prices that are below market level to find their way into our homes, businesses and electrical infrastructure.
Although counterfeit products may appear to be attractive because of lower pricing, they are unsafe copies. A counterfeit electrical device can lead to fires, shocks or explosions that can cost workers their lives and produce considerable property damage. The financial liability of such an incident will fall on those who participated in the supply and distribution of the counterfeit products.
If the safety hazards and financial liability posed by counterfeit products fail to attract your attention, the economic consequences should. They include layoffs due to unfair competition, reduced customs and sales tax revenues that result in greater financial burdens for businesses and individuals, and increased revenues for organized crime.
Worldwide, counterfeiting costs the electrical products industry $600 billion annually. In the United States, that figure is $200 billion to $250 billion. Because of the revenue "stolen" from lawful companies, counterfeiting reduces U.S. employment by 750,000 jobs each year, according to the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (www.iacc.org).
Last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that seizures of counterfeit electrical products increased 43% over 2007 levels, which indicates counterfeiting is a persistent problem. More than 80% of counterfeit products originate in China. They find their way to the United States, Canada and Western Europe, and have a strong presence in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
Trafficking counterfeit products is a federal offense that can result in up to $5 million in fines. Careful inspection of counterfeit products may sometimes reveal missing or poor-quality labels, out-of-date product codes and packaging, and stickers that a legitimate manufacturer does not use. Unfortunately, counterfeiters continue to refine their techniques and visual detection is becoming more difficult.
Despite the efforts of governments worldwide, many counterfeit electrical products are still entering the marketplace undetected. The counterfeit goods are then typically sold outside normal distribution channels by companies that do not have relationships with the manufacturers. Eaton recognizes this and is engaging other distribution channels to improve awareness of the growing problem of counterfeit electrical products.
Stopping the sale of counterfeit products is everyone’s responsibility – manufacturers, distributors, resellers (authorized and unauthorized) and customers alike. Being vigilant is the only way to prevent these unsafe counterfeit products from causing harm to people and property.
Preventing the spread of counterfeit electrical products is an issue of safety and economics. Whenever possible, I urge you to purchase electrical products from an authorized representative or distributor of the genuine manufacturer. One should always be able to following the chain of commerce to the original manufacturer to ensure a new, genuine product has been purchased.
You should also encourage your elected representatives in Washington to enact legislation and regulations that impose tougher penalties on counterfeiters.
The attention we devote as professionals, and as members of our communities, to slowing the proliferation of counterfeit products can help to ensure maximum electrical safety levels for ourselves, and for future generations.

Tom Grace
Manager, Anti-Counterfeiting Initiatives
Eaton Corporation
Exton, PA