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About a week ago, the popular YouTuber bigclivedotcom uploaded this video, in which he showed a "circuit breaker", which on the outside seems marked appropriately, but is entirely non-functional; meaning that in the event of an overload or short-circuit, electricity would still flow, leading to potentially damaged electrical equipment, electrical fires, injury or death.

Would it be legal to sell such a thing? What would the concequences be?


Note: I am primarily interested in answers regarding the EU and the UK.

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TLDR: it's illegal to BUY it. It's illegal to USE it. Know your suppliers.

That's certainly an interesting question, in light of how the market has changed in recent years, particularly due to Amazon/eBay, but even moreso due to Amazon Fulfillment and competitors.

Over on diy.se, this is a constant vexation, because we see people buy crud like this all the time, and they need help installing it. And we find it's illegal to install, not even safe, and needs to be sent back in lieu of listed product.

The advanced nations do have a highly effective apparatus for screening and blocking dangerous goods. However, these protections are geared toward bricks-and-mortar retail. Can you count on something bought at Wickes, Redoute or Home Depot? By and large, yes.

Is it legal to export it to you?

Yes, for all practical purposes. The people selling it are in an unreachable bastion in a foreign country that would not cooperate with their extradition, and would interfere with investigation. The government knows perfectly well that the stuff is complete crud, and doing so aligns with its national policies of raising hard currency and building industrial capacity, while harming the capacity of other nations.

Is it legal for the item to be listed on Amazon or eBay?

Amazon and eBay say "Yes". Their position is that they are merely a platform which connects buyers and sellers. They surely have excellent lawyers.

Amazon is more like eBay than you might realize. Amazon opened their retail site to third party sellers. Third parties can sign up as additional sellers of a particular SKU, or write their own product listings.

Since Amazon's behavior has been unchallenged, the answer seems to be "yes".

Is it legal for Amazon to bring it into their warehousing systems?

Amazon also opened their warehousing system to third party use. That can be for companies that don't sell on Amazon... or it can be for companies that do both Amazon and off-Amazon sales; in the latter case you order elsewhere but Amazon fulfills (ships) the item. When a company both sells the item on Amazon and it ships from an Amazon warehouse, it qualifies for "Prime" shipping where Amazon offers that.

Amazon also offers "Commingling" for established SKUs. The idea is that if you have widgets in the Madrid warehouse, and I have widgets in a Warsaw warehouse... and a Madrid customer buys mine - why not ship them yours since they are all the same? I get credit for the sale and Amazon "owes you one". When you get a sale in Madrid, Amazon has one in Barcelona so they ship that one to your customer.

Commingling is great, but what happens when I inject a pallet full of those SKUs - and they're counterfeits? Amazon doesn't know the difference, and your Warsaw customer gets my counterfeit. So do Amazon's Berlin and Wroclaw customers. Amazon ships them around the network to balance the warehouses, and now my counterfeit has contaminated the supply. I'm sitting in China. Whatcha gonna do about it?

Again, Amazon has top lawyers, who have surely done their diligence. Still, the program is ambitious, and e-commerce giants break the law all the time with their ambitions.

In the US, there's the "Express Shipment" rule, which allows small orders ($800 or less) with no duty and an informal entry process. So they ship to Mexican warehouses, and then bring the items over by the truckload. Wait, how can a truckload be less than $800? Because they don't bring it over until there's an end-user customer order, and they argue "these are for individual customers". This qualifies them to breeze through customs, bypassing the quality and safety controls that prevent Home Depot from doing the exact same thing with a truckload that hasn't found customers yet.

Is it legal for you (as the end consumer) to import it?

No. The rules for Conformité Européenne are that the importer is responsible. When you as an end customer buy mail-order from China, you are the importer.

Under EU law, if you bring a CE-marked item into the EU, you are responsible for meeting the CE design standards, and doing in-house lab testing to affirm the performance of the product. By having the CE mark on the thing you imported, you are attesting to having done that.

Further, the various nations may require that a certified independent testing lab verify your testing and claims. This was historically done by national testing labs like BSI, TUV, CSA or UL. However by treaty they are largely cross-recognized: US OSHA keeps a canonical list of "Nationally (by USA) Recognized Testing Labs" (NRTLs) that every other agency and many other countries defer to.

Big Clive is probably fine, since Clive's purpose is public ridicule, not usage.

Is it legal for you to install it in your house?

Oh, heck no.

Every nation has rules as to what certifications equipment must meet to legally be installed in a building's electrical system. For instance North America's El NEC, widely adopted or copied, has 110.2:

110.2 Approval. The conductors [wires] and equipment required or permitted by this Code shall be acceptable only if approved.

"Approved" means by competent testing labs; i.e. OSHA's list of NRTLs. So no, you can't install non-approved equipment in any jurisdiction with a similar rule (and you pretty much need such a rule for inspections to have any teeth).

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  • When you say it's illegal to install them, do you mean that there are some requirements, and these switches can't satisfy those requirements, so installing them instead of something that satisfies the requirements is illegal, or is it literally illegal to include them in an installation? – Acccumulation Feb 10 at 5:51
  • @Acccumulation Both, a European installation requires a bona-fide CE mark, North America requires a UL mark or other NRTL. Now that I look closer, it simply has a CCC mark. (Normally they fake the CE mark). CCC is a garbage mark. So it blatantly, honestly does not meet EU/NA requirements, and because of that it's illegal to install. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 10 at 7:07
  • How can it be illegal for me as the consumer to import them? After all, I acted in good faith and bought what I believe to be a proper circuit breaker. – MechMK1 Feb 10 at 10:41
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    @MechMK1 Ignorance of the law is never an excuse, but especially when you DIY things in the professional realm, it's all on you to know the law and regs. They plainly say which equipment can be used. That unit is plainly labeled and the necessary cert label is missing. It's marked CCC which is useless anywhere but China. Further, it's your job to know that overseas/Amazon mail order is full of fakes, so even if they had faked the correct marks, that's still on you for being careless with supply chain. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 11 at 2:22
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    I'm not sure that the illegal to import conclusion follows. Clearly it is a violation of a building code to install. But when imported it is not a defective circuit breaker, it is just an electrical junction box that happens to look like one. I'm not sure that absent an established intent to violate building codes that it is per se illegal to import. Also @MechMK1 the question presupposes as I read it, a lack of a good faith belief that it is proper circuit breaker. This isn't a fraud case, it's a building code evasion case. If there is fraud, it might be illegal to sell to a known EU market. – ohwilleke Feb 24 at 9:13
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Yes, they’re called “switches”

Or, more formally a disconnector - you can see some from the range of this purported circuit breaker starting on p 15 of this.

Disconnectors have their application when circuit protection is provided by other means - fuses for example. The video does say this was associated with a generator and that’s an application where slower acting devices like fuses might be desirable.

However, marketing a switch as a circuit breaker is illegal

And dangerous.

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If you sell something that isn't a circuit breaker and claim that it is a circuit breaker, then at the very least that's covered by fraud statutes, if not more specific laws. One could face even more serious consequences, though. After all, the whole point of circuit breaker is to keep Bad Things from happening. If your fraud results in those Bad Things happenings, you could face legal charges for causing those Bad Things. In the worst case, if someone dies as a result of you claiming that it is a circuit breaker, you could conceivably be charged with with murder. Probably not first degree murder, but manslaughter or even second degree murder.

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