Melting moments: Officeworks USB charger.
Melting moments: Officeworks USB charger.

Officeworks has recalled an Insystem-branded USB charger that can become so hot the plastic casing could melt, while it is connected to a power outlet, leading to an electric shock, fire and/or serious injury. It is understood around 3,400 units of these chargers were sold prior to this recall.

The USB charger has the packaging code BR094780 and the model number MS10071223. It was sold at Officeworks stores nationally between 19 July 2013 and 2 August 2014.

UPDATE: Although the Product Recalls website lists Officeworks as the supplier of this product, Officeworks has contacted Appliance Retailer to say that this product was actually supplied to its by a third party, Australian-based sourcing agent.

Insystem is a brand that is used on various products sold in Officeworks, including DAB+ radio receivers, headphones, cases, mousepads and speaker docks. It is an Officeworks-exclusive private label brand, which is supplied to Officeworks by Ingram Micro.

“In some instances the USB charger can overheat which can cause the casing to melt allowing access to live circuits,” the ACCC said. “The defect could result in electrical shock, fire or serious injury.”

Affected consumers are advised to return the product to any Officeworks store for a full refund.

“The safety of Officeworks’ products is our absolute priority. As such, we have voluntarily elected to recall one line of USB wall chargers (model MS10071223),” Officeworks said in a statement. “We are currently conducting further testing, however, on a precautionary basis, we recommend customers return the model in question to their local stores for a full refund.  Customers with any concerns can contact 1300 OFFICE (633 423).”

The regulation regarding USB ports and battery chargers has been in the spotlight since late June 2014, when a Sydney woman died after being electrocuted by a poorly manufactured ‘knock-off’ charger. Later that week, a trader in Campsie was found to be selling USB chargers believed to be “unapproved and non-compliant’. This individual faces a fine of up to $87,500 and/or 2 years jail, according to a Sydney Morning Herald report.

The following was included in the original story, in response to the Product Recalls site listing Officeworks as the supplier:

Suppliers have been complaining both publicly and privately about the practice of retailers opening offices in southeast Asia to manage the sourcing of their range of products. Retailers have always been known to have home or white label brand, but these have traditionally been supplied by a third party on their behalf. In an effort to cut out the middleman and claim more profit for itself, retailers have increasingly been doing their own heavy lifting. This has led to a spate of electrical recalls by retailers, with the mass merchants such as Woolworths, Coles, Kmart and Big W the worst offenders.

Twelve months ago, in an interview to mark his decision to sell GAF Control, a company specialising in sourcing home brand appliances for retailers, Stuart Foley blamed retailers for a downturn in the industry:

“Around 25 years ago, when retailers decided that they wanted to have inexpensive appliances in their range, we were there to offer it to them,” Foley said.

The move by GAF’s traditional retail customers to source their own trade brands out of China directly has been a big challenge for the company, Foley said.

“The biggest change has been major retailers trying to be importers and every other thing rather than being retailers and getting it all wrong.”

These mistakes included underestimating how difficult it is to set up an importing business and overseeing product engineering; producing appliances to meet Australian standards and ensuring a product delivered from a factory is the same as the product originally ordered.

Foley cited the poor product recalls record of the major retailers as evidence of this.

“Retailers thought importing directly would save another margin and would result in them having bigger profit margins but it’s caused them a lot of angst,” he said.

It must be noted, however, that even professional sourcing agencies are not without blemishes. GAF Control has had four recalls in the last 14 years, its last in 2009, when a blender was found to pose a broken glass risk to users.

What are your thoughts? Is the move to retailers sourcing their own products directly related to more product recalls and margin erosion? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or contact the editor in confidence.

This author is on Twitter: @Patrickavenell