Risk of electrocution from unsafe Spanish sockets
THERE ARE a number of specific national practices, habits and traditions associated with electrical wiring in Spain that significantly differ from the UK. These include ring mains, fused plugs and socket outlets.
Ring mains are a wiring technique primarily adopted in the UK and used to a lesser degree in the Republic of Ireland. The only other European country which uses ring mains is Cyprus. The concept has been criticized in a number of ways, these include; fault conditions that are not apparent when in use, complexity of safety tests, balancing requirement, electromagnetic interference, and adequate protection from over-current protection. That’s all highly technical stuff, but these disadvantages could explain the lack of widespread adoption outside the UK.
In Spain, sockets are wired in a Christmas tree type circuit with circuit breaker protection provided according to the maximum current rating of the cable used. High powered appliances such as washing machines, dish washers and electric ovens are wired separately. Electrical appliances purchased in the UK will work perfectly well with the Spanish system, though the plugs are different.
The “Schuko” 16 Amp type F has been the adopted standard socket and plug used throughout Spain since 2002. Subsequently, there are several types of obsolete dangerous sockets still in existence in Spanish homes used on a daily basis that are unsafe because they do not provide earth protection. This increases the risk of an electric shock. Older properties can have as many as four different types of obsolete sockets.
A Schuko plug features two round pins for the live and neutral contacts, plus two flat contact areas on the top and bottom side of the plug for the protective earth. Schuko sockets form a cavity into which the plug is inserted. They can be mated in two ways, therefore live and neutral can arrive on either pin at the appliance making them unpolarized (a bad feature for an otherwise good design). If there is a need to be sure which side is live, the socket’s polarity must be tested.
As with most types of European sockets, Schuko can also accept the 2-pin Europlug. When inserted into the socket, the Schuko plug covers the socket cavity (1) and establishes protective-earth connection through the earth clips (2) before the line and neutral pins (3) establish contact, thereby preventing users from touching connected pins. A pair of non-conductive guiding notches (4) on the left and right side provides extra stability, enabling the safe use of large and heavy plugs (e.g. those with built-in transformers or timers).