Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Just a Friendly Safety Warning

Teakettles on the blech on Shabbos have been replaced in many--most?--homes by the ubiquitous hot water urn. We are coffee and tea drinkers and I wanted the urn for the convenience of lots of hot water without 3 kettles on the blech. My kids bought us our first one as a gift. I unwrapped it, plugged it in, it worked and I didn't think about it further.

From being convenient on Shabbos that huge urn became convenient all week long. No waiting for the water to boil, and no shortage of hot water when everyone suddenly got thirsty. I am not unique in using the urn all week long.

Nothing seems to last for ever, and our first urn decided to die most inconveniently before a yom tov. Since I work in Flatbush I went in early and dropped into one of the big household appliance stores on Coney Island Avenue. In five minutes I had the new urn and was on my way to work.

It occurred to me that for a yom tov or when company was expected that a second urn would be a big convenience. I went back the next week to get another one. This time I was not in a hurry and I browsed around the urn display, debating between the various sizes and patterns on the urns. A salesperson came up and asked if he could help me. Don't ask me why, but I asked him where the UL mark was on the urns. This is the Underwriters Laboratory seal of approval. It means the item has been tested and approved for household electrical use. I just assumed the mark had to be on the packaging somewhere. This is one area where our government actually is doing something good for us. He knew what the mark was and then told me that the urns carried in the store are imported for the most part and do not have a UL seal. I was dumbfounded.

I asked if he knew of any store that sold shabbos urns with a UL seal. He mentioned one store in Borough Park. I called my husband and told him what size I needed and to please pick up the urn for me. He came home rather disgruntled. The size I wanted in Flatbush without the certification was $24.99. In Borough Park, with the certification, the urn was $61.00.

The urns without the UL seal are the ones seen all over--usually white with flowers on them. Just why is it that frum Jews should have to settle for products without a certification that the products are safe for household use? Taking the manufacturer's or store owner's word for the safety of the item is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house.

Okay, so a little activism really is necessary. Tell the store owners that you want only a UL product. The price will come down when more of them are sold. Why take a chance with your safety. No, the UL urn sold in Boro Park does not have pretty flowers on it. I'll trade the flowers for sleeping soundly at night while the urn sits plugged in.


Anonymous said...

Odd - so nothing imported has to abide by regulations?

ProfK said...

I don't know what the rules are and how they apply to all imported products. I'm certainly going to try and find out. For me this is sort of like finding a product without a hechsher but finding it in a store under the supervision of the Vaad haKashrus. Maybe the product is kosher and maybe it isn't. With the hechsher I don't have to guess and I don't have to worry.

David5Ts said...

Frum people are typically not concerned about safety. Take a close look at your shuls and schools and you will be surprised at the number of fire safety violations.

ProfK said...


If there are safety issues we need to be addressing I would be more than happy to post about them. Please email me with some particulars if you have them at Conversationsinklal@hotmail.com