Yes, Virginia, There is a 3 Pin, In-Line Plug

italianplug.jpgA quick update on the recent post here about the”Death Plug” advert from HSBC. Several readers wrote in to tell us that some crazy art director didn’t take quite as much artistic license as speculated:

Writes Paulo from Italy:

The 3 pin in-line plug is the Italian 10A 230V plug; there exists also a 16A version with slightly more spaced pins. Both are still widely in use, but gradually phased out and replaced with the Shuko plug used in central Europe.”

Since some readers wondered about the safety aspects of such a design, Product Designer Frank Baehr offered this more indepth analysis:

“I can’t see anything alarming about the 3-prong plug. European outlets tend to be unpolarized and the plugs can usually be inserted 180 degrees reversed. Their designs take that into consideration. Their practices are often a bit different from ours, but no less safe. For instance, we tend to ground the housing of power tools, while they go more for double-insulated housings. I know that European safety agencies are often tougher than ours on this continent.

The standard “Schuko” plug used by most of Europe can be reversed in the socket, but the grounding contacts are on the rim, so the ground will always make contact first.

I am not quite sure how the Italians do it, but it looks as if the ground is the center and the two current-carrying (outside) contacts are insulated, except for a small portion at the tip, so you still cannot touch the live contacts while they are partially inserted. If I were the designer, I would have the current-carrying contacts buried deeper in the socket to make sure that the plug has to be inserted to at least the insulated section before contact is made with the live portion of the socket. By that time the ground connection is already well established.

The only safety problem I see is the depicted multiple plug itself (and that only exists in the artist’s mind!), since it has a number of different plugs on the same unit and plugging it in would result in live voltages on the other, exposed, prongs.”

A UK Travel plugs website does, however, offer this dire warning:

“[The plug’s] components conform to British Standards and all relevant international certifications. The travelplug system has been designed to use an Italian plug, not a UK plug, and therefore is not to be used in the UK under any circumstances.”


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  1. Al
    November 08, 2008 17:28

    In a case of life imitating art, my girlfriend picked up a freebie travel adaptor from an Edinburgh University Graduates fair. The adaptor is a clever arrangement of folding and ejecting pins for different sockets.
    Clever, but not clever enough, I had a play with it and realised it was possible to have more than one set of pins open at one time. Sure enough a message to all the attendees followed, warning that it was possible to have live contacts visible when it was in use and to dispose of the adaptor…

  2. Nathan
    November 06, 2008 09:33

    Just a point, I do actually have one of those travel multiplugs somewhere around the office! (I’ll try and find it to get pictures)
    It’s not quite the death trap artistic device as imagined by some people.
    Each of the plug-prong ‘faces’ is removable, and only one of the cube faces has live connection pins inside. The face opposite the live one has a standard UK socket on it.
    It’s not bad (or lethal!) to use, just a pain to pack, as it’s like packing a caltrop in your suitcase, and just as much fun to step on while jet-lagged in the night!
    – Nathan

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