/ Home & Energy

End Dangerous Products: the changes we’ve made and where next

burnt tumble dryer

Our campaign has pushed for major recalls, strengthening the regulatory system and identifying new challenges for four years. Here’s what we’ve achieved and where we’re heading.

When white goods manufacturer Whirlpool first announced a fault affecting more than five million of its tumble dryers in the UK in November 2015, resulting in them posing a fire risk, Which? was one of the first voices to call for an immediate recall of the affected appliances.

The company’s failure to do so and its flawed handling of a serious safety incident exposed the shortcomings of the UK’s product safety system, leading us to launch a campaign calling not just for Whirlpool to recall its dangerous dryers but for wider reform of the safety system.

And lots of you agreed with us. More than 165,000 people have now signed our petition calling for an end to dangerous products, while thousands of campaign supporters got involved by sharing their concerns with MPs and the regulator or telling us about safety issues they experienced here on Which? Conversation.

We’ve achieved some big wins as a result, bringing about real improvements to the system.

Our progress so far

In January 2018, the government set up a dedicated national regulator for product safety – the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS).

In July of this year, the regulator published new guidance on the use of non-disclosure clauses relating to safety incidents, after Which? raised concerns about the misuse of such agreements. 

On Whirlpool, last year the company was finally forced to recall its up to 800,000 unsafe tumble dryers still in UK homes, also publishing the full list of its 627 affected models that Which? had repeatedly called for.

As well as being offered a free replacement machine or repair, affected customers now also have the option of a partial refund. 

And it appears that Whirlpool is learning lessons when it comes to product safety. In December 2019, the company announced that it was voluntarily recalling more than 500,000 washing machines – again because they posed a fire-risk.

While there were still issues with its initial handling, the recall has resulted in one of the highest success rates for a white goods recall in the UK.

What happens next?

We’ve made great strides together in recent years but this doesn’t mark the end of our calls for change. 

We’re continuing to make the case for the new Office for Product Safety and Standards to be made independent with a clear duty for consumer protection and public safety.

This will ensure the UK’s product safety system will be able to meet new and global challenges head on and keep unsafe products from reaching people’s homes. 

Our testing has also uncovered large numbers of unsafe products being sold on online marketplaces, so we’re pushing for the sites to have greater legal responsibility for the safety of products sold on their platforms – and hope to have your continued support as we do. 

For now, we want to take a moment to thank you for the change you’ve helped make so far.  

Comments
Martin says:
7 September 2020

I would also like to see a similar campaign to force DESA to recall motor vehicles over safety issues. For too long manufacturers have hidden issues and DESA has almost always taken industry reasoning/evidence for granted without adequate scrutiny.

Henryk says:
7 September 2020

Because Of a issue year’s ago in America Toyota are watched very closely by the press as a result my cars have always been recalled and fixed free of charge whereas others hide behind print etc.

Totally agree Martin. Cars are now so complex, with computers running systems, that they invariably break down – including safety issues. It’s almost an epidemic where manufactures place all the bells and whistles on vehicles but aren’t controlling quality hence newer cars are breaking down faster.

Even the dealerships are at a loss to fix the problems as diagnostics only reveal what the issue ‘might’ be. Although other unscrupulous dealerships take advantage on their monopoly to fix the fault.
There needs to be a massive shake up of the industry. We pay enough for the product without having the worry of waiting for the next breakdown that wasn’t even our fault.

I remember a trade write up of one of the new high-tech breed of Jaguars from a while ago, complaining the almost 100 sensors and actuators (most of them inaccessible) made the vehicle almost impossible for the aftermarket to care for.

This brought to mind a quotation of the great David Vizard in his article commenting about a superfast Bugatti model (before the Veyron) – “as an exercise in unnecessary complexity and expense it is a success” and went on to say, “sound engineering is what gets the job done with the least complexity”.
Accepting the truth of that statement must also mean accepting the truth of the principle modern cars are designed and built upon is unsound engineering!

In the new sustainable age perhaps we need to go back to the fundamental principles of the basic Land Rover format with robust components, easily removable panels and fittings, an accessible engine and drive, light weight, short wheelbase, and a narrow body.

It could be tricked up with a bit more comfort and sound-proofing to suit modern tastes and obviously be available in all-electric and hybrid forms.

If everyone had one it would lack appeal as a status symbol however, but different manufacturers could come up with alternative designs to appeal to various market segments while remaining true to the concept.

Perhaps for local journeys and getting around town we could use electric tuk tuks and golf buggy derivatives. Something we could develop in the UK that shouldn’t be hard to maintain.

Brian kIdd. says:
10 September 2020

Many years ago my farther bought a Triumph Vitesse. The front section – from the front door hinges to the head lights could be opened to allow easy access to the whole engine.
I think that was a very good idea!

A number of cars had that facility, but easier on cars with a chassis like the Triumphs. Not sure they would meet current impact standards though.

I had a Mk2 Ford Cortina where the engine occupied a very small part of the space under the large bonnet. I could barely get a ping pong ball under the bonnet of my present car.

Ir would be nice to see someone market a simple basic car that was easy to work on and repair but I fear that modern safety requirements, emissions controls and electronic gizmos have put paid to that, even in the cheapies. One way is to simply keep the older, simpler, cars going or restore them. While they may be less safe they would also incur the wrath of the environmentalists because of their poorer fuel efficiency and pollution, although there might be upgrades to deal with that.

I’d quite like something of the Austin Twenty 7 seater Laundalette ilk, but at only 16-18 mpg it would stretch the fuel budget.

Back in the 1960’s our next door neighbour had an Austin Twenty and a very stylish vehicle it was. Hers was probably just pre- or just post-WW2. She could also afford to employ a chauffeur/handyman and used to go on three or four luxury cruises each year. Her chauffeur would drive her to the port of embarkation and collect her on her return sometimes taking me with him for the ride. It was a very roomy car; she would always have two or three cabin trunks and other luggage. The upholstery was done to a very high standard and the engine just purred along at a comfortable 50 mph. On the ’empty’ journeys I could sit in the front with the driver, which I enjoyed, but when the owner was travelling the front compartment had one of the trunks in it and I had to sit in the back, facing rearwards, separated from the chauffeur by a glass screen [or a ‘class screen’ as my father referred to it].

In modern cars the driver and the front seat passenger are virtually sitting in the middle of the engine compartment. The leading edge of the windscreen is half a metre or more forward of the dashboard.

Were rear-engined cars like the VW Beetle and the Renault Dauphine any easier to maintain?

Peter ALLAM says:
7 September 2020

It seems many of these consumer ‘protection’ bodies lack the clout or desire to remedy consumer’s issues and are toothless tigers despite their perceived obligations. Travel businesses must currently be top of any list of consumer woes. It would be interesting to compare how other countries appear to expediently deal with similar consumer matters. Can a round-up be compiled of their methods and best practice with a view to implementation here?

Marion Clasyton says:
7 September 2020

I would like to recommend that you check Currys electrical out. I have been waiting for a refund from them for over a month now. They know the product was returned but wont refund me because the item is still apparently lost in transit. That’s not my fault. They leave you on the phone for 1 – 2 hours, or cut you off and when you do get through they give the same story or just pass on the information to another office so you don’t get anywhere.

David J Wilcox says:
8 September 2020

Yes must say, I bought new tv on July 30 th 2020 & on Curry’s website is stated 5yr guarantee on the tv ,have phoned, emailed but no reply.

Why are Which not responding to the criticism levelled at them in this conversation?

Come on Which, tell us why the contributors , above, are wrong ?!?

Thttps://www.beuc.eu/publications/beuc-x-2020-068_beuc_and_anec_views_for_a_modern_regulatory_framework_on_product_safety.pdf

ANEC and BEUC have a lot of interesting things to say in this document, that also makes proposals. I don’t recall Which? having made reference to it but may have missed it.
For example:
”Clarifying that online marketplaces are economic operators in the supply chain
which:
• Have clear obligations to contribute to general product safety and market surveillance;
• Are subject to sanctions by market surveillance authorities for failing to comply with product safety obligations;
• Can be held ultimately liable for damages exposed by consumers.
To this end, in the context of the GPSD, online marketplaces should be considered as importers for all products that can be bought via their online interfaces (e.g. a website or an app), not only for the ones which pass through a fulfilment centre. This provision in the GPSD should be complemented by an extension of liability under the Product Liability Directive which should consider platforms as suppliers if certain conditions apply. In addition, the forthcoming Digital Services Act should enable this framework by creating a special liability regime for online marketplaces beyond for those that facilitate the selling of products

Many good designs are destroyed by the production engineers – market research identifies a gap in the market, boffins design something to fill that gap and then the production engineers redesign it to make it quicker, easier and cheaper to produce and these are the people who are bred to ignore potential future problems as being too expensive…

There seems to be a surplus of plastics in modern design and an inadequacy of the self-quenching type. There is an important safety feature commonly used in tv sets some decades ago that could be a useful inclusion in appliances in use today. Prior to the introduction of the flat screen tv it was far from unknown for some to burst into flames. The power entered the tv via a fluid filled tube so should overheating or fire occur the tube would rupture and provide a burst of fire quenching liquid while also cutting the power.

It is virtually impossible to make a machine that is idiot proof so even today there are appliances that should not be left unattended for more than a few minutes – I wonder how much bad kitchen or utility room design or a lack of responsible ownership contributed to those fires?

Brian kIdd. says:
10 September 2020

With regards to Whilpool and the recalls of tens of thousands of machines. What the hell are they going to do with them all!!

All the problems are encouraged by a corrupt Court System where the company that can engage the biggest legal pocket, will win.

Trick 1 use claimed experts, witness’s.
2 Ignore, withhold information from claimant.
3 Magistrates & Judges dependence, anybody with a Professional Qualification
at the expense of Lay People, forcing claimant into the hands of the
unscrupulous.
4 Independently and Strictly Regulate all Legal Profession’s.
5 Run the case out of time.

But most of all a Public Inquiry is necessary into the entire Legal System. To include
the Court Prosecution Service.
If the Which wants irrefutable evidence evidence view the Samuel Vincent at Chelmsford & Peterborough Magistrates Court’s. I personally have firm evidence
irrefutable in six cases.

Brian Buxton says:
8 September 2020

I would like to see measurements of the temperature of glass oven doors. 50 deg above ambient isn’t good enough. Some oven doors run cool eg Miele, and won’t cause damage if a child – or anyone else falls against them. Why isn’t this noted on your tests?
Similarly, when cool wall toasters came in, it was seen as real progress. Have we forgotten that? Some still get extremely hot, others run cool, and not necessarily the latest ones.
Kettles used to be chromed steel and 100 deg, right next to one’s knuckles! Now we have plastic kettles and filling through spouts – but not always! Why aren’t these highlighted in your reports?

The safety requirements for electric ovens etc are covered in BS EN 60335 Part 2-6 and sets the temperature rise limits for doors. for example, as follows:
Bare metal 40K
Coated metal 45K
Glass ans ceramic 55K
Plastic 60K
These are in line with international recommendations.
Add on ambient temperature – say 21 – for actual temperature.

https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/09/amazons-face-mask-store-leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired/

“Watch out for dodgy certifications on PPE
Flimsy face coverings
Disposable masks that fall apart
Amazon responds: Amazon told us that all the products on its face mask store are subject to pre-sale quality checks, either carried out by Amazon or by external testing organisations, but that disposable blue face masks are only designed for single use. While we wouldn’t expect them to be ultra sturdy, if they’re reported as breaking before or during a single use, then its hard to see how they can be considered fit for purpose.

Yet another reason not to trust Amazon on products that could result in serious harm to health, even when they claim to have vetted the products.
Are Which? issuing a press release to deal with this?

Barbara Hague says:
8 September 2020

I believe V.W. compensated American car owners for the deliberately misleading information given. They should be made to do the same here – even if only to make them more honest in future.

Philmo says:
9 September 2020

Don’t the legal requirement for fitness for purpose and electrical safety standards enforceable by Trading Standards and Small Claims Court?

David L Davis says:
9 September 2020

The problem is unless companies implement product safety completely we will continue to see safety alerts and recalls I published The Real product safety Guide in 2013 that provides the methodology for companies and organisations to achieve safe products By using Hazard Analysis and Risk Assessment
most of the failures in safety will not occur. There needs to be a structured process and a budget at the design point followed by design proving and safety audit prior to the products release into the public domain Legislation is in place where there is a Duty of Care in accordance with The Health and Safety Act of 1974 Unfortunately very few are held accountable .

Most product safety is covered by compliance with the relevant BS EN safety standard – for example, for electrical appliances BS EN 60335 and relevant parts, together with implementation of appropriate quality systems such as ISO 9001 et al.

Trading Standards are the UK ‘s officially appointed market surveillance authority who are responsible for, among other things, monitoring and dealing with issues around unsafe products. Unfortunately they are neither adequately financed nor resourced to adequately fulfil this role.

Changes needed to improve and reinforce our Consumer Laws and safeguard our population

I am writing concerning this matter as I am finding it more and more frustrating that I am unable to easily contact the right authorities concerning faulty goods and in particular, but not only, small electrical items.

Even before the reduction in services due to the Corona Virus epidemic, it had become more difficult to fully report products and companies/sellers supplying faulty and well below acceptable standard goods.

It is no longer possible to talk or send emails or mail directly to the Trading Standards in this (or as far as I know any) area, as they no longer talk or communicate directly with the general public! One has to ask, what do they do which serves the general public when we have a consumer problem?

It seems that the only recourse is to talk to Citizens Advice or complete a very restrictive web-form with no facility to send attachments and/or photographs with details to support your submission. It is no longer possible to send emails or letters to Citizens Advice. With the best will in the world, reporting a company for its poor service or an unsafe/faulty product is not easy to complete without the full details, when using a pre-programmed standard format. However, this is now how it apparently has to be completed, at the end of which one feels even more frustrated. You are left with little or no surety that the matter will be passed on to Trading Standards. Thus you can understand why so many people say they no longer bother with completing this onerous task as the system does not give you enough confidence to persevere!

As seems to be the norm now, whilst I always try to purchase from UK sources, even paying more than the norm is no guarantee of quality, the products are still generally manufactured in China. Apart from the fact that, for example, individual lighting lamps often do not have any markings on them, they are not of a good or any near medium quality and seemingly do not have to pass any form of testing to be on sale in this country. Hence this is why I have had to endure lamps failing very prematurely and their, often dangerous, parts being shed on to the floor and elsewhere.

Even reporting these sellers to companies such as eBay is no guarantee that they will be removed from the platform and prevented from selling such shoddy goods. If eBay does deign to take action, as they have said to me they will, it is no guarantee that the goods will be prevented from being on sale, these companies pop up again in slightly different formats peddling the same faulty, often dangerous and inferior quality goods.

In particular I have had problems with 1) electrical wiring faults in an apparently well known brand of Electric Blanket in less than 12 months usage, 2) Lamps supposedly guaranteed to last for a minimum of 5 years and suffering multiple dangerous failures in less than two years, 3) Solar Lamps failing within only 2 months of delivery and 4) a dangerous failure in a Multi Plug due to very inferior design and build causing scorching on a carpet – to name but a few. I have not been able to obtain recourse for these faulty items even after taking legal advice without resorting to the courts, which is expensive, very time consuming and quite risky. The sellers know that in this country they can usually get away with it ‘scot-free’.

Urgent action needs to be taken. These problems are now ever more prevalent in this country and it needs to be curtailed to better protect the unsuspecting public.

Surely it is far from satisfactory and I, as a consumer, look to organisations such as Trading Standards to uphold our regulations/various British and European Standards so that we are kept safe. This does not appear to be the case.

In other countries, for example the State of California in the USA, of which I have some particular knowledge, having had to meet their very stringent tests for the companies for which I worked, all products have to be presented for testing or an accredited independent laboratory test result on each individual product needs to be supplied. Having completed this successfully, a certificate of conformity is issued for each product, no matter how big or small, thus permitting its safe sale in that State. The seller/company wishing to sell into this State can then sell the item, often with a premium price as the cost implications of meeting the stringent testing can be high.

We have something similar but nowhere near as stringent in the form of the Consumer Association, Which?, which carries out independent testing on many products but usually much larger items such as washing machines, kettles, etc.

There needs to be a separate government backed department or the Consumers Association needs to be supported and enhanced by Government backing. Thus we would have an accreditation system, similar to other countries, and the general public would be able to check that an intended purchase has a certificate of conformity and is expected to meet certain standards of specification and safety.

Obviously the ‘rogue’ sellers and manufacturers will probably find ways of circumnavigating these certificates of conformity. However, it would surely be much better and would reduce the number of below standard, unsafe and grossly over exaggerated life expectancy claims, particularly prevalent on the smaller electrical items currently on sale in this country.

Now the market in the UK seems to be a free for all and one is left with the impression that we are used as a dumping ground for very cheap unregulated products. This is also very likely to be even more so once Brexit is fully implemented.

MNC, I sympathise with your comments, particularly the inability to contact Trading Standards (our officially appointed market surveillance authority dealing with product safety), and the unsatisfactory route through Citizens Advice.

As far as product safety is concerned many products have to meet safety regulations, often by complying with international safety standards, issued in the UK by BSI. Reputable companies will test and certify products to meet these with appropriate supporting documentation.

Rogue companies will simply lie and cheat and produce fraudulent paperwork. Many “fraudulent” products seem to be helped onto the UK market by “online market places” such as Amazon and eBay, but they take no responsibility for ensuring the safety of the products they help promote. We want that to be changed. But how? Much is being written about this in other Which? Conversations.

What we need is a government with some proper willingness to properly enforce legislation, but they seldom do, in my experience they keep bringing out new laws and regulations etc. but then take far too much of a loose, slack, casual blase attitude and allow all manner of outrageous breaches of the law, and if you complain to your mp you just get nowhere or even completely ignored. It’s the same with the so-called “equality” act which is far too often nowhere near properly enforced and all manner of public and private service providers are allowed to get away with all manner of appalling discrimination and outright total EXclusion, I could easily fill umpteen screens with examples. And look what happened with ppe for our essential front line workers, look how many DIED because of such a serious lack of preparation because the government just couldn’t be bothered to properly prepare. Where is their sense of urgency? How many more people have to die before they start taking things more seriously?! It was the same with the grenfell tower block in london, look what an outrageous tragedy happened there! We should get together and protest right across the nation and demand our government start getting their act together and properly enforcing our laws.

MNC – I would be opposed to the Consumers’ Association [as “Which?”] becoming a quasi-arm of government. It is much better placed to be a watchdog if it remains strictly independent of government and of trade and commerce.

The government has set up the Office of Safety & Standards [OPSS] which is supposed to tackle safety issues with products. Its record is not impressive so far and it keeps its head well down away from public attention.

County councils and other major local authorities still have trading standards functions but financial pressures mean they are under-resourced. The theory is that the Consumer Rights Act empowers consumers to obtain redress for faulty products themselves but, as many examples in these Conversations demonstrate, this is useless when dealing with far eastern imports and if the selling platform has no responsibility for the safety and compliance of the products it places on the market.

It is disappointing that Citizens Advice, the gatekeeper to local trading standards services, is not more effective but, again, it is due to a lack of funding.

At least local authorities are democratic organisations and it is possible to approach a member of the relevant council if there is obstruction from the administration.

Has anyone else here bought any of the self assembly boltless galvanised steel shelving that was on sale at b&q some time ago? I got three of them a while back and I found the inside edges of the shelves, and the ends of the legs were razor sharp, certainly sharp enough to cause serious injuries, especially to children’s little fingers. So I reported this to b&q at the time and I don’t know what action they took, I don’t know if they recalled them or if they were withdrawn from sale etc. but they certainly are dangerous and similar shelving is also available from other stores too like machine mart but I don’t know if their ones are anything like as sharp as I’ve not bought any of those. But it’s certainly something to be aware of. So I fitted long lengths of very sticky and thick tape over the edges of mine and that made them safer.

I bought and assembled one of these shelving units over four years ago. My concern was about how stable it is actually very good and better than the conventional bolted self-assembly units I brought from my periods home.

The ends of the legs were sharp but are protected by plastic feet and stand on the floor when in use, so once they are assembled and in use there should be no risk. On mine, the shelf edges and the uprights are rolled over, so there are no sharp edges, so it looks as if I have a different product or there has been a design change.

Sticky tape might not stay in place for long, so a better solution could be to use a fine file to remove the sharp edges, thus eliminating the risk. I suggest contacting B&Q to make them aware of the problem, Mark. I expect that they will offer a refund.

I think Gorilla cloth mesh tape ( for example)would give good protection and be permanent. The steel sounds very thin so would still be dangerous after filing, leaving at best a square edge. . If thicker, coarse emery paper could be used to give a more rounded finish.

I owned a Montego estate many years ago and cut my hand fairly badly when washing inside a wheel arch. A combination of a thoughtless design and BL thin metal.

Filing is absolutely fine for making a mild steel panel safe and can be used to radius sharp corners, which would tear emery paper.

My old washing machine had a thin steel back panel, so the first time I took this off to service the machine I filed the edges.