/ Home & Energy

Are your home appliances safe?

If a car is recalled for safety reasons, owners can be traced through the DVLA. But what if your washing machine or tumble dryer is at risk of catching fire? How can you find out?

Our investigation has found that even when a manufacturer recalls a potentially dangerous product, the majority can remain unfixed, partly because it’s so hard to find owners.

If a product turns out to be unsafe, manufacturers must take steps to remove the risk to customers. If it’s dangerous, they must issue a safety notice to alert owners. But what if they don’t know who the owners are?

Manufacturers of home appliances can only get hold of you if you’ve actively registered your details with them. And how many of us do that?

Just one in three, says accident prevention charity, Electrical Safety First (ESF). This means that unless the recall hits the headlines and you see the story, you may be sharing your home with an appliance that could cause a fire.

Why don’t more people register their appliances?

Most of us don’t think that registering a product is to do with safety – 70% of us would be more likely to register if we knew it was for this reason, ESF found.

61% would be more likely to if we weren’t going to end up on a marketing list. So it’s maddening that some manufacturers seem to be using the only central registration scheme – set up by trade body, the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances (AMDEA) – as an opportunity for marketing.

We think marketing options for a free safety scheme like this should be clear and ‘opt-in’ – where you actively choose to receive messages by ticking a box.

But six out of 10 manufacturers we registered an appliance with require you to ‘opt out’. Two of these, Hoover and Indesit, tried to persuade us to sign up for extended warranties.

They told us a debate around ‘opt-in’ and ‘opt-out’ is not important, and their focus is on encouraging people to register products.

Which appliances are most at risk of catching fire

infographic_graphWe don’t want to overstate the risk. We analysed government fire data and found there were 11,965 fires caused by products in our homes between 2011 and March 2014.

That number’s low compared with the number of appliances we own, but the consequences can be devastating for those affected.

That’s why we think the AMDEA website for registering your appliance is a great idea. It’s backed by the government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and we’d urge anyone who hasn’t already their details with the manufacturers of their appliances to use it.

But watch out for marketing traps when signing up – manufacturers shouldn’t take advantage of those who want to protect their homes and families.

Have you registered your appliances? If not, why not? And what do you think of the recall system?

Comments
Member

The last time I registered an electrical product – a Russell Hobbs kettle – one of the questions was about my income. I phoned the company and gave them a piece of my mind.

There is no doubt that we need an organisation to record purchases and provide consumers with information about recalls etc. This should be funded by manufacturers but INDEPENDENT of them.

Unfortunately, AMDEA is primarily a trade body whose primary role is to serve the industry. I do not trust AMDEA to use my information responsibly. They even refer to using consumers information in relation to their competitions on their website.

Thanks for raising this important issue, Lisa.

Member
Em says:
14 June 2015

About 10 years ago, I had a lithium battery explode whilst charging. Even though it was on the floor, it shot burning shards of metal over an area of one square metre. Fortunately I was at home and heard the “bang!”. Also the 100% wool carpet it damaged was self-extinguishing, although I needed a brand new one to repair the burn marks. (Well done, LV Insurance!)

The fire brigade who attended the incident to clear the fumes, told me that this was becoming more of a problem and they were seeing lots of calls related to mobile phones being dropped behind cushions on sofas and overheating.

I just want to alert readers to these new dangers we are bringing into our homes more and more, whilst the number of domestic appliances in use is relatively static. And how many of us plug our mobile phones in or have a DECT phone next to our bed at night?

Member

Accidental dwelling fires

Accidental dwelling fires were 4% and 22% lower in Britain in 2012-13 compared to the previous year and ten years before respectively. The main cause of accidental dwelling fires remained the misuse of equipment/appliances (13,900 fires), while the main source of ignition was cooking appliances
which accounted for more than half of all accidental dwelling fires.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/313590/Fire_statistics_Great_Britain_2012-13__final_version_.pdf

Given Which?’s data crunching it would appear that the fire services believe misuse of appliances to be a significant cause. I suspect the electrical fire data given by Which? may be looking at the product that created the fire without considering the misuse aspect.

Perhaps Which? could confirm how it derived its figures.

The idea of registering appliances I am a fan of and had suggested two years ago that Which? could itself be the holder of info for members as it should/would be in a position to mail owners even if they inherited or bought second-hand the appliance.

Obviously when moving into a flat or house, renting or by purchase any left equipment is unlikely to have the registration details handy. Therefore though AMDEA looks to be a good idea it is not a flawless concept.

Not unsurprisingly I think my idea better : )

Member

Hi diesel, apologies for the delay in responding – The figures (11,965) apply for products that are faulty or incorrectly installed or maintained. Between the same time period (Jan 2011 and March 2014) there were roughly 7,700 incidents which could be defined as misuse of a domestic appliance. Of these, about 7,400 were accidental and the remainder deliberate.

All of the stats quoted here were provided by the Department for communities and local government on receipt of our FOI request.

Member

The idea of registering appliances I am a fan of and had suggested two years ago that Which? could itself be the holder of info for members as it should/would be in a position to mail owners even if they inherited or bought second-hand the appliance.

Obviously when moving into a flat or house, renting or by purchase any left equipment is unlikely to have the registration details handy. Therefore though AMDEA looks to be a good idea it is not a flawless concept.

Not unsurprisingly I think my idea better : )

Member

My 38 year old fridge failed last week before this current Which? conversation started.

Apart from the features I wanted in my new replacement, a major consideration in making a choice, was whether my chosen model might catch fire. I have excluded one manufacturer because of their safety record.

Unlike washing machines and tumble dryers, which can be operated whilst the owner is present to deal with any malfunction, a fridge runs 24 hours per day, so product safety is even more important for this type of appliance.

Also with brand engineering, your machine may, in fact, be made by the manufacturer you are trying to avoid

Member

Xopher – Your point that fridges and freezers run continuously is very important. We cannot switch them off at night, which is why it is important to have working smoke detectors in kitchens and utility rooms even if washing machines etc. are never run overnight.

Member
Rhainwhit says:
15 June 2015

What we really need to know is the relative risk not the absolute numbers of appliance fires.

eg if you add fires from washers and driers together you get 3179 fires against 225 fires from washer driers but that does not make washer driers 14 times safer than having the appliances separately, because there are far fewer combined machines. If we knew how many machines there were, we could judge the relative safety of one decision against another. Come on Which? Make your statistics more meaningful.