/ Home & Energy

Government unveils action plan on unsafe products

The government’s Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) today released details on how they plan to bolster product safety. But will it be enough?

The government today unveiled their national plan for tackling unsafe products – and it’s a big step in the right direction.

The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) finally released their action plan on how to build a national capacity for product safety, thanks in no small part to the nearly 100,000 supporters of our end dangerous products campaign.

End dangerous products – sign our petition and take a stand.

Under the plan, the OPSS will take over coordinating product safety nationally – but local Trading Standards will remain the Primary Authorities.

This is a big win for our campaign and our call for a more integrated approach to surveillance and enforcement of product safety.

What’s the plan?

The OPSS report promised 31% of funding will go to dealing with incidents and enforcement and a national incident management team will be established to tackle product safety incidents.

Under the strategy, the OPSS will use incident data and scientific evidence to identify problems with specific product types.

From this, it will build intelligence on industry compliance in an attempt to identify problem operators.

The report says the OPSS will develop oversight of significant manufacturers and importers and distributors, working in collaboration with primary authorities.

It will also work with white goods manufacturers to see that their compliance systems are robust.

Further details of the product safety strategy can be found in our news article.

Although this much needed strengthening of the national capacity for product safety is a welcome step, it doesn’t go far enough in our view.

We still have concerns over whether the plan will be implemented effectively and result in changes.

Demanding more

Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:

‘This long-awaited strategy attempts to address key problems in the current safety system.

‘However, it falls short of providing reassurance that it will effectively investigate serious safety issues that are raised about unsafe products, and then actively work to remove them from people’s homes before they cause harm.

‘Up to a million fire-risk Whirlpool-group tumble dryers are still in circulation. If this strategy is to be judged a success, the Government should now order a full recall of the affected machines and make this an independent body with real teeth.’

Do you think enough is being done nationally to tackle unsafe products? Will the OPSS really be able to carry out what they’re proposing in their strategy?

Comments

In her introduction, Neena mentions a new strategy report produced by OPSS. Here is a link to the document: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/733148/safety-and-standards-product-safety-strategy.pdf

“7.16 Later this year, we will launch a more comprehensive review of how consumers want to access recall information in order to build a new online database and notification service for consumers. We will also consult with consumer organisations to understand what already exists in terms of recall and safety messages and where we can best collaborate with others.”

There is no indication of how consumers will be informed about recalls. Many do not register products when they buy them. I support mandatory product registration by retailers but believe there could be opposition from those unwilling to provide contact information. I also think it is unlikely that every online retailer could be relied on to pass on information to OPSS.

Please could Which? offer suggestions about how information about purchases could be recorded and transferred to the new online database.

Two thoughts on incentivising the registration of product purchases and transfers:

One, I think the insurance industry has a degree of responsibility for mitigating losses due to fires [and a fiduciary duty to other customers to keep premiums down] so it could be made compulsory that all specified appliances are registered otherwise the policies are void in the event of any claim [even for an unrelated incident]. As Wavechange recently reminded us, a fire in one unit in a residential building could affect many other properties giving rise to insured losses on a significant scale. Whether it could also be a condition of a letting agreement or lease might also be worth exploring.

Second, to deal with the point made by Wavechange (above) that there could be opposition from those unwilling to provide contact information to a registration database, I feel it would be essential for such a database to have no commercial connections of any kind and, ideally, be a government-run database, as secure as GCHQ, with sophisticated protocols and systems to protect the data from unauthorised access and misuse. Access to a list of addresses containing high-end televisions could be very useful to the criminal community.

I think the manufacturers would need to deal with on-line retailers who failed to register first sales and it could be made a compulsory contractual requirement.

GCHQ might also be keen to know who owns smart appliances…………………… 🙁

But I see compulsory registration as the only way, and the insurance industry, with a financial stake, as a good one to ensure existing products are registered.

There is no need for the data to be made available to anyone other than for the intended purpose. However, the worst we could do is outsource the job of looking after the database to people like Capita (other names are available).

I wonder why the IT brains at universities could not be employed to construct a suitable system. Money that would help the education system as well as educate.

It’s certainly worth exploring the views of the insurance industry. They might be supportive.

It looks as if the new database will be independent and it is absolutely vital that we can be sure that it is secure. You give a good example of why this is essential. I do hope that there will be secure public access so that there is the possibility for individuals to correct any errors, add products that may have been missed and delete products that have been disposed of.

The online retailers present the greatest challenge, in my view.

@neena-bhati, Hello Neena, perhaps Which? would comment on our proposals to have compulsory registration of appropriate new products at the point of sale, and for house insurers to require the registration of existing products as a condition of renewal (or, at least, to pay a hefty extra premium if they refuse or ignore).

I think it is incumbent on Which? to make constructive proposals on this, and not simply comment from the sidelines. Perhaps they are?

Currently we do not know where the majority of “appropriate” products are located which is why it frustrates me when Which? demand a full recall. It cannot happen. We need an all-encompassing registration system for this to work.

I think it simply has to start on two fronts.

One, introduce a compulsory registration system so that we can track down new owners of the most appropriate appliances as soon as possible. Start something going, and refine and extend it as it develops – it won’t be perfect first time. My personal view is that the seller (retailer) should collect this information for every sale made and feed it in to a central database.

Two, use publicity to try to get as many as possible to register their existing appliances. I suspect that much of this information is already held by retailers that they could pass on; I hope data protection laws don’t impede it being passed on to the database. Tv, newspapers, social media could be used to persuade as many as possible to register. However, I doubt this will be terribly successful and for some time we’ll live with a partial system only.

It may be something that buildings insurers could help with. Suppose a condition of renewal was you had to give details of certain products – let’s say washing machines, fridges/freezers fr/ frzrs, tumble dryers, dishwashers when they take out or renew their insurance. After all, the insurers will suffer financially if there is a fire. The details would again be passed on to the central database. Apart from declining to insure if you don’t provide this information, a very significant reduction in premium might be a kinder way to persuade people to make the effort.

We have another Convo that covers similar ground so I have repeated this comment from there.

The database would hopefully be accessible in at least two ways – classified by product and model type giving the address, and listed by address showing the appliances installed; the second form would be useful when owners needed to transfer the data to a new address on moving home and could make one notification covering a number of appliances. Resales and other transfers [e.g. to a charity like BHF so they can re-register it on resale thus preventing duplications].

Hi Wavechange, I have passed your last request on to our Product Safety Team for them to review in light of our next steps and any action plans created. Thank you for this!

Hi @malcolm-r – My apologies, I passed this to Neena on Monday but forgot to let you know! I’m working on getting a response for you. Just wanted to keep you updated.

What if I don’t want anyone to know what I’m buying or indeed buying it as a gift?

Surely under the general protection of GDPR I can ask that those details either not be recorded or be removed?

Devil’s Advocate. 😉

K.

Good points, Kenneth. That’s why it would be a good idea to start with the bigger white goods and iron out the bugs in the registration process before it includes the products that one would wish to keep quiet about or intend to give as a present. Mind you, if someone has put a tumble dryer on their wish list it would hardly be a surprise when it arrived and the registration would probably be too fresh to access.

I would hope that some features of the GDPR will be removed or the whole thing abandoned after we leave the EU.

Problem is John that everyone will comply with GDPR anyway and it is a good thing in some ways although I expect it also to cause inconvenience to people also as it’s not all sweetness and light. Many companies are over-reacting to it as, they don’t want to be seen as not complying with customers wishes or legislation and, they don’t want to be slammed with a massive fine.

Whilst it’s aimed at data companies primarily or, that’s the vibe I get, it has had very wide-reaching implications.

But I don’t think that, again, you can apply this to one small area. I believe that it’d have to be applied to pretty much anything that has a plug on it otherwise, the complexity increases and that being the case it makes enforcement nigh impossible, in turn, it unworkable.

And, I doubt there’d be funds to do much of anything as there are far too many bigger issues that demand funding way in front and way more pressing than this is.

So the government may well pay it lip service but I truly believe that’s about as much as you can hope for. They may throw in a few rules but it’ll be nothing severe and likely not satisfy anyone.

K.

I’ve got an answer for you from Neena, Malcolm. She asked me to let you know that we agree that registration of appliances is important so that people are made aware of any issues with their products, and it needs to be made as easy as possible for consumers to do. Manufacturers and retailers could do more to support this, but we think they should also look for other ways to take action to identify and remove unsafe products, hand-in-hand with the OPSS.

@elena, thanks Elena. Neena has commented below and I have replied to her. In a nutshell, her reply makes no proposals for how we should deal with this. Disappointing the Which? appear to be unable to put a proposal together. 🙁

Ah, sorry for the double post Malcolm – I think she and I got our wires crossed on who was replying!

@elena, well, in view of my hyperactivity over the last few days (or maybe longer) I think I can forgive the double post! Perhaps their should be a piecework pay agreement for Convo staff so the more comments you get, the more you are paid. I might then become popular. As it is, I’m sorry for being a Convo hog but it is taking my mind off other things.

From the OPSS strategy report:

“1.6 We are clear that, while we have responsibilities to support and guide business our role is to ensure timely and robust action against the minority who do not comply with their obligations – whether wilfully or through negligence, ignorance or incompetence. We will actively hold to account those responsible for ensuring that safety outcomes are not compromised.”

Please can Which? contact the OPSS and push for urgent action to stop online retailers selling products with the wrong plug. This is not just an inconvenience and depending on how the purchaser decides to deal with the problem can be dangerous. It is well over five years since Which? drew our attention to this problem: https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/plugs-two-pin-british-amazon-electrical-appliances/

Hi @wavechange I have also passed on this feedback to the Product Safety Team. Thank you again!

Thanks very much Elena, but I suspect that it is the tip of the iceberg.

Yesterday’s Which? News also comments on “The Office of Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) has just published its new strategy, which aims to streamline the process of identifying and dealing with potentially dangerous products.”

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/08/new-office-of-product-safety-and-standards-report-falls-short-says-which/ – Which?

‘This long-awaited strategy attempts to address key problems in the current safety system. However, it falls short of providing reassurance that it will effectively investigate serious safety issues that are raised about unsafe products, and then actively work to remove them from people’s homes before they cause harm. ‘Up to a million fire-risk Whirlpool-group tumble dryers are still in circulation. If this strategy is to be judged a success, the government should now order a full recall of the affected machines and make this an independent body with real teeth.’

I have commented many times, including to Which?, that I fail to see how any “full recall” can be implemented if you do not know who possess the affected product(s). I do not see how this can happen unless we introduce compulsory registration of appropriate products that can only realistically be done at the point of sale.

So this plea by Which? seems wishful thinking – unless someone can put me right. I’d like Which? to actually put a proposal forward that does ensure we know where every potentially-vulnerable product is located.

Hi @malcolm-r, I have noted this information and sent it to our Product Safety team for them to read and bear in mind in light of developing our next steps. Thank you.

It is a long document that, in the main, says all the right things for their masters to approve. But I hope effort then goes into implementing these “right things”; I think they should be more pragmatic in their approach, set a few priorities and tackle them first.

Skimming through reveals some worrying signs. For example “Working alongside primary authorities, Safety & Standards will strengthen oversight of significant manufacturers, including those
producing white goods and electrical goods, importers and distributors, including
online platforms.
The manufacturers to look at are those delinquent ones who set out to sell iffy products, overseas, so oversight will be impossible for many. I do hope the likes of Amazon figure in the oversight required for distributors and importers.

…….. Local authority enforcement officers and specialist product
safety teams are a key part of the UK enforcement system. We want to establish a
close partnership with local authorities to maximise the strengths of local
enforcement, whilst providing additional capacity to tackle national threats and
address novel, contentious and complex cases.”
Many enforcement problems – like Whirlpool – are national problems and should not be left in the hands of poorly resourced and inexperienced local TS. We need a national enforcer to deal with all problems that are not local.

We will support the continuation of active participation in standards development. We
will work with BSI to encourage greater diversity in committee representation,
ensuring that all voices are adequately heard and that standards reflect the outcomes
we collectively want to achieve”
They earlier say there is a robust international standards organisation so while BSI support is a must, we can only use it to make proposals to the IEC and ISO – and quite rightly. We cannot change standards to suit the UK. However, the key here is to police the distribution system to ensure that the existing standards are met by the suppliers; money needs to be spent to do that.

@neena-bhati, Hello Neena. Can you tell us where Which? are directly involved with the relevant government departments helping with developing the best outcome for consumers post Brexit? Are they consulted, are they on government committees representing the consumer, for example?

Hi @malcolm-r I have passed your question on to Neena.

@elena, Thanks 🙂

@malcolm-r As this question stretches across our post-Brexit activity I need to talk with someone who is away this week. I’ll be back in touch.

Hi Neena – Many people do not register products and may never know if a product has been recalled due to a dangerous fault. I would like Which? to work with OPSS and look at solutions that deal effectively with this problem. A quick, effective and inexpensive partial solution that could be introduced promptly is use of social media, but I don’t know how many would pay attention and it is obviously no use for those who don’t use social media.

I would like to know if Which? would support compulsory product registration by retailers.

Apparently there are many who are still using unmodified fire risk tumble driers sold under brands now owned by Whirlpool. As members of the public, there is not a great deal we can achieve ourselves but some of us would be proud of Which? if an effective system to notify users of products to be informed if they might be unsafe. At present I monitor recalls of products and sometimes look up products owned by friends and family to see if they are affected by a recall.

It is all so simple with cars, where drivers are informed of recalls by the DVSA.

@neena-bhati, morning Neena and thanks for your reply.

My view is that voluntary registration of products has never worked to attract more than a small proportion of purchasers. If you want to arrange product recalls then every affected owner needs to be notified. Therefore you need to know how to contact every owner. This means compulsory registration and, as I see it, only a single system will do that. Whirlpool/Indesit, if any example were needed, demonstrates the consequences of the lack of such a system.

At the moment we have done nothing for years to address this problem. Which? could add its weight to a campaign to now try to get “something” done. We need to agree the “something” and get it done 🙂 .

Do Which? not share this view? Do they have another proposal to achieve the same ends that they could tell us about?

The problem I expect will be money.

To set up such a system which is, as Wavechange rightly states, is akin to the DVSA would cost untold millions of pounds and have annual running costs in the millions at best with no place to find that cash other than from taxpayers, one way or another.

So you have the choice of a levy on the products or, you take it out the tax coffers.

Neither will be attractive or popular with either the public or politicians.

There is not a snowball’s chance the manufacturers will pony up unless there’s legislation to force them to do so and, if there were, they’d simply put the cost onto the ticket price so, consumers end up paying anyway.

In the end, the money can only come from one place, consumers.

I’ve not got any issue with raising the cost of appliances (my world) as they’re far too cheap anyway, often regarded as disposable items but that’s where you’ve also got a barrier as they’re largely regarded as cheap disposable items. But to raise the price with no tangible benefit other than, you’ll get notified *IF* there happens to be an issue at some stage and *IF* you’ve not moved and left it, disposed of it, sold it or given it away seems a bit much to ask and all the more so when you consider the unattractiveness of the endeavour from the outset.

I really think anyone would struggle to gain any traction here at all.

Sorry to be negative but I’m afraid, the way I see it, that’s the reality.

K.

It will cost money and that will come from consumers one way or another, through taxes or prices, as Ken says. I suggest through prices is the best way. Apparently sales of major domestic appliances in the UK in 2017 topped £4.5bn . A 3% surcharge on sales would produced £135 million which should go someway to funding a suitable organisation. If I remember correctly this is the sort of money Trading Standards would need to restore them to a pre-austerity situation.

That’s £9 on a lowish cost washing machine. Is it not worth that to ensure consumers are better protected?

It’s not just that though Malcolm as, like the car industry and I do have some insight there, there is also the cost to administrate all that by the retailer and manufacturer so the cost would be lumped on as a raw cost then go through the whole pricing process. It’d end up with your £9 being £9 on gat price with all margins and taxation added to it so it’s going to come out as a £20-£50 price increase in store depending on the costing, price and so on.

The thinking being that, if you have to pay people at retailers/manufacturers to sit and administrate it, you need to find the cash to do so as people don’t go to work for free.

K.

As far as I can see all we would be asking the retailer to do would be to record the purchasers basic contact details and details of the appliance. That is already done in many cases already. So I don’t see how adding a levy, or increased vat when we brexit, onto the price could possibly multiply it by over 5 times.

Although I support compulsory registration I can see various problems, not least an unwillingness of the public to cooperate.

I’ve suggested that social media will reach a substantial number of people but do not know how many would take action. Maybe recent recalls could feature in a leaflet that could be hand-delivered to homes around the country. I would volunteer to deliver in our street.

I get how it looks, it seems crazy I know but it’s the way that they all work commercially as I learned the hard way many years ago.

Adding stuff one is done at base factory gate price, not at the retail end of it. You could do that but, it’d show up as a tax/levy at POS and customers would freak out about it even more.

They all work the same way.

If you increase VAT etc, you do that on all, not just one thing.

K.

Indeed Wavechange but just look at the coverage that Hotpoint et all have had and yet, all the time the field repairers come across unmodified ones where people say they hadn’t a clue and we have to ask… “like how what cave have you been living in?”.

Then there are the people that “haven’t had the time”, “oh we just ignore those sorts of letters” and on and on it goes.

Till it all goes wrong, then it’s anyone else’s fault bar the owners.

K.

I’m well aware of the problem, Kenneth. I think we have just got to do our best.

Compulsory registration would not give the option of “not cooperating”. It would be a purchase requirement that they did. We already give information for our driving license, to insurance companies, bank and credit card providers and many other organisations. When minimal information is collected solely for their protection I doubt any sensible person would want to evade it.

This is not a producer responsibility, but a retailers, so there is no question of loading factory gate prices. Many retailers already ask for personal details when a sale is made, and will record product information for stock control, so I cannot see how downloading this information to a central database is going to be any great cost. Car retailers pass such details onto DVSA as a routine.

Whirlpool is a clear example that something radical needs to be done. If there are, as alleged, millions of potentially unsafe dryers not yet located. The problem is most of the cost would be for “precautionary” purposes. The number of recalls or notices to customers are likely to be very low as most appliances are perfectly safe. It is covering the possibility of a problem arising, and limiting its consequences, that we will be paying for. I think this needs to be allied with funding much-improved policing by trading standards so suspect products can be intercepted and tested before they have the chance to do too much harm.

You can increase vat selectively, if that were a solution. We already have 3 rates, dependent upon the product.

Retailers are not geared to do this presently. Some that sold TV’s may be with the TV license thing but generally speaking many won’t have the systems in place to do it.

But you then need to change the law in terms of GDPR maybe, I don’t know as it’s illegal to share info now that isn’t a legal requirement to my knowledge or, make it a legal requirement that this is done and, done by retailers.

Changing VAT, no clue what’s involved but I bet it’s not as simple as the stroke of a pen.

K.

Systems would be part of the registration organisations remit to enable retailers to submit the required information easily.

GDPR will not be an obstacle, no more than it is for other government schemes where personal information is taken. Too much has been made if the impact of GDPR.

vat is changed at budget time normally. We may have to wait until post Brexit to take fullcontrol of our tax system. However, I don’t see vat as necessarily a good answer. The government already take an insurance premium tax. it sort of fits that model.

When something has to be done, we need to focus on how we do it, not why we can’t, in my view.

What are your suggestions about how best to notify the public that they may have a recalled product, Kenneth?

Whenever we have bought white goods, major appliances especially, we are not normally in a position to carry them home so we arrange delivery. I am convinced that doing that provides the retailer with 90%+ of the information they need to comply with a compulsory registration scheme. Let’s not make heavy weather of this. They have always seemed quite content to soak up the commission on extended warranties and give us a reporting leaflet on behalf of Domestic & General Insurance cover. They can tap a few more keys surely.

Once we have dealt with the major appliances – the higher risk ones – we can think about how the poor overworked shopkeeper will find the time to register our kettle on line. Judging by the activity levels in most electrical shops they are not going to have to employ extra staff. Purchases on line already have virtually all the information required for registration purposes except possibly if its a gift.

I very much doubt most retailers would concur with your assessment of the industry John and I doubt they’ll do as they’re told: “just because”.

I also can assure you that if it means any outlay at all unless forced, they won’t do it.

D&G cover etc is profit driven, not altruistic. They earn from it and the profit margin makes it worth doing, you’re expecting them to do something for nothing and, that’s not a reasonable ask of them. It either gets wrapped into the overall margin or, added as an extra. No “ifs”, no “buts” as people do not work for free.

Ditto the IT systems or changes to systems, training and all the rest, it all has a cost and that cost must be met somehow.

I also do not think that it is reasonable to discriminate only appliances when as many other items, chargers, heaters and so on are just as if not more dangerous and to do so may be met with considerable resistance. After all, why should one party have one set of rules, another party another set and so on, it only serves to confuse all.

K.

The retailers will have to concur, just as they have to make vat returns, deal with remitting employee information and paye, NI, and all the other admin chores. Part of their job. As I, and John, have said simply remitting basic information such as is suggested is not going to be a big chore.

As for products to include I am not suggesting one set of rules for one group and not for another. It is a case of where you start. I would start with those that have statistically been more prone to serious safety issues. Get a system up and running and iron out the bugs. Add other potentially at-risk items to it. Quite where you draw the line is something that needs to be decided.

How would you deal with Whirlpool to ensure none (or a minimal number) of the hundreds of thousands or millions of dryers that have been described as potentially unsafe by them are left with their owners? Or would you just hope no more cause fires?

And who is to dictate that they will, Which?, you, me?

Simply saying it should be so will not make it so.

It would require legislative change and, with all that’s going on right now, there are two chances of that happening, one of those being none at all.

This has been an issue since I came into the industry and in that three decades, we’ve had the sum total of about half a dozen or so major recalls, so the evidence states, categorically, that this is not a common problem at all. In fact, less recalls by an order of magnitude than demonstrated in vehicles.

Therefore in my view, this is a huge amount of effort and expense to *try* to solve a minor problem in the grand scheme. And it’s important to note, there is not any guarantee at all it’d be any more effective than the current regime.

Unless there’s been studies and/or case studies I am unaware of that demonstrate any significant benefit?

If not then all we have is hearsay and ideas, no actual evidence to show anything at all.

K.

The government should decide this as it is a consumer protection issue.

I must confess to having some sympathy with your view, but some people are adamant that the product safety system is “broken”, manufacturers are unconcerned about our well being. trade associations cannot be trusted to handle product registrations, and the world standards organisation is not competent to look after us. A little exaggerated perhaps but you get the gist. However if there are product recalls required, as perhaps was one way to address the Whirlpool problem (although i’m not sure how it would have resolved the problem satisfactoriiy unless all affected dryers were replaced perhaps) then it will only work with total (or near total) registration.

My response to Which?, and some others’, demands for the ability to make a “full recall” is it can only work with compulsory registration. Like cars.

If I may repeat my question, given millions of potentially unsafe Whirlpool dryers out there, in unknown locations, how would you propose dealing with it? Maybe Whirlpool should send a letter to every UK household just in case they are among the owners. 28 million households, say costing £14m . Might be the cheap option for something on that scale, but not for smaller companies with a smaller market; just a thought.

Should there be a 3 monthly “newsletter” distributed by the govt. in this way with details of any product safety problem that requires serious attention? Many people may not bother to read emails or record the details so a paper copy might be more effective.

Patrick Taylor says:
20 August 2018

I agree with Kenneth. The risk to the occurrences is not that high and would become lower if metal backs and metal identifying plates were mandatory. There is always going to be risk in the world and I think we are going at the problem from the wrong end.

Faster recalls, stringent checks and fines for imported unreliable or illegal products will probably also reduce incidents. Quite a lot of money from fines for illegal plugs ???

Pay far more attention to what the Fire Brigaded Officers call for – Which? itself was content to ignore their call for metal-backed appliances. Who decided it was not a just cause ? Why was it not amplified and supported?

I agree that distributors of dodgy products should be heavily penalised. They are responsible for checking the integrity of the source of their products and should be required to ensure they have done due diligence on their credentials. We’ve seen useless CO monitors, smoke alarms that don’t work effectively, slime that can harm, the ongoing unsafe 2 pin plugs you mention, and what else undiscovered, from a major retailer with no sign of any action against them Without that, what incentive is there for an irresponsible distributor to clean up their act?

However you mention faster recalls. The problem we keep returning to. You cannot recall goods from people who own them if you don’t know who those people are, can you?

The problem is very small, with significant isolated exceptions. No doubt it is so in cars as well.

The problem I have with this, given many people’s attitude even when they are made fully aware of any danger (I’ve got two recall notices on my car unattended to) is that you need to get them to act on that information.

Even the monumental exposure given to these dryers and still some people don’t know or simply don’t care even in the face of hyper sensational headlines of almost certain death failed to get many to act.

What can be done to combat that? Little I’d suggest.

But do bear in mind that if you make up rules, it has to apply to all so, if you force a letter for example to every household, a brand owner selling a couple of hundred also has to stump up the £14 million just the same as a global corporation and, that’s not a reasonable ask at all.

Sending out a letter, newspaper, circular or whatever still completely relies on people actually acting on the information and that is a big, big problem and why most recalls have such a low success rate. I’d hazard that’s the biggest part of the problem, not getting the information out.

I keep going back to many a high street retailer that will stick a sign up somewhere about a recall and, that’s pretty much all that they do as they’ve not a clue who bought what as records of everything are not kept, aside from the financial transaction and quantities sold. They don’t know who bought stuff, nor do they care.

It was tried with gas products only some years ago under the HSE and CORGI’s control. It failed. Dismally. A total disaster and a waste of tens of millions.

So if you apply rules to electrical products, again, you have to apply it to all, you can’t really be selective beyond it plugs into mains as is a phone charger that causes a house to burn down any less dangerous than a dryer or a washing machine or a space heater or a toaster or a hi-fi or a TV, PC… you get the point.

If it plugs into 240VAC it has the potential to be a hazard, end of story.

Even some that don’t still have potential risk.

How you could possibly deal with them, probably billions, of devices I honestly don’t know. I don’t even know that there is a way.

And, even if you crack that proverbial nut, you still need to motivate owners to actually do something about it and that’s a whole other challenge. And, one I think anyone would struggle to make any headway with.

K.

I did point out the problem of small companies, Ken. So I did not suggest that as a general solution. But it could have been used by Whirlpool.

You do not have to apply the system to all. It can be selective, depending on the risk. We have one for cars that is not automatically applied to everything else. This is not for the benefit of the retailer, but of the consumer.

If people are informed about a problem it is up to them to either deal with it or not, of course. However, if a safety critical warning is notified and ignored then it may be their insurance is invalidated. If your car recalls are serious and, if ignored cause an accident, I’d hold you responsible.

No good retailers just sticking up a sign. The purchaser may not visit them again. And much stuff is sold online so no notices to notice.

I do appreciate what you’re saying Malcolm but the system that applies to cars, applies to all cars and I believe commercial vehicles as well.

So it would stand to reason (to me) that any system should apply to all products, not just a select few to meet the whims of the current news cycle as next week it could be chargers, batteries again or whatever else.

I totally get the current system is or at least seems to be inadequate but charting the course on what to do to improve it won’t be easy and, if history teaches well, will probably be fudged somewhere between by political motivation and business need to try to appease consumer demand and in the end it’s all too probable that nobody will be happy nor any guarantee anything will be any better.

And for me, that’s the crux of this, show me what to improve, how and that it will make a tangible difference even ignoring all the cost and legislative hurdles and I’m all for it. But, to date, I’ve seen not a scrap of evidence that would demonstrate or even indicate that any would do so. Nor much evidence to suggest this is a major problem in the grand scheme of things but I accept the notion that things should likely be better when stuff does go wrong.

But if there’s not going to be any meaningful change, what’s the point of wasting time and money on it?

It’s all well and good saying it should, could or ought to be better, great but it’s an imperfect system and extremely unlikely to reach a utopia. What do you do to actually effect demonstratable change worth the effort?

Given the people that run around without a driving license, insurance and/or a roadworthy vehicle I don’t see that insurance cover removal as being effective, certainly, to some extent it would but, how many people would just flaunt it or, just not care? That is of course if they got the message and understood it as well as the implications of inaction.

And you’d probably need a legislative change to insurances there as well to get that done, another hurdle.

All the while we drift evermore into being sucked into becoming a complete Nanny State.

K.

Insurances can currently be invalidated if you keep your car in an unroadworthy condition. I’d suggest that would include ignoring an essential safety recall and then causing an accident or loss as a result.

We may well just carry on as we are, but then Which? cannot demand “full product recalls”. That is where I originally came from. It may be good for headlines but otherwise pointless to “demand” things that cannot be achieved. Just as bad is then not to make proposals to remedy it.

I do not disagree with some of your points.

Technically your insurance on home or car can be invalidated for any number of reasons, cue the cries of big bad insurance companies trying to wheedle out of paying a claim. 😉

A “full product recall” as it’s been called, in effect a wholesale swap out of products is, frankly, laughable beyond very small items.

Even the likes of Apple when they mess stuff up fix what you have, they don’t just hand out free replacements illy willy.

Making a company, as I have pointed out previously, the size of even Whirlpool replace that many products would bankrupt them so, net result… nobody gets nothing. Everyone loses.

What many people. don’t get about large appliances is that the cost of the actual product isn’t that great, that’s true an many will understand that as they are (as I said) regarded as disposable cheap items. What people don’t know or have any clue about is the cost to exchange one is an order of magnitude greater in cost than the cost of the product.

You have to make, deliver, install, pick, return and dispose of and that is a huge cost, normally the best part of £200 minimum per exchange so as you might imagine, manufacturers are far from keen to be doing that and, won’t unless it’s completely unavoidable.

Which makes the notion that any manufacturer would carte blanche wholesale replace thousands and thousands of products completely untenable as a plan. Bluntly, the cash isn’t there to even think that would be a possibility.

That notion is basically a pipe dream that will never happen and, was it to, companies would go bust the first problem that initiated that happened.

So Which?’s calls for a “full recall”, you may as well bark at the moon as you’ll get more of a result from doing that in the real world.

K.

“What many people. don’t get about large appliances is that the cost of the actual product isn’t that great, “. Quite true in many cases. However, that should not be used an an excuse for making unsafe products.

Companies will insure against certain possibilities I expect, or have the resources to deal with a problem of their own making, as VW have. If they are not prepared to handle such problems responsibly then they should not be trading.

But, where’s the evidence that they are inherently unsafe as alluded to?

They do have insurance but a problem is normally only considered to be “epidemic” and therefore a valid claim until the instances exceed at least 8-12% depending on the product, cover etc.

If that’s not kicked in it kinda says a lot don’t you think?

K.

The legislative changes required to introduce compulsory product registration can be done by way of Consumer Protection Regulations that do not require a new Act of Parliament. This could be achieved quite quickly if the government has a mind to do it.

Yes. I agree. I think the “problem” with electrical appliances is very overstated by some. There is always the argument that one fire is one too many, but we will never eliminate risk. We can only mitigate it in pragmatic ways.

The problem arises when we have a problem like Whirlpool (which they unfortunately inherited). Just how do you deal with it sensibly? We do not want a sledgehammer approach just to appease some, but equally we need to have some means of preventing harm when a widespread problem is identified.

Appliances don’t have to be inherently unsafe to justify measures to protect the public from the consequences of misuse, neglect, unsafe operating conditions, inadequate safety measures in the premises, and other defective behaviour or conditions. New cars are not inherently unsafe but it is necessary to have various protections in place to reduce the risks to public safety.

A rational analysis based on an assessment of risks is not the way to proceed. The public concern requires a response. Registration will hardly trouble the public and most people will probably welcome it. There could be opposition from elements within the trade but that would be a dangerous game from a PR point of view.

John, not for the sake of argument but, where’s the evidence to support change? And a change of legislation is, a change of legislation… no small matter.

Malcolm, indeed and I agree it is blown out of proportion to a degree. If not a large one at times.

What you do about it in the cold light of day as it were with facts and evidence to hand dictating the reasonable, sensible and proportional response as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction to media glorification, well, that’s a thing that I don’t know there are any easy answers to.

As demonstrated, even massive all-encompassing media coverage in all channels imaginable is not any guarantee that those affected will be made aware or, do anything about it if they are.

So from there, where do you go?

K.

John, what? Really?

Just ignoring the rest…

[i]”A rational analysis based on an assessment of risks is not the way to proceed.”[/i]

So, we’re to accept an irrational assessment as a way forward? Really, you’re seriously saying that’s a rational and reasonable way to look at an issue? Or should that be irrational, sorry I’m confused by this completely.

Sorry, but to me, that’s a totally unacceptable position to take on any topic. Perhaps I’m too logical and pragmatic, dunno.

K.

There has been a call for a more effective product recall system. A compulsory registration process would be necessary to give effect to that. The government must be seen to act and as in so many areas evidence is not always required. Personally I can’t see the point of resisting it.

No.Kenneth, I am not saying this is a rational and reasonable way to look at an issue. It is a political expedient. I don’t like it any more than you do – although I do support the overall objective in principle – but it’s the world we live in.

If my calculations are approximately right there are about 10 million major electrical appliances sold each year. I don’t see recording the basic details of those as that onerous. Recording existing ownership will be more difficult as it will rely in part upon many owners finding the relevant information on their appliances and submitting it. Maybe we have to live with a voluntary system for legacy products.

The realistic bit comes with how many different types of product you include. As Ken says there are vast numbers of electrical products that I doubt could ever be included. I suggest here that we should pay more attention to ensuring products that are sold in the UK are safe, possibly by increasing the onus on importers to check the quality and integrity of their sources particularly regarding compliance with safety standards.

I’m not sure how we protect against abuse, misuse, inappropriate environment etc. by official protective measures. Maybe I misunderstood.

One way this risk could be dealt with is to fit fire sprinklers in all kitchens.

Many owners of legacy appliances have already registered them with the manufacturers. That data can be transferred to the new system. There will be some wrinkles in the system but they can be ironed out over time and the process gold-plated in due course.

I presume there will also be data available in respect of everyone who has made a service call to the manufacturer. The turnover of appliances will mean that the records will reach their maximum practical extent within a few years.

If we buy a toaster in Tesco’s I am sure there will be a quick and easy way of registering it by reference to the bar code and my Clubcard.

Political expedient is all well and good but, other than Which?, where’s the call for any of this?

There is none.

It’s unlikely that politicians will take any notice at all unless there is a significant call from the general public for an investigation that leads to a legislative change and, even if there were you would require evidence-based assessment of risk and benefit, of which there is none, to effect any change.

Politicians and civil service will not act, period, without evidence, facts and an effective strategy that will effect change that brings about a measurable improvement as otherwise, there’s no point in doing anything at all.

And, rightly so.

Unless you can find enough politicians that want to put their neck on the block to call for a change that will likely have no effect but cost the taxpayer a ton of cash. I don’t rate your chances of finding enough of that particular breed of a political unicorn.

K.

I don’t think we can protect against those things absolutely, Malcolm. Building regulations might bring about some improvements but so many aspects of the operation of appliances are down to the owner’s behaviour. That is why I argued that we don’t need products to be inherently unsafe, as Kenneth suggested, before we take public protection measures; we need to protect against the uncontrolled risks. Products with defective safety measures that rely for safety on owners carrying out certain maintenance procedures [e.g. Whirlpool dryers] need to be recalled to have them modified. That will reduce the risk of a dangerous incident.

A YouGov survey conducted for AMDEA has found that less than half (43%) of British adults usually register their large domestic appliances with the manufacturer. Of those that don’t always register, 39% said this was because they forgot and 29% didn’t think it was necessary.”

That’s about 45 million unregistered major electrical appliance sover the last 8 years – just an arbitrary time i admit to pick up old appliances. The (roughly) 35 million registered could, as you say, be added to the database relatively easily.

As transactions are generally processed electronically I don’t see why most retailers should have any difficulty in collecting and remitting the small amount of information needed.

They could probably but are unlikely to do so unless there’s a compelling reason to do so.

Also bear in mind that a huge amount of product is through small kitchen fitters, sold through B&Q, Wickes, Howddens and many, many more so you’d need to reach them somehow and, given the givens I can’t see them complying unless it’s forced upon them. Force it on them and you need to force it on everyone else.

Then there are homebuilders, often as not they don’t register stuff and people moving into a new home, it’s not exactly a priority for them.

It really isn’t as simplistic as you may imagine by any stretch.

Then atop that, now, you need to get the person that’s registering the product’s permission to share the data with anyone, GDPR. You are not allowed to share data without express permission other than that which is mandated legally and, often as not, makes sense it’s that way.

To top it off (for now) you need a unified system and then you have to be able to transmit that data to that system or, it’s manual and labour intensive to do so and, before anyone says that’s not a lot of work no, it’s not. For one. For scores or hundreds per day it’s a huge amount of work re-keying all that data to yet another system and trust me, I know full well how much time that takes, how infuriating it is and it’s a soul-crushing task.

So to avoid that you need to get IT systems to talk to one another, not easy as it’s hugely fragmented and there will be a price tag for everyone to comply along with the time required to make it happen. Therefore, unless it’s foisted on them all, they simply will not do it.

K.

Ken, that’s quite right, where is the demand? I think some MPs have demanded a “full recall” of Whirlpool dryers, as have Which?, but with seemingly no concept as to how that can be achieved.

“Recall” is part of the OPSS “Strategy” https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/733148/safety-and-standards-product-safety-strategy.pdf

I despair when I see these documents because they seem long on words and short on actions. So look up “recall” and they seem to require this to be done by manufacturers. They have published, via BSI, a “Code of Practice on Product Recalls (PAS 7100)” which is good, but voluntary. The say manufacturers must contact affected customers. So maybe they expect consumers to register with individual manufacturers. Unless the EU sets up a new regulation this cannot be compulsory on manufacturers, many of whom will be outside the EU’s (and the UK’s) jurisdiction anyway.

The say they will “strengthen the central hub” that houses information on product safety problems. Who looks at that regularly?

Under “Product Safety Landscape: Roles and Responsibilities” (page 11) they say
When a product is found to be unsafe, a risk assessment is undertaken, which forms the basis for intervention. Risk factors include the nature of the product, the level of hazard and likelihood, and which intervention would most effectively improve the safety of consumers. This may result in a product recall or other corrective action, such as a repair programme, to address the issue. In such an event, as per the Code of Practice on Product Recalls (PAS 7100), manufacturers must contact affected consumers and publicise the risk posed and details of the recall. Information about the recall must also be shared by retailers and distributors to ensure that as many consumers as possible are aware of the issue.

No mention of a central registration database that I could see, but I may not have spotted it, nor of how the “must contact” can be effected. Just a desire to see “as many consumers as possible are aware of the issue”. Perhaps someone else has studied this strategy and can point to a plan that allows for full recalls.

I don’t suppose setting up the Office of Product Safety & Standards involved a lot of rational analysis of costs & benefits, evidence-based needs assessments, civil service obstructionism, public consultation, and legislative consideration. It was just done.

Most new homes are sold through a sales office/show home with a representative who deals with all the admin for each new sale and this would be just a small percentage of all the things that have to registered or notified from security alarms to energy accounts.

Nope, other than cries from some in the media and quite honestly I see that as merely a cry for attention, nobody cares.

And of course, those shouting about the “big bad company” are seen by the public to be “doing the right thing protecting consumers” when I expect they know full well it’s a waste of breath other than for their own PR purposes. And I suspect that they also know full well a “full recall” as it’s referred to is at best a pipe dream of a utopian solution that will never happen.

As to a database as soon as they mention it, they have to either have one in play or, invent it.

Given the cost to do so, the hassles of dealing with it and getting the funding to do it in the first instance I would think that they’d avoid mention of it very deliberately as that’s unicorn poo.

The reason is that there’s no funding for it and no way to commercialise it if you can’t sell the data, which you can’t now so it’s a lame duck on two fronts.

Manufacturers will keep data on registered products, some are better than others at it but, with such a fragmented and varied way to market there’s not any way to reliably track everything and it’d be far too onerous a task to even attempt to do so and, therefore, costly.

Conversely, all new cars, for example, are sold through registered, monitored and audited dealers or direct from a manufacturer, new registrations must be legally registered through a prescribed single system operated by DVSA, a plate issued and so on all through that chain. It’s a vast system but one that’s been around for decades and enshrined in law.

Appliances and other consumer goods, there is no comparable system at all, not even remotely close. And to set one up with the huge fragmentation of channels which is not the case with vehicles, would come at a monumental cost and require significant change to legislation and would require someone to police it, more cost.

That I expect is why nobody’s interested as, huge cost, no tangible benefit demonstrated and no way to commercialise it. Therefore, no point and no interest.

K.

Hi all,

I’ve got some answers to a couple of questions asked in this thread. As it is quite a long discussion I am concerned I’ve missed some questions. Could you let me know if you these responses don’t answer yours fully?

We are keeping OPSS up to date with all of our findings and have made submissions to them on things like our research into refrigeration backings, cot mattresses, and slime.

We do recommend that consumers register their products and we are looking at the product safety system as a whole. There are some bigger questions around how good the registering system is, as it sits with AMDEA, which is why we haven’t had a hard line on this. So, for now, we just recommend customers register their products when they purchase them. Going forward it might be something that we look at in more detail as we have a closer focus on retailers and so it’s good to know that it’s something that supporters are interested in knowing about too.

Thanks Alex. It’s good to have some feedback.

Amdea is a trade association that covers a restricted range of products, with white goods best covered. I don’t believe that it would cover dangerous chargers or phone/computer batteries, for example. I have monitored recall of electrical products for a few years and now check others. This has helped me and allow me to help several friends with affected products.

I do appreciate the efforts that Which? is putting in to make new products safe but we need a way that can reliably inform as many people as possible that they may own a recalled product.

@awhittle, this just seems to support the current position, which has not worked. Less than half of purchasers register their appliance. I applaud amdea for providing the means to register products – they do more than others to help protect consumer safety – but we do need to get the majority of owners registering if we want to avoid a Whirlpool debacle.

I have never had an answer from Which? to the basic question. When Which? demand a “full recall” exactly how do they propose that it should be accomplished? Do they not have any proposals to put to the OPSS? There is no point in demanding, or campaigning for, the impossible.

Do they want a single scheme for registration, or do they propose each manufacturer should run their own, for example? this is an important issue I would have thought Which? would be dealing with, and with some effort.

I totally agree, Malcolm. I am getting fed up with Which? sitting on the fence all the time and ducking the issue when we put it to them. “Full recall” is a snappy phrase but is meaningless without a system to support it. It panders to the negative people who can only see objections and difficulties.

If the government proposed to set up a product registration system I doubt there would be any significant opposition. Some non-cooperation, perhaps, but there are ways of dealing with that.

It is important that we don’t do anything to alienate Alex and her colleagues who are presumably acting as messengers here. Hopefully Which? will come up with a response to the relevant strategy document. I posted a link earlier.

There seems little public appetite for information about potentially harmful products as far as I can tell, with the notable exception of information related to food allergies and intolerances.

Even if a product is subject to a recall it is not necessarily dangerous. For example, power supplies and chargers are often recalled because some examples have not been properly glued together. (Why not use screws as well as glue?) I have seen recalls for three products of this type and all were absolutely fine.

It would be great to have some input from someone who is involved with Which? strategy on product safety.

When Which? provide topics for Convos they (Which?) should expect to be asked questions about their proposals and strategy. It must not be forgotten that Which? is a Members’ organisation, funded by their subscriptions and there to act on behalf of its Members, who represent consumers.

In this particular instance, when Which? demand “a full recall”, for example, that seems an impossibility, it is quite proper to ask how they propose achieving it. It seems to me making impossible demands weakens the status of the organisation.

Whirlpool, as the example presumably that illustrates the problem, is one of safety concern. Even if some members of the public might have no interest in safety, I expect most will be concerned. Another exploding washing machine door tonight illustrates that.

We must remember it is not just our safety that is at stake, but that of our neighbours; there may be many of those in a block of flats. They need protecting also.

I hope Which? do explain any strategy that they are developing. i have, incidentally, asked privately about this in the past, and a number of times in Convos, but without an informative reply. I’m sure Alex and co.will do their best, as usual, to elicit answers.

Just to put a little perspective on that for you.

A very, very rough calculation if, for example, in the case of Whirlpool they were forced to carry out what has been dubbed a “full recall” and swap out all 5 million dryers the bill to do so could potentially (easily I expect) stretch to over £1 billion quite easily once you consider the raw cost alone. That excludes administration, disposal and any other costs.

That would bankrupt Whirlpool UK, probably Whirlpool EMEA, tank the stock in the US and wipe out any profits for I’d reckon, 4-10 years depending on the fallout and final bill based on Whirlpool’s recent global profits.

Essentially, it’d break the company.

For a problem they didn’t even make.

But they likely wouldn’t be afforded the opportunity to make a go of a recovery as market traders not being entirely stupid of course would tank the stock and dump it, overnight the company would lose any value and it’s bye bye Whirlpool.

If that happened there would then be no recourse whatsoever for people that owned them, none, zero, nadda. Nobody would pick it up as it’s toxic and, nobody would care.

If you think otherwise, just look at history there are many examples of seemingly “safe” brands that have gone under leaving owners to suffer the consequences of that happening. Even with cars, Saab, Rover are but two glaring examples in recent times.

Which is why the notion of a “full recall” is, to me, utter irresponsible, idiocy in an instance like this as it’s completely unworkable in my reality of how the world actually works and by forcing this in many instances all you do is the public a disservice, you’re not doing good at all as nobody will win.

Oh, and all those unsafe products will continue to be used and continue to be unsafe as nobody will be doing anything about them. So you’ve increased the danger, not decreased it!

That said, the scale of this is unprecedented in many regards so it is an extreme example, it just so happens to be a completely factual real-world one. But, not the only one.

Had Samsung had to swap out all the RS series fridges it could have destroyed their large appliances business, maybe more.

There was another example but I can’t recall what company it was a few years back but, it was way smaller than either those two and faced utter annihilation if they’d been forced to swap out recalled products as well.

Also, consider that, if you were a new entrant looking to a market, would you really get involved knowing that if something goes wrong like this you’re toast? Or, you come up with a new super duper technology, would you even bother if there were even the slightest possibility something might go wrong? Bearing in mind that to set up a product line to make one product can be costing you many millions, an investment that you could lose at the stroke of a pen. Sure you might get insurance but, at what cost and, that just gets added to the overall price as well, plus percentages on tax, margin etc?

I get there’s risk in everything, totally but, you do as much as possible to mitigate that at all stages including any safety risks as they’re costly to put right but, too much red tape and too much penalty might just make any potential manufacturer think, “you know what, let’s not bother as they risk -v- reward doesn’t stack up, we’ll stick with what’s a safe bet”.

Many do that already and won’t try new things, the risk is too great as things are balanced against legislative requirement and profitability.

And perhaps that’s a greater risk, I can’t say for sure as it’s speculative. But, if I’m right, the potential for damage to investment, innovation and more I would think is glaringly obvious.

If it’s only a UK law though, some just might not bother trading in the UK as it’d not be worth the bother/risk.

K.

I wonder how insurance companies see this issue?

Collectively or individually, they ought to have good access to frequency and consequences data for house fires, at least for the subset of households than can afford insurance.

There is a lot in what Kenneth has said and I think Which? has fallen into a trap with the concept of ‘full recall’.

I am sure that ‘full’ only means contact with the owners all those currently registered appliances [so the aim should be to maximise the registration], and ‘recall’ is short-hand for ‘specified attention’ – it might be a modification not an exchange [as in the Whirlpool case], it might be an alert or advisory notification requiring owners to confirm that they have taken certain action. There certainly needs to be a national strategy for public safety reasons as Malcolm has said, and Which? ought to be part of the process that formulates that so that it can ensure the consumer interest is foremost.

The big thing that was lacking in the Whirlpool case was a rectification strategy drawn up with Trading Standards to reduce the risk of fires to a level that is as low as is reasonably practicable. Attempts were made within Which? Conversation to suggest how the modification programme could be managed and delivered effectively on the basis of a risk-based priority assessment and the involvement of other companies and organisations. Which? showed little or no interest in taking such ideas forward, Trading Standards was disengaged, and Whirlpool was in total damage-limitation mode and were not saying anything. That was a very good example of how not to proceed. Prevention being better than a cure, there is now a chance with the OPSS to develop a process that substitutes initiative for reaction, order for confusion, and accountability for abdication.

There is risk in everything. Even the best manufacturers will have rogue machines escape the net (not, of course, precipitating a recall). And introducing a new design, new plant, new technology can lead to totally unforeseen problems, however well something is tested. Comet, perhaps? I do not want to see this very very unlikely risk stifle responsible innovation, so we must be careful to keep things in perspective.

Manufacturers, however, are responsible for the design and quality of their products, as is any other organisation – NHS for example. So they must deal with problems that are of their own making. The concept of a “total recall” would be such an extreme response, only in the event, I’d suggest, that a product was made with a serious safety fault that was likely to have affected all or the majority of the whole batch. Let’s say a faulty component that caught fire under normal conditions, like Samsung phones. Generally a “total recall” might be to advise all customers of a possible safety problem with a proportion of the batch, and advise on how to identify whether the product were affected and what then to do. It is for the manufacturer to propose how they would best deal with that – best from both their and the customers’ stance and, if there were any dispute, have it resolved by an “authority”. But a remedy must be applied.

I take the point about the negative consequences of a very expensive problem, if unnecessarily imposed. VW have had to withstand draconian penalties in the US. Going out of business, so no one wins, is not going to help. I don’t see a solution to such an Armageddon but it is most unlikely to arise. Serious faults are usually found early in the process and contained to relatively small numbers. What has always surprised me about Indesit dryers is how such a problem can have possibly gone on for 10 years without the problem being flagged up. Lack of a proper monitoring system maybe. If the OPSS do establish proper monitoring of faults, based on a robust reporting system, such a situation should not arise again.

So I still favour a central database of owners of the most “vulnerable” appliances to inform them of any problem, a simple method of reporting specific faults that will be aggregated, and an investigative group to actively monitor the market to ensure any developing problem is caught early.

How it went unnoticed is easy.

Reports suggest 750 incidents allegedly caused.

Approximately 5 million dryers in use.

What’s that, if my math is correct a 0.00015% fail rate. Hardly significant or indicative of any issue of note. In fact, that’s probably rather good all things considered.

To trip insurance or flag a real “epidemic” issue you’d have to see over 400,000 identical failures at least, an 8% fail rate which is widely considered the minimum to be indicative of an epidemic issue.

And there are cries of a “full recall” for such a low failure rate?

Perhaps that elaborates on the comments regarding stifling innovation and investment a little better as if that were imposed for that level of failure it is Draconian in the extreme if you ask me.

Makes great headlines though. Especially if you remove logic, common sense, pragmatism and reason.

K.

When you sell many millions of products and, of course, only hear about the problems, a very very small % becomes a substantial number of those products, as you rightly say. Unless that % is “significant” indicating more than an expected failure rate then panic should not set in, nor be instigated. However, Whirlpool may have gone over that threshold, or not. Do we know? It is, in their case, time related as it requires the build up of fluff that can then find its way in some cases on to the heater.

It is said there are possibly millions of “affected” Indesit dryers still out there and presumably still being used. I have not seen any reports of many fires as a result. So just how big is the risk?

Headlines does seem to be a bit of a goal, unfortunately, I’d like to see more properly informed appraisals of a situation, and constructive proposals, rather than the urge to generate “startling news”. I’d leave that to the tabloids.

As I have said before, using all-metal cases for white goods would mean that if fire starts for any reason it would not spread and set the room or house alight. Another advantage of this approach is that getting rid of glass doors on washing machines and tumble dryers would end complaints about the dangers of broken glass.

If memory serves, Whirlpool only said they’d identified a “potential” issue and were taking corrective action.

They didn’t say they posed any great danger as such. Given the stats and evidence to hand, it’s hard to see it otherwise.

But trot out a few photos of burnt out husks and kitchens or, in some cases laughably incorrectly installed ones in garages etc and all hell breaks loose in the news. It gains traction as a story, not helped by the London tower block incidents and whammo, we have a massive story and a bad guy to blame as well… classic David -v- Goliath splashed all over the media.

No evidence of cause. No stats. Not any proportional reporting I could see. Not much of any facts at all really but, a great story.

In the face of that is it really any wonder that Whirlpool just clammed up? As it wouldn’t matter what they said at that point, they’d been painted as the villain of the peace and that’d be that.

K.

Yes, Whirlpool issued a safety notice, although it has often been referred to as a recall. They also said that it was OK to carry on using affected machines under supervision and thankfully were told to revise this advice.

Yes, many appliances are not correctly installed, but put them in metal cases and it won’t matter whether they have been installed correctly or not – the case will still prevent spread of fire.

In a world where freestanding fridges and freezers have metal cases so that kids can stick fridge magnets on them then I think the designers could manage to produce all-metal cases.

Old coals… raking.

I have explained many times why this is a fanciful notion.

K.

I would assess the “flag” of a possible problem on the number of reported incidents, not the %. and whether, for the type of product, the incidence was significantly higher than normal. This is what I would hope a decent monitoring system would be set up to do.

We share the same view on failure % though. Although i doubt we know how many have been involved in “fire-related incidents” as I guess (maybe wrongly) that not all get reported There are far more fires caused by cooking, smoking, candles than by domestic appliances. There will always be a risk with something electrical, whether from a product fault, abuse, misuse or something that is at end of life. We have to take a pragmatic view otherwise we would never use such devices. At the same time, practical and realistic solutions to mitigate the effects of a fault should be considered, in design, manufacture and use.

Kenneth – You have still not given any valid reasons why I’m wrong.

I have many times if you’d care to read back old threads.

K.

Work has been done on such topics by those knowledgeable in this field, and international work on fire in electric domestic appliances is still, as far as I know, underway. I’ll see what outcomes they propose.

Far more fires are caused by sources other than tumble dryers. Cooking is a major one. I have suggested therefore that it might be better to address the whole problem by fitting fire sprinklers in new kitchens.

“I have suggested therefore that it might be better to address the whole problem by fitting fire sprinklers in new kitchens.”

That is, in my view also, the only way to mitigate as much risk as possible from all sources.

K.

Can anyone explain why the use of combustible plastics was banned as an acceptable material for the cases of distribution boards and that all the ones I have seen advertised and on sale are steel?

At one time we had wooden fuse boxes, then metal and bakelite and then most domestic ones were made out of modern plastics. Common sense has prevailed.

Distribution boards caused fewer fires than tumble dryers, for example, so why change the standard for one and not the other?

Perhaps as they are “wet” products and that’s the best way to insulate against accidental shock hazard.

Much like I have explained in depth many times before.

People don’t tend to go near distribution boards with wet hands… a washing machine, tumble dryer, dishwasher though… there’s a fair old chance people’s hands will be wet.

Oh, and they’re full of water, near electrical stuff so electrically insulating the bits you touch from the case seems an eminently sensible idea to my mind.

And it’s absolutely no surprise that distribution boards cause fewer fires, that’s plain common sense, they don’t have electrical moving bits, stuff put in them that is flammable, they’re installed (or should be) by competent trained professionals and aren’t subject to user interaction to anywhere near the same degree among other factors. So, that truly is an apple and oranges comparison to make, they are not remotely similar.

K.

London Fire Brigade reported 235 fires in consumers units, largely due to sloppy work by electricians. That seems many more, pro rata, than tumble dryer fires.

I had a consumer unit made of SMC – a thermoset. Not combustible and presumably still acceptable today. Just as domestic electrical appliance standards require non-metallic materials to be resistat to flame and the spread of fire. It comes down to choosing appropriate materials and using them correctly.

Why if they cause fewer fires must distribution boards be made of metal or other non-combustible material then?

No-one will get an electric shock from an earthed metal case, will they?

I was in charge of labs full of equipment that was connected to the mains water supply and contained water plus a variety of simple chemicals, making it highly conductive compared with tap water. Most of the commercial equipment needed to be modified (mainly earth-bonding) to improve safety. On one occasion I brought in a well known manufacturer based in Germany to modify 36 pieces of equipment to make them safe. The defects were corrected in their later designs.

As I mentioned before, you will find dryers with metal fascias with switches, buttons and lamps.

The amount of sockets we come across that are faulty is unreal.

Burnt, no earth, dodgy extensions and more.

So no, the product being earthed to the plug top or passing an insulation test is not an absolute guarantee of electrical safety at all.

You will see metal fascias, quite correct… that will have a plastic backing on wet product.

K.

Malcolm – The requirements for distribution boards relate to new and replacement ones and not existing models. Alternatives to metal are allowed if they meet current requirements but the only ones I have seen are metal. Surely SMC is not a single product and the fire resistance will depend on the composition, for example which plastic it contains. My solicitor rightly picked up on the fact that there was a plastic distribution board when he did a survey on the house I was buying in 2016.

Kenneth – I agree about faulty sockets. I learned about line-earth loop testing when I was a first year student. I often lend a simple plug-in tester to friends and that has turned up many examples of sockets that have a poor earth or none at all, most often with extension leads.

I have no problem with plastic backing on fascias because that does not affect the ability to contain fire. I’ve said this before.

The ones that do have a “metal” fascia etc, it’s just a very thin skin on most, not far off a tin foil coating, it probably would fall away at the first sign of fire.

K.

wavechange, SMC is a thermoset and the commercial versions will have their characteristics published. It has, I understand, a low plastic (e.g. polyester resin) content with mainly inert filler. It is probably cheaper to make a steel enclosure in high volume than one moulded in SMC.

I am well aware that the consumer unit requirements in the wiring regs introduced in 2015 (I believe) were not retrospective. Had their been real danger posed by older units there would have been a requirement to have them replaced. So pragmatic.

That’s no use then, Kenneth. When we discussed this before I looked at washing machines and dryers in a launderette and they had stout stainless steel cases, hopefully adequately earthed.

Malcolm – I do know what SMCs are.

Again, as previously discussed and explained, those are totally different animals.

That’s like comparing a Ford Fiesta to a Scania truck, other than some wheels and they drive on a road, there is no similarity whatsoever as they are designed for totally different use cases.

K.

The principle is exactly the same as regards the ability to contain fire.

As I’ve said before, marketing dryers that ” won’t burn your house down, even when they set fire to your laundry” would be a tough job.

I’d prefer to buy a dryer that isn’t going to incinerate my washing.

In your opinion perhaps wavechange.

K.

In reply to ” Surely SMC is not a single product and the fire resistance will depend on the composition, for example which plastic” I gave a reply above .

“Malcolm – I do know what SMCs are”. There may be people who do not, and this Convo addresses all commenters.

For completeness from my use of the products there was SMC – sheet moulding compound with longer gass fires for strength, and DMC – Dough Moulding Compound – with much shorter fibres but able to be moulded with finer detail.

Derek – My approach is not to have a tumble dryer, but I’m lucky and have a garden that often provides good opportunities for drying at no cost.

EN 60335-1 (electrical domestic appliance safety) deals with non-metallic materials (e.g. plastics) by requiring them to be resistant to ignition and the spread of flame (section 30.2). It lists those components that are exceptions – less than 0.5 g and not close to others, or those “decorative trims, knobs and other parts that are unlikely to be ignited or to propagate flames that originate inside the appliance”. It seems clear what has to comply. Detailed tests are specified to check compliance.

We have been there before, Malcolm. On the basis that, dryers and other white goods do cause fires that spread, there must be something wrong with the standard or compliance, or both.

I put the washing out to dry in the garden last night – and it provided a no-cost rinse. Solar heating now back on. But not the most useful dryer in the winter. We either resort to a clothes horse and the (wet) radiators or, as a last resort, use the Zanussi dryer that has done sterling service for many years.

We keep going over and over this and I would like to see what those with specific knowledge and expertise have to say – the working group and the IEC. I doubt they will do other than make a decision having considered all the relevant factors, including risk and potential remedy.

I have earlier said I have asked both UL and ANSI in the US for their comments but as yet have not heard back.

I’d suggest we need more information to reach a reasoned conclusion. But as others keep reminding us, you can mitigate risk but not eliminate it.

I’ve suggested before than an obvious way to reduce road traffic accidents is to make all roads one way. But………………

By the very nature of fire, it spreads… fire doesn’t care what starts it, it spreads.

So in a kitchen, you’ve got stuff that carries electricity, gets hot, some go beyond the ignition point of the wood it’s usually surrounded in not to mention possible flammable liquids and all sorts of stuff that can burn.

Is it really a shock that when there’s a kitchen fire it can be dramatic, irrespective of the source?

Which is why, whilst you may want to berate appliances and blame them for all ills, the truth is that many things can be the source of a kitchen fire and all of them represent a danger and you simply cannot blame one particular thing and conveniently ignore all the rest.

And has been repeatedly pointed out, cooking products are way, way more likely to cause a problem in this regard than any other product by an order of magnitude. I would have presumed it common sense to address the biggest problem/s than to place so much focus on such a minor issue.

Plus, even when there is a problem, given the heap of stuff in that room that can be an issue, you need to identify that it actually was the accused item that was a problem and it’s not just the easy thing to blame. And, that it’s a problem with the product and not use, installation etc before rocks are thrown.

It’s a little thing I like to call evidence.

K.

We could ban wood in kitchens (and the rest of the building) unless it could be made resistant to ignition and the spread of flame. And we could ban flammable materials of all kinds in our homes. That would reduce the possible impact of all fires and their effects on our neighbours. I believe curtains caught fire in one tragedy and transmitted the fire elsewhere. But it is unlikely to happen, and I am not suggesting it as a solution when you balance the risk against the downsides.

What are the downsides of making white goods with all-metal cases, Malcolm?

Wood can be treated to make it fire-retardant.

I’m still waiting for an explanation of why we see appliance fires if there is an existing standard that requires materials to be resistant to ignition and the spread of flame.

As previously explained many times;

Please refer to the standards, there are very good, sound and sensible reasons that plastics are used. If you want that to be altered then you must change the standards as Malcolm and I have repeatedly pointed out.

Fire retardant is not fireproof. Wood burns, ehm… that’s it.

Ditto plastic and most anything else, get enough heat into it and anything will burn.

Constantly calling for the use of an all-metal construction is pointless, it will not happen and under current guidelines cannot legally happen I believe so, you are wasting time chasing the end of the rainbow with that one. Unless you lever to have those standards changed and, I believe that it is world standards that goes beyond the EU.

Good luck with that.

K.

Kenneth wrote: “Which is why, whilst you may want to berate appliances and blame them for all ills, the truth is that many things can be the source of a kitchen fire and all of them represent a danger and you simply cannot blame one particular thing and conveniently ignore all the rest.”

My criticism is very specific and does not relate to any specific brand. I could extend my criticism to those manufacturers that provide a delay start feature on washing machines, dryers and dishwashers, ignoring the routine advice from fire services not to leave these appliances running when in bed or out of the house.

You have been rather vocal in criticising the white goods industry, so it’s not just me.

I am extremely critical of the industry, I’m renowned for being very harsh at times but only where it’s justifiable and the facts and evidence support my case.

Where they do not and/or I have no evidence to hand, I shut my mouth as I’m probably wrong. Possibly commenting or offering an opinion only on occasion but with the caveat that I cannot be sure of the ground.

K.

Re: Malcolm’s post

In 1840 Jesse Hartley designed and built the Albert Dock in Liverpool without using any wood whatsoever, with the specific intention it would never burn. It didn’t and today the same buildings house expensive, state of the art flats, so it’s not such a bad idea.

“What are the downsides of making white goods with all-metal cases, Malcolm?” Many (all where the standard requires it) do have all metal cases with non-metallic materials used where they fulfil a function and are appropriate, And it may be that in future there will be a requirement for sealed boxes for tumble dryers.

As I have said these decisions are in the hands of groups of knowledgeable experts from different disciplines – the International Electrotechnical Commission IEC – who create the international standards that are so valuable. I trust their knowledge and judgement to come up with practical and pragmatic proposals based on all the facts. Their proposals go to every country’s standards organisation – BSI in our case – to be considered, commented on, challenged. So we in the UK and Which? who are on the committee now, along with people like the London Fire Brigade, can make their input.

I have also said that individuals who are interested can comment directly to BSI with their concerns.

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If that is the only reason for the use of plastics then, logically, by extension what you’re saying is that there’s a big conspiracy involving the IEC, BSI and probably every other standards agency in the world who have all colluded to allow all these manufacturers of thousands upon thousands of products to do that based solely on cost. I don’t think so.

Most large companies struggle to decide what’s for lunch without five committee meetings and a period of evaluation, chances of them doing that is less than zero.

As for governments, well… I think their records in the main will give a good indication of the chances.

So no, I don’t agree that it is purely down to cost as that would not be prioritised over safety by all these different and diverse organisations, I cannot in any way see that being true.

I’m sure in your field that may well have been the case from what you saw, I don’t doubt you but to say that internationally agreed standards are all wrong across the world is a stretch from one person’s personal experience.

As to what happens in Trumpland, I don’t much care as, seems that the nutters are in charge of the asylum there or is that crooks in charge of the prison, whatever but, it’s hardly a gleaming example of doing things right in my humble opinion.

K.

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I can’t see it interpreted any other way Duncan as these are internationally agreed standards with what you might as well regard as global support.

What it appears to me you’re saying is that they’re all wrong and a few folks here on a Which? conversation, who so far as I am aware are not qualified in these fields, know better and are better qualified to state why these standards are the way that they are?

I made no mention of where you worked. I don’t have a clue and it’s irrelevant.

I made no mention of poverty in any quarter.

K.

Here’s another photo that follows the usual trend of metal surviving fire and plastic burning or melting. Fortunately the kids survived, though their home is in a bit of a mess:

More information: https://staffslive.co.uk/2018/03/five-children-lucky-to-be-alive-after-being-trapped-in-tunstall-house-fire/#prettyPhoto

I think its time to contact London Fire Brigade again and suggest that if they reckon that plastic-backed fridges and freezers are of concern, use of other plastic case parts might be more of a risk.

Many components are far better made from plastics – usually injection moulded but als oextruded – than other materials. They can be in complex shapes, incorporate fixings and other details impossible in metal, self finished, insulating…. the advantages can be legion. Of course it’s partly about profit and cost, but the last benefits consumers.

50% or more of a modern aircraft may be “plastics” of one kind or another.

Here’s a car – courtesy alamy.

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It would be a challenge to build white goods without plastics. I find plastics fascinating and have done since I studied polymer science in my final year at university. However, whatever plastics were used in the case of the tumble dryer in the photo I posted above don’t seem to have been a good choice even if the machine complied with the relevant standards.

I’m not sure what the photo of a burned out car is supposed to illustrate. If it was all-metal and air excluded from entering, the fire would go out when the oxygen was exhausted. Nevertheless it does show well that steel survives well in fires.

Plastic backed fridges are very low risk, as Which? point out. “Should I worry if my fridge is plastic-backed? If you already own a fridge with a plastic back, you should be reassured that the likelihood of a refrigerator fire is very low.

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/fridges/article/fridge-safety – Which?

Much of this revolves around the degree of risk and reported tumble dryer fires, for example, represent a very small proportion of those out there – 0.005% a year. I’m sure those looking at the safety of domestic electrical appliances will take all aspects into account when revising the international standard.

However, unless constructive ideas are taken to standards authorities – like BSI – they may be overlooked (although unlikely). So it is constructive for people with concerns to approach BSI directly. I would hope Which? will also now work with BSI and present proposals.

We can keep going over all the old ground here but unless someone communicates novel proposals to the appropriate committees they will not be heard. However, I expect all these proposals and more are being considered already. Maybe Which? could keep us informed.

Most any appliance fires will look like that, a photo like that of a burnt out husk tells you nothing other than, it was subject to a lot of heat.

Not why. Nor does it mean the product was in any way unsafe.

In order to determine that you need evidence allowing you to determine the true cause.

Therefore it is not possible to say that the use of plastics had any bearing whatsoever. You can’t even say that plastics used had any bearing on the spread of any fire without a detailed analysis of it all.

And, as Malcolm demonstrated any metal case object subject to certain conditions can look equally as bad.

It really tells me nothing.

K.

Duncan, I haven’t put any words in your mouth, I only told my analysis of your comment, that’s all. It was not intended to cause you to take offence.

I don’t need to know what you did unless it has a bearing on the topic under discussion.

You all may well have qualifications relevant to your field of expertise and I wouldn’t argue that but, appliances I know well, therefore, I can speak with a level of authority on the topic.

K.

Malcolm – I have made the comment about plastic-backed fridges and freezers being low risk. I’ve got a pair and the only concession is that there is a very loud smoke alarm above them.

If BSI has not seen the sort of photos that I post here then I wonder if they are fit to do their job. As I said, I will contact LFB again.

Do you think the family in the Tunstall photo would be comforted to know that their fire was statistically an uncommon event?