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What’s your view on the government’s new product safety office?

product recall

The government has announced the creation of the new ‘Office of Product Safety and Standards’. But will this new department be the fix we desperately need to improve our safety system?

Over the past year, the evidence has continued to build that the product safety system is failing with yet more unsafe products hitting the headlines.

As many of you will know, we’ve been pressing for the government to bring forward reforms to fix the broken system. Well, today the government has announced that it is recognising the need for action. It will be creating a central resource within the government department responsible for product safety, the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

While we’re pleased the problem with product safety is finally being recognised, the announcement falls short of the full overhaul urgently needed.

Product safety reform

We want the government to introduce an independent national body that has real powers to protect consumers.

Following the concerns about the product safety system raised by us, Lynn Faulds-Wood and then the BEIS Select Committee, the government has announced a new ‘Office of Product Safety and Standards’ team. However, this is not independent as it sits within the government.

BEIS states that this new ‘Office of Product Safety and Standards’ will:

  • Co-ordinate work across local authorities where action is needed on a national scale
  • Ensure the UK continues to carry out appropriate border checks once the UK leaves the EU
  • Be responsible for general (non-food) consumer product safety in line with the current responsibilities of BEIS on product safety
  • Have a budget of around £12 million per year when fully operational

Safety system

With the whole Whirlpool tumble dryer saga and our report on the failings of the product safety system, the lack of protections in place to keep people safe from dangerous products has become more obvious.

We think an independent national body which has real powers to protect them and get dangerous products out of their homes is necessary. We don’t believe the government is going far enough, do you think they should do more? What’s your view of the product safety system?


Comments

I hope that this new department will also look in to the shameful responses of the motor trade as well.

Gilly Peto says:
22 January 2018

Any regulatory body should be independent of political influence.

That is almost impossible to achieve, Gilly. Regulatory bodies with statutory powers – which everyone seems to want – can only be created by Parliament. This means they have to be accountable to a government department. The government can legislate for their independence [as in the case of the Parole Board] but equally it can legislate to amend its constitution or abolish it. Personally I cannot see what the issue is over ‘independence’ in the case of the OPSS. Sitting within the BEIS Department it will have far less scope for controversial action than many of the other functions that come under that department. So far as I can see, the limited terms of reference that the OPSS has been given at the outset, which do not extend into remedial action in the case of unsafe products since that is the role of local Trading Standards authorities, raise no concerns over its capacity and competence. On the contrary, in the light of Peterborough Borough Council’s inadequate response to the Whirlpool fiasco, I believe it is the trading standards authorities that need to guarantee independence of action and intervention. It has been speculated that pressure was put on its trading standards department to adopt a light touch with Whirlpool because it is a major industry within the borough and because the council did not want to upset the company with whom it had an amicable and propitious relationship.

John Light says:
22 January 2018

Regulatory bodies need to be independent of government and have judicial powers.

It is virtually impossible for a regulatory body to be both independent of government and to have judicial powers, John – please see my reply to Gilly above.

Martin Webber says:
22 January 2018

There should be a minimum safety standard imposed by law and automatic and severe penalties for those who do not comply. The Regulatory Body should be free from any political party.

There is – the BSEN safety standards relevant to many products. The BSEN 60335 range cover household electrical appliances.

It is long overdue for us to have an independent national body for product safety. Their have been two many fires causing injury and or deaths. Enough is enough.

I always assumed Trading Standards had a responsibility for product safety. A typical local authority statement reads

“Our trading standards team enforces product safety law, which requires all goods to be safe.
The following areas also have specific legislation:
toys
cosmetic products
plugs, sockets and electrical products
personal protective equipment (PPE)
furniture and furnishings
children’s clothing
fireworks, lighters, hazardous products and chemicals
prams and baby accessories
bicycle and motor parts
sunbeds”

So we have local and national trading standards. I wonder why we need to set up another body? Why not build this one up to deal with these matters properly?

I’m concerned that we already have too many QUANGOs. I’d prefer that the proposed Product Safety Division remains part of an existing Government Department and manned by regular Civil Servants. There’s no reason why this should not be efficient and effective – and it will certainly cost us taxpayers less, with no need for an independent management structure, accommodation, etc. If after a few years it proves to be ineffective, then will be the time to consider setting up a separate QUANGO.

Scrap this new government office and just use the BSI, British Standards Institute that is already an established body with a Royal Charter, and should therefore be indepenant of the government !

The BSI is entirely independent of the government so the government cannot make it take on this function; the BSI might not wish to do it either.

Why haven’t Whirlpool been charged with corporate manslaughter over deaths caused by faulty dryers

Clearly the government need to make this new organisation completely independent in order to be successful, but this is a starting point of the evolution. I recently procured a microwave from currys and had to return it due to it being damaged and potentially dangerous, still after over 3 weeks I have no replacement or feedback from Currys.

Action should be taken by an independent body with enforcement powers, out of the political sphere, and publicising outcomes to deter companies from a complacent, uncaring response

My husband was a Chartered Electrical Engineer, belonging to the Institute of Electrical Engineers, now known as the Institution of Engineering and Technology. setting Electrical Standards etc. These are the types of people/organisations that should be given the ‘teeth’ to deal with Quality and Safety.

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We don’t know who will be involved but it looks like fairly broad representation. For example:
Recommendation 8
An expert panel bringing together trade associations, consumer and enforcement
representatives and BEIS should be established to oversee the delivery of the above
and further explore issues around second hand sales, marking and traceability of
products and other issues as they arise.
Government response
The government fully accepts this recommendation. We are keen to build on the work
undertaken by the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety, and consider that existing
members of the Group should be invited to join the wider expert group. This recommendation
was discussed with the current Working Group at their most recent meeting on 28 November
2017. It will be discussed in further detail, in light of the publication of this report.
The government is also setting up a technical and scientific panel, to be chaired by the BEIS
Chief Scientific Advisor to ensure we have access to the latest technical and scientific
evidence and thinking.

In 2016 the working group consisted of:

Membership
Neil Gibbins, Former Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Devon and Somerset (Chair)
David Bolton, Product safety expert, British Retail Consortium (BRC)
Steve Brunige, Head of Government Relations, British Standards Institution (BSI)
Philip Buckle, Director General, Electrical Safety First, (ESF)
Kate Corby, Partner, Baker McKenzie LLP
Roland Earle, Chief Executive, British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA)
Douglas Herbison, Chief Executive, Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances (AMDEA)
Leon Livermore, Chief Executive, Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI)
Jonathan O’Neil, Chief Executive, the Fire Protection Association (FPA)
Guy Pratt, Association of Chief Trading Standards Officers (ACTSO)
Charlie Pugsley, Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA)
Professor G. J. Rodgers, Brunel University London
Mark Shepherd, Assistant Director, Association of British Insurers (ABI)
Errol Taylor, Deputy Chief Executive, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA)
Daniel VandenBurg, Citizens Advice
Melanie Wiseman, Legal adviser, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT)

I wonder if any of these people know much about both the construction of white goods and the reasons why fires start and spread. In my experience, senior staff are often not the bests in relating to practical matters.

Those who attend committees represent their organisations but derive the information and views they contribute from their work colleagues who have the appropriate knowledge. At least, that is the way manufacturers normally provide their input.

I wonder why my comment got a thumbs down? The above group appears to be to be expanded by a wider expert group. If all is at it seems, the worry that it might be largely commercial seems allayed.

I’m very well aware of what should happen, Malcolm, but I would love to have the opportunity to see a video of the groups meetings and be assured that the necessary expertise is there.

I don’t know who damaged your thumb but I have repaired it.

We need our best engineers to serve in manufacturing, service industries, civil engineering and research, not sitting behind a desk managing mailing lists and holding committee meetings. If ever there was a role for the traditional civil servant this is it.

From my experiences, committees of senior staff and directors tend to be good at setting out aims, objectives and priorities. They also like learning about emerging problems.

With regards to getting stuff done, they are usually happy to delegate that work to other groups or individuals – and expect to get results, not excuses, when they do that.

Senior staff can speak very authoritatively but in my experience may not be up to date on current practice. I’m not sure how civil servants would fare on discussing practical matters such as how changes in the design of a tumble drier could affect its ability to contain fire.

I presume, Wavechange, that is why the OPSS has to work very closely with the BSI and trading standards and ensure that such technical issues are addressed competently using external specialists as necessary.

I wonder if specialists have been recruited to investigate the reasons for fires in white goods. There is no doubt that the new Office of Product Safety and Standards will have to work closely with BSI and Trading Standards.

My thumb is a lot better now, thanks wavechange.
We could have video access to everything that goes on – from courts, committees, university board meetings, NHS commissioning groups,Council committees…………. apart from taking up an awful lot of time, what particular qualities would those watching have to make a serious judgement? From my experience of BSI Committees and others, those who attend and represent particular organisations needed to contribute effectively to be accepted as a useful member that will help make progress. Those who attended did not give up their time lightly and wanted to see good use made of it.

If Which? now attend and contribute to BSI committees (I’m hoping someone will tell us which ones) they might comment on progress.

I have said elsewhere, there are current working groups set up by standards organisations looking at fire in domestic appliances. An overseeing group, like the OPSS, simply has to have the ability to go to where specialist work is being undertaken. Just as senior staff get their more particular information from those who work on the appropriate matters. Essentially, that is what management is about.

I hope that which? is directly involved in this initiative of BEIS and that it will seek it’s Members input and views when considering what it contributes. We need “something to be done” to protect consumers from faulty goods; let’s hope this is the seed that germinates successfully.

For those who want an “independent” body (whatever they might mean by that) BEIS say
Longer term, the government will wish to examine the options for making the Office for Product Safety and Standards an arm’s length independent body and to look at associated funding options. This will be subject to further consideration and public consultation before any decisions are made.

Malcolm – It’s not difficult to make videos or sound recordings available. I went to a meeting of a local history society, said how much I enjoyed the talk and when I arrived home a recording had been sent to me. Last year was on a short walk with the publicity officer of an organisation and using a phone like mine took a very good video of the work we inspected on the day, which appeared online soon after. For many years it has been standard practice to redact minutes where there is a valid reason and I admire transparency. As I mentioned before, our university did invite elected student representatives to attend all meetings relating to learning and teaching. I cannot remember whether this is a requirement of our regulator or just good practice.

I don’t question that making recordings is difficult. i just don’t see how we, other than from personal interest, make any use of what we might sit in on. I watch the Select Committees on “Parliament” from time to time and feel a good deal of “grandstanding” goes on from the MPs sitting round the horseshoe. Knowing you are on public view very likely influences what you might say and how you might say it. I’d prefer to have committees of people with knowledge and integrity getting on with the job, uninhibited by being watched by big brother. We can judge by the outcomes. In the case of BSI, for example, their deliberations often appear as drafts for public comment. Those with knowledge of the field but not involved on the committee then have their various expert inputs.

I want to see more than drafts for public comment, Malcolm. You faith in BSI but I have had some concerns about safety standards over the years. As I have said before, I am very glad that we do have standards but not making standards freely available online when they affect us all is inexcusable.

We are going over old ground. Standards are international documents that cost a lot of money to research and prepare. There are currently 39,196 current British Standards, the cost being largely funded by member subscriptions and sales, just as happens elsewhere. Someone else would have pay for them if they were “free” – presumably the taxpayer, and that would have to be agreed by every country involved (otherwise if you lived in France, you’d simply access a free UK version instead of buying the French one) Then, if the government funded it, independence goes. And funding, we know, is subject to political interference; I don’t want to see the excellent international standards system prejudiced.

We must be careful what we do when we consult a standard. Many, if not all, require expertise and familiarity to use them properly, and they are rarely self contained, requiring knowledge of many other related standards to interpret them correctly.

By joining certain libraries you can get free access to standards. I wonder how many people would actually do that? But you can, and so can I and no doubt others who have an interest in such things.

I have explained on several occasions how scientific research is increasingly available to the general public worldwide thanks to open source publication. The same could be done for standards using a different funding model.

Please don’t underestimate the abilities of people. Some will have made use of standards during their working life but be denied access when they retire. Most people don’t live near to a library with access to British Standards and you said that you did not.

BSI willingly provided a list of libraries that gave online access to standards. I use one of those. Others who are interested can do the same. It seems to me that provides those who are interested the means to pursue their interest, just as you and I do. The model that works well can stay as it is.

Online access is generally provided for use in libraries – and very few of them, thought the Glasgow libraries do provide home access for members.

I found access to BS via the Manchester libraries but I don’t think its official: http://www.manchester.gov.uk/directory_record/162241/british_standards_online/category/1216/business_and_careers

In my view the present system is not adequate, though we are both entitled to our views.

As we return yet again to this particular topic, if BSI and ISO etc. gave away their standards for free, how would their work get funded? [Welcome to BSI/ISO/IET xxz12345 “tumble dryers” sponsored by Indesit?]

On a similar basis, perhaps we should be leading by example and arguing for Which? to be published as an open source publication.

But, it we succeeded with that, how would they be able to pay their wages and other costs?

Students should have free text books, we should all have free access to the law, an ATM within walking distance of every house and…oh…..as life is now apparently totally dependent upon high speed broadband, everyone should be provided with a fully-serviced computer and given free internet access.

If fracking were successful enough to turn us into an oil-rich state, and if the raw product were declared public property, we could possibly afford all that. 🙂

The standards system is, fortunately, not “broken” (ugh) so lets not try to crack it. Just see it is properly used. For those anxious to view standards without charge, ask BSI for libraries that offer online access, then track down those that you can join online.

Derek – I can’t remember if you were involved in the discussions I had with Malcolm but one suggestion I made was that instead of companies paying for membership to BSI etc. they could be charged where their products were required to comply with certain standards.

It’s just a different funding model. With open source journals, authors pay the publisher to have their articles published, which supports reviewing and editorial services and online publishing. It works well and since open source journals tend to be read by more people, more articles are cited by other authors, making the journal more attractive to get your work noticed. I focus on scientific journals because my working life revolved round them but open source publishing is not restricted to science.

I cannot see an obvious funding model that could be used to make the Which? magazine freely available. Sponsorship is not an option.

Malcolm – I don’t understand why you are making mock of my suggestions. We and many others make considerable use of information that is readily available online. BSI does not make its standards publicly available via its website and what you and I are looking at is likely to be an error or someone’s part or done deliberately by someone who shares my view that standards should be publicly available. We are unable to print a full document or save it as a pdf.

The libraries that offer public access to BS online are as far as I am aware licensed for its use on the premises (with the apparent exception of Glasgow) and users can print a maximum of 10% of a document.

And Malcolm, if fracking were to turn us into an “oil-rich state” you can be absolutely 100% certain that only a very few would benefit.

wavechange – I think there is a flaw in your open source argument, because open source journals exist alongside paid for journals.

Similarly, with PC OSes, open source OSes like GNU/Linux and freeBSD exist alongside paid for ones likes MacOS and Windows. Those of us who favor open source gravitate towards Linux, while others prefer to hand over money to the likes of Apple or Microsoft.

Given that standards are currently sold as paid for items, I don’t think that necessarily prevents others from raising open source alternatives, but I cannot imagine that the likes of BSI and ISO would want to encourage such a change of business model.

Furthermore, to force such a change on them would require world-wide agreement of many governments and standards bodies.

We may think it takes a long time to get our favorite international standards updated, but that’s peanuts compared to the time it would take to broker international alternatives to the established funding model that BSI and ISO use.

wavechange, I am not mocking your suggestion, but pointing out there might be other, more important (to most people) free services.
– University text books in my day were expensive. Online access to them would be a valuable asset.
– We have a lot of people who appear to need free ATMs closer to home.
– We all from time to time, do, or might, need legal assistance and yet it is out of reach for most, financially. It is wrong you cannot exercise your legal rights, or protect ourselves, unless we pay (a lot).
– For the electronic society it could be quite feasible to provide simple, inexpensive, internet-access devices for those unable to afford normal computing equipment, and provide it free to those genuinely in need of assistance.

No, I was not mocking you, but pointing out that in the scheme of things free standards would not be top of my list. Access to view them is already available. Mine, through a library, is legitimate (as far as I know) and others could also get access by asking BSI , if they were sufficiently interested.

As Derek points out, as have I, changing a worldwide system is not likely to happen.

That depends upon how the government uses the licences and/or taxes derived from its extraction. I was simply pointing out the wealth created in an oil-rich economy could benefit the whole population.

Derek – Yes there are still many journals sold on a subscription basis to libraries and individuals, but the move towards open source publishing continues, at least in science. I was sceptical about open source publishing to start with but gradually realised that the benefits outweighed the disadvantages. You have mentioned refereeing articles, so I expect you are familiar with some open source journals. A lot depends on the field.

Once computers became established alternatives to printed material, there has been pressure to make commercial publications available to the public. I regularly use the British National Formulary online. A paper subscription for the two issues per year costs £92. At one time the online version was available only to those in the medical profession, then students were added, then academics, then anyone who cared to register and now you just go to the website to use it. I don’t know how it is funded but it is a useful resource for those of us who use it.

Standards could be useful to many members of the public, even if a minority. People like yourself who have used standards in their work and want to do something useful during their retirement. Many students would find standards useful, though few university libraries subscribe to online access, judging from information supplied by BSI.

I know little about open standards round the world but there is plenty of information online. I would not be surprised if the US pushes forward public access to standards and others follow, but that’s a put guess. With publishing and computer software, free and subscription alternatives can coexist, but I don’t know how this could be done with national and international standards.

Malcolm – I would be interested to know how you are able to access British Standards if this would be available to others. I used a city centre library but access was only allowed on site.

I’d suggest people look at the list obtained from BSI of libraries that offer on line access. A link toone has already been given and if anyone reading this Convo is interested they could use it.

I have asked if Which? have on line access and, if so, it will be available to nominated people. Which? could seek out any Members who would use such access to help in Which?’s work.

Here is the list that is currently on the BSI website:
Aberdeen City Council
Bolton Public Libraries
City of Liverpool
Hull Central Library
Leeds City Council
Staffordshire CC Library
Lancashire County Library
Manchester Public Library

If you contact BSI you are likely to be given a longer list, as I was in 2016. I pointed out the discrepancy, but did not receive a response. I understand that the libraries are generally licensed for on-site use only. That is what I have been told.

My interest in public access to information extends well beyond British Standards.

Existing institutions, such as the Institution of Engineering and Technology, should be given regulatory powers. These professional institutions have the knowledge, expertise and skills required to enforce a safety and recall system.

…but how would they get the money to fund such as system?

. . . and would that not compromise the Institution’s independence? Its membership might not approve of doing the government’s dirty work against some of its own members.

Good point John. I was beginning to wonder about that too.

Also, for the sake of argument, I’m not sure that there is much reason why BSI could not be given regulatory responsibilities, if the government wanted to outsource to a suitable body.

I agree, Derek, if the BSI was prepared to accept the responsibility and was guaranteed the funding. But since it is not the government’s intention to create a regulatory a body it is largely academic.

I don’t know how this question of independence entered into the Conversation, and why it has become such a critical issue, because it seems to me that all the OPSS will be doing is enabling the local trading standards services and the BSI to perform their existing roles more effectively and cultivate a climate in which product recalls will be managed in the public interest and not in commercial interests.

I don’t see the OPSS making the decisions on whether or not a product should be recalled – that surely must remain the manufacturer’s responsibility – but if it had existed at the start of the Whirlpool problem, i.e. as soon as a tumble dryer caught fire, I would hope it would have given guidance to the Primary Authority [Peterborough BC in that case] on how to deal with the company, ensure that its management plan for the rectification and recall of products was appropriate, ensure that the legal remedies available to consumers were properly publicised, and coordinate the recall process using whatever product registration database and facilities are available. It would be for trading standards to take any legal action against a company for safety failings in manufacture or for negligence in protecting consumers.

There are so many loose ends and rough edges to this that we can only speculate at the moment, but it seems clear to me that the government does not want to invest the new body with regulatory powers over commercial organisations but does want to stiffen the sinews of the trading standards function because [and maybe only because] failure in that area can damage the government.

Hi Derek
I have been in the gas industry for years. It has a self regulatory body that police’s it’s self funded by the engineers within the body. It is mandatory to be registered with the body to carry out this type of work.
Why not make this the same for all other trades and give them the power’s over manufacturers to say if appliances are safe or not as they are dealing with them day today !

One important function we should restore to Trading Standards is as a place where an individual can directly register a complaint – about a product say – and have it both investigated and recorded centrally if appropriate. An accumulation of such complaints that indicates a wider problem with the product could then instigate a decision with the manufacturer about remedy or recall. Trading Standards, as a network and collector of data, seems an important part in this process and maybe the key worker It seems fairly logical to maybe extend its remit to handle the database for dealing with all recalls. Do we need to keep inventing new bodies that start from scratch?

We are part of a huge European body of consumers. We buy many of the same products, from the same manufacturers. We will share many of the same product issues. Where, in the BEIS/OPSS remit is any mention of collaborative working, or are we all going to keep reinventing the same wheel, but in different shapes? How, I wonder, do other EU countries deal with this?

Hi Dale,

Thanks for your reply.

I think the issue with a lot of electrical white goods safety is that, apart from where legally required for the likes of rented properties, qualified electricians seldom ever get involved in the safety oversight of installed domestic appliances.

In some ways it is surprising that insurance companies do not encourage this, either as a condition for fire insurance or as a basis from which significant discount might be given.

In UK workplaces, health and safety laws effectively dictate the need for regular preventative inspections and maintenance. However, in our homes, we enjoy the freedom to completely ignore this obviously good practice.

Last time I was having a laptop PA Tested, my colleague who was doing the testing told me he had had a “near miss” at home with “hot and smelly” wiring that might not have been very far from catching fire.

I’m sure he was pleased that he had managed to intervene in time. If you’re one of a company’s electrical safety testers, it might cause folk to wonder if you’re right for the job, if they hear that you’ve had an electrical fire at home.

(In similar vein, “so-called safety consultant has road traffic accident on way to client’s site” is one headline that I’ve luckily avoided in the past.)

thisislocallondon.co.uk/news/15890693.Faulty_tumble_dryer_causes_fire_in_Sidcup_High_Street_flat/

Today’s fire. It would be helpful if we were told the brand. User misuse is always a possibility but given the Whirlpool farce we also know that unsafe design has a role.

Hi Patrick, it’s been reported in the news that it was a Candy dryer but no mention of the model number: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/terrifying-moment-mum-wakes-nap-11896625

If I had a dryer on fire, it would not occur to me to make a video of it. Turning off the power and closing the door to prevent oxygen feeding the fire might have helped. A fire extinguisher might have dealt with this fire as soon as it was detected.

Sprinklers would have helped any fire, however caused – mandatory in Wales.
It is referred to as a “faulty” dryer without knowing what caused the fire. I don’t think Candy was among the brands affected by defective design. and I can’t see any recalls for them. There was another Candy tumble dryer fire a couple of years ago – https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/mum-five-children-left-homeless-7926973. Was this the same model? Do we have a report on whether the dryer had a fault, or misuse?

The article you have provided a link for shows this photo, where the fascia and door have been destroyed in the fire. The metal parts of the case have survived. I have posted similar examples in other Convos about fires.

Why not go back to using all-metal cases for white goods? When the oxygen is used up the fire will go out rather than spread to the room or the whole house.

Which? has acknowledged the problem of having flammable plastics on the back of fridges and freezers, so I keep hoping that they will look into the dangers of using plastics for other purposes.

This picture has been posted before and we’ve discussed the use of plastics widely. There are changes in the fridge freezer standard to address that particular issue. As I have said in other posts, safety standards require plastics in household electrical appliance to be resistant to ignition and the spread of fire.

I’ve asked that Which? discuss plastics with BSI and put a balanced statement on their use together. International safety standards have been developed over decades by a wide range of people with expertise, including fire, materials, manufacturing, consumer groups, and others so I do not doubt the use of materials, and validation of their performance, has not been overlooked.

You could argue also that all domestic appliances, and other electrical goods, could be operated at a safe low voltage to minimise the risk of electric shock. However, other precautions have been taken instead.

I know it has been posted before because I posted it. Many of us make the same point repeatedly, yourself included.

Plastics are very valuable materials, but I see no need for their use in the cases of white goods. If you wish to use them then there needs to be steel or other fire-resistant material to contain fire.

Plastics are successfully used in many products. I understand your point, and once again would like to hear the views of experts in this field, including those who put standards together. I am sure they have good reasons for what they do and would make changes if there is sufficient reason. I understand there are working groups within ,standards organisations currently looking at the issue of fire in household electrical appliances. It would be useful to know how they are progressing. Which? should be in a position to tell us.
@darren-shirley, Darren, can you help us with this?

I would like to see justification for the move from all-metal cases to ones including plastic.

Developments often move us backwards rather than forwards. Examples we have discussed include non-repairability of products, integrated assemblies that must be replaced if one part fails and the move towards less durable products.

As I suggest, ask those who are knowledgeable in this field. Plastics have been used on such products for decades. Perhaps we should given Darren time to respond?

Repairability is something i have asked for many times. However it is likely to involve extra initial cost, that I would be happy to pay if it extended the product life economically. I’d like Which? to include this as a criterion in assessing products. I’d be happier supporting my local domestic appliance repairer than funding a scrap yard (“recycler”).

As products become more complex, electronics have replaced electro-mechanical or mechanical devices to good effect, in appliances, cars and many other products. These often include safety features that help protect us. However, the penalty is their cost, instead of replacing say, just a timer or voltage regulator. Perhaps we want too much? We use our dishwasher almost always on one programme. Could we adjust the temperature and time ourselves on a tumble dryer, or on our washing machine, as we used to? I doubt we’d still buy those appliances, in the same way we buy automatic cameras instead of having to set aperture and timer.

There are pros and cons with most things; we need to get the right balance.

One issue we neglect with product safety is to ever have our products and installations regularly inspected for potential faults. From house wiring through to an aged appliance.

At least if we had an effective central register of appliances and their owners, were a potential fault to be found to develop over time – gradually rubbed insulation, a component in a hot area found to deteriorate for example, or fluff collecting in an inaccessible but dangerous place in a dryer, action could be taken before there might be unfortunate consequences. We really need to get this moving, don’t we?

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Having a university degree or other qualification simply means that that you managed to do well in whatever exams and other assessments you took prior to its award. I recently found a Chemistry paper that I took in the early 70s and there is no way that I provide decent answers now, though I would fare better in the areas I focused on in my working life. I absolutely agree with Duncan on the importance of common sense and practical judgement.

I wonder if any of the members of the committee involved in setting the standards for tumble dryers has ever tested plastics used in their construction to see if they are flammable or has studied information produced by others. The evidence that plastics in the cases of appliances can burn and/or melt suggests that they have not.

“Having a university degree or other qualification simply means that that you managed to do well in whatever exams and other assessments you took prior to its award.”

When I was at Cambridge, you could come away with an Ordinary Degree if you passed 2 years out of 3 and resided within 3 miles of Gt. St. Mary’s Church for 3 years. Most managed that… (even those who spent most of their time on their chosen sport).

Really, there is no need to go to university because it is not the only way of learning stuff. But, if you do want to learn a lot of stuff in 3 or 4 years, then going to uni can be a nice way of doing that.

One of the advantages to be gained from education, particularly at a higher level, is the ability to learn how to learn independently, to be able to understand what you need to know and to know where to look for it. You come across many problems unrelated to your education during your working life, and this ability stands you in good stead.A structured approach to an investigation, and to subsequently writing up a report, helps greatly in both economy of working and in transmitting your information and conclusions to others. At least, it does in engineering.

Should’ve gone to Oxford 🙂

Thanks to tuition fees, university helps young people to learn that debt is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. 🙁

Ian – we regularly went to Oxford, to beat them at sport 😉

Mind you, that didn’t always turn out according to plan 🙁

University is not the best further education for everyone, and maybe those who do choose to go now think about the benefits to their future for the cost they need to bear. I would like to see the courses that directly benefit our economy and social care – say science, engineering, economics, mathematics, medicine., teaching for example given financial incentives. I don’t know whether sandwich course – 2 years in industry and 3 years at university – are still around but they seemed to give a well-balanced education for certain subjects.

I’d also like to see apprenticeships – from plumbing, building to engineering – given incentives and status also.

Something we seem to have lost are affordable “night school” courses where you could pursue an interest in some depth while working.

Are we expected to declare our alma mater?

Oh, by the way, this Convo is about the new product safety office. I forgot too.

🙂

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This comment was removed at the request of the user

“Malcolm-Engineering is cause and effect if every, I as a practical maintenance engineer in many fields went by the logic of — you need a university degree to judge how to repair this” I missed this duncan. It seems to have spawned a convo about universities, but I didn’t raise it, did I?? 🙁

Safety standards have been developed internationally over decades by people from many disciplines and they no doubt have a good deal of knowledge, expertise and experience to draw on that goes into these documents. They are finalised by consensus after approval, modification, even rejection by the standards organisations groups of appropriate people in participating countries, not on a whim or by political or vested interest pressure. At least, that has been my experience.

So what I am saying is that we should respect the integrity of those doing this work and realise that, while we may hold particular views, we may not have sufficient background or information to be able to declare them as superior to others. We can, however, make our considered views known. BSI accept such input from individuals, and Which? should be able to collate and summarise constructive proposals for submission to the relevant committees.

There may well be a need to revise the way plastics are used in the light of experience with fires.However there are working groups already examining this very issue and that is the correct way to approach a problem. There may be revised tests needed to ensure that where plastics are appropriate the correct types are used, their placement is examined, for example. This has already been proposed by BSI over and above the revised IEC document requirements. The fire design of appliances has been commented on before and, as far as I know, is with the relevant bodies being examined.

My suggestion was that we ask, through Which?, for our specific concerns, about materials for example, to be put to the standards organisation, perhaps best done through BSI, to get their side of the story, and understand what is current work is underway.

Incidentally, the IEC standard on fridge freezers and BSI’s response to it, with proposals about the plastic backs among other issues was in hand well before Which? raised this issue, to the best of my knowledge. If that is correct it is one of the reasons I want Which? to be directly involved with standards preparation by joining the relevant BSI committees (I do know they were invited) so they can be up to date themselves with what is developing and keep us informed as well.

I’m not in servitude duncan. Am I alone?

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I agree duncan, engineering needs intuition, practicality, common sense, a balance of safety factor (risk) vs. design, properties of materials….a long list that university can begin to teach but experience adds a lot more.

I was suggesting that this is how from my direct experience, standards are approached. They are a balance between practicality and risk and getting that balance right is not easy. We can not achieve perfection so need to work out where to draw a pragmatic line; that will change as experience grows and technology evolves.

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Off course health and safety works every single day and trading standards too but yes, obviously it could also be a damn site better than it is in all departments as well and that’s what progress is isn’t it. So please keep up the good work for all of us and thank you for it guys!

I worked in the engineering industry for 50 years. As a Chief Production Engineer I had to ensure that all products bought by our company and products we manufactured, complied with the latest health and safety legislation. We were also subject to ‘on the spot’ checks by the government Health and Safety Inspectors, without forewarning. I am now led to believe that this practice has been drastically reduced and that quite a number of companies have not been inspected for years, if ever.
I was also involved with work for the MoD, both Army, Navy and Air Force. Their inspections were most rigorous and any design change could take up to 18 months to complete, even if it saved a fortune or improved the quality.

Sue White says:
24 January 2018

It should definitely be an independent body.

What is required is to make the industries pay for properly funded independent trouble shooters with powers to require recalls and compensations in the case of those products they find danger of potentially so. The funding to be by way of an additional small percentage on the retail price collected with VAT and paid by HMRC to the new regulator.

Before we blame standards we need to ensure they are being complied with. Part of the “policing” remit should be to pick a product from a retailer and subject it by test and examination to certain of the key safety requirements – maybe all – specified, for example in BSEN 60335 for household electrical appliances. Do all the plastics used for example pass the requirements of Section 30 “Resistance to Heat and Fire”. But who does, or is going to do, this? Is that Trading Standards, but at national level, rather than relying on underfunded, understaffed local offices that have lost much of their expertise (or so it appears)? Or will the OPSS delegate policing elsewhere?

Part of the brief for the Office of Product Safety and Standards should be, i think, to ensure this is done on the more vulnerable products from the more likely manufacturers. But it needs to go further and when serious failures are found, take strong action against the perpetrators.

Retailers and/or wholesalers have a key part in the process, and should be subject to sanctions if they are involved with non-compliant products. As distributors of products I believe they have a responsibility to consumers to check the “authenticity” of what they sell. They could/should for example thoroughly check the integrity of the technical construction file the manufacturer must produce that shows the product meets regulations, and that the manufacturer has an ISO 9000 quality procedure that is independently audited and current.

Independent testing is what I have been suggesting, but that should be done before products are put on sale. Many products have only cosmetic differences or are sold under different brand names and model numbers, so independent testing is a less onerous task than it may seem.

I am not aware of any current need for all plastics to be tested, but this needs to be done. I’m particularly concerned about plastic parts that form part of the casings of white goods because they can melt or burn.

It is vital that those responsible for standards are certain that they are adequate in practice. I wonder if products that have caused fires are studied to help establish if current standards are adequate. For example, it would be useful to take samples of the plastic used in this machine (or the same model):

Credit: Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service

In my view, those responsible for maintaining standards should be well informed about fires and other incidents that could reveal the need for improvements.

Any major change in design should be scrutinised. There were concerns that use of new materials in car manufacture could affect performance in a crash, but is done before vehicles are put on sale. Were similar tests carried out before plastic panels were introduced into white goods to establish if they could contain fire? I doubt it.

With tumble dryers, lint accumulation is often cited as the cause of a fire, yet there is no requirement to examine used machines. Had this been done, the problem with the Whirlpool brands of tumble dryer could have been established before they were put on sale.

I absolutely agree that strong action should be taken against those who knowingly sell unsafe products. Thankfully, Trading Standards does seize a considerable number of dangerous and counterfeit products.

Reputable manufacturers (there are) will have very extensive test and development facilities where they can perform all the tests required by international standards, and more. To market a product in the EU requires them to at least hold all the documentation necessary to show how the product meets all the necessary requirements. Why would a reputable manufacturer wish to cheat on these tests when they can be met by appropriate design and materials quite easily?

Such manufacturers are not left alone to do this. They must have a quality system in place that meets the international standard and is regularly and independently audited to ensure all parts of it are being adhered to. This will include necessary product testing.

The safety standards require a large number of comprehensive tests, including the heat and fire performance of “non-metallic” materials that, of course, includes plastics. I don’t understand why it is said “there is no current need for all plastics to be tested”. If you have access to BSEN 60335-1 please look at section 30.

There are many smaller manufacturers of, for example, electrical products who make a large range. Independent testing can cost many £000’s for each product. They would simply not be able to afford it. I doubt also whether there are enough test facilities available to do this work expeditiously. Why make them do this when they have their own extensive facilities that are often accredited test laboratories in their own right, and when they are regularly audited?

The premise is, I assume, that no manufacturer can be trusted. Not so, from all the manufacturers I worked with, and was associated with. There is no point in them “cheating” when making products.They would. at some point, get found out (like VW) and suffer accordingly. I cannot comment on those from outside the EU, however. A company determined to cheat will simply supply a compliant product for independent testing and then relax their design or standards. It is regular auditing that is more effective, and spot checks on products. As I said above, the whole system of regulated products relies on an effective policing and reporting system

I am certainly not suggesting that ‘no manufacturer can be trusted’ and have never claimed that. Nor have I ever suggested cheating in relation to the safety of appliances. I am not doubting that manufacturers spend a great deal of effort on safety testing, though we don’t usually get to know much about this, although crash testing of cars is well reported.

The photo I posted above shows that the appliance has been damaged by fire and this sort of damage can allow fire to spread, in some cases causing major damage to property and danger to the occupants. I conclude that on the basis of this and other photos that either the relevant standards have not been complied with (hence the need to examine damaged appliances), or that the standards are not adequate for safety. Is that a reasonable interpretation?

Malcolm said “Why would a reputable manufacturer wish to cheat on these tests when they can be met by appropriate design and materials quite easily?”

Probably a question that could be addressed to VW. Why did they, I wonder, if the regulations could be “met by appropriate design and materials quite easily? Perhaps it was cheaper?

If we assume VW was not the only manufacturer cheating, but merely one that was detected, it stands to reason that there may well be a lot more willing to take the chance.

I do not automatically trust the manufacturers from some parts of the world to comply with standards, wavechange, which is why I would like to see “targeted” checks to ensure that they are providing goods that meet all aspects of regulatory requirements, including safety standards. That could include checking the performance of the plastics they use. I feel a system properly set up and, more importantly, used to monitor the market will inspire confidence. The CE system relies on it being observed correctly. How many non-EU factories are checked for their technical files integrity or even existence, I wonder? Putting distributors and retailers on alert that they will be held responsible if they sell non-compliant products might be an incentive for them to carry out due diligence where it might be lacking?

I’d like severely damaged appliances to be examined to see if the fault can be established and whether the construction was compliant with safety standards. We could start with Indesit dryers, but no one seems to have any inclination to do that, not even Which? Why not? I’d like the reports to be made public.

I presume manufacturers do not want to be associated with unsound practice; it is in their interests to amend safety standards accordingly, but they do not need to wait for that; they can, and do, make to higher standards than are put into regulations.

Have you looked at the tests for fire and heat on non-metallic materials? As you will see the tests are extensive, and have been for many years. However in the light of experience it may be more stringent tests are needed; the cold appliance (fridge/freezer) standard is already addressing that.

As far as fire risk and treatment is concerned there are working parties actively examining this in the standards organisations. i’d like to see what they come up with.

@patrick, can Which? update us yet on its activity within BSI and, also, what they know about the work on fires in household electrical appliances?

It is me who has been pushing for independent testing, so I would welcome any steps in that direction.

I will have a look at the relevant standard but in the meantime, please could you respond to my comment that “…either the relevant standards have not been complied with (hence the need to examine damaged appliances), or that the standards are not adequate for safety. Is that a reasonable interpretation?”

Before anyone challenges me, I appreciate that my photos show poorly designed appliances and for all I know, there may be others that are capable of containing a fire.

One test that could usefully be added (in my view) is an assessment of the ability of appliances to contain fire. It’s little comfort to know that this might be being investigated and something might happen at some time in the future.

I think I mentioned VW Ian. I doubt they regard what they did as worthwhile. Do you have evidence of other motor manufacturers cheating? Or EU electrical appliance manufacturers? Policing the system is, as I said, in my view the best way to deal with bad behaviour. Most of the “fake” products come from manufacturers outside the EU and knowing this we should spend resources on detecting them, and then dealing severely with those who import and distribute them.

You ignore the minimal risk that is involved in your assessment. There are other factors on appliances that can, under very unusual circumstances, pose a safety threat – electric shock for example, or injury. The principle to eliminate, as far as is reasonably possible, such events is the purpose of standards but we cannot entirely eliminate risk – even in aircraft.

I do not know whether the plastics used would have passed or failed the safety requirements. That is what I am asking – evidence so we can make informed decisions. Plastics have been successfully used in goods for many decades; it is a case of choosing a suitable material and using it correctly, not banning it out of hand.It is not the case that standards refer to “flammable plastics”, they require non-metallic materials to be used that are resistant to ignition and the spread of flame, and specify tests to demonstrate that. It may be we need to protect plastics areas better, use more stringent (maybe higher temperature) tests, use more resistant plastics. But a rational approach will yield, I believe, the best results.

We must not get hung up on standards as being the only way good practice is assured. While that is their aim, many manufacturers will well exceed the requirements of standards and, if they see a worthwhile improvement, do not have to wait for the standard to be changed.

Which? should have information on what is being considered. I’d like to hear that. They did not tell us about the positive changes being made to the cold products (fridges/freezer) standard. If they withheld useful information that worries me. It would also worry me if they did not know about the changes.

wavechange, what I have said is: “As far as fire risk and treatment is concerned there are working parties actively examining this in the standards organisations. i’d like to see what they come up with.”

You misinterpret this as ” this might be being investigated and something might happen” which is not what we have been told. You also refer to “flammable plastics” which is not the case.

We need to keep these topics as factual as possible otherwise people will be misled. None of us would want that. I realise the emotive aspect of fires and fully share them but believe that by examining the facts, real risks and practical mitigating measures we will end up with sensible solutions.

I don’t accept that there is a minimal risk. If there is a design fault, as in the Whirlpool case, there have been a considerable number of reported fire incidents. We have no data regarding severity. I accept that fire is not the only risk but at present the risks of electric shock and injury do not seem to be a significant problem.

I am not seeking to ban use of plastics provided that it can be demonstrated that they are as effective as metal at preventing the spread of fire.

As I have said numerous times, I accept that we need standards but they need to remain fit for purpose.

Why does it have to be Which? that passes on the information about fridges and freezers, when when BSI could make this information publicly available?

At least you have not denied my conclusion that in examples of burned out appliances there is either non-compliance with standards or there is a problem with the standards.

I have looked at the BS document and can see no specific reference to plastics used in the cases of appliances. Recall my tests that demonstrated the plastics used in the cases of my Bosch, Hotpoint and Miele appliances burned rapidly producing copious smoke. How they would respond in the official tests I do not know but the fact that we have house fires started by faulty appliances suggests that I cannot rely on the existence of standards and product testing by manufacturers to protect me. It may be that the plastic parts are metal backed, removing the risk of spread of fire, but I have no easy way of knowing.

We are well off-topic and perhaps we should get back to discussing the new product safety office.

Whirlpool was a “special case” in that it had a design fault. Why it took so long to emerge i don’t know – only when Whirlpool took Indesit over. It could be that Indesit behaved illegally in concealing the problem from Whirlpool and from consumers for so long. Compounded by the awful way the “authorities” dealt with it.

Standards refer to “non-metallic” materials; that includes plastics.

Test are carried out on appropriate samples of materials. A thin sliver may not reveal the properties of a component as I’m sure you know. I can make small bits of metal burn.

Which? is supposedly active now within BSI. As we are Which? Members I think it reasonable for them to keep us informed. We would be inundated with information if every body that we might have an interest in flooded us with paperwork (electronic or otherwise). I have always, however, had good feedback from BSI when I have asked them questions. We can help ourselves if we have sufficient interest. Having worked with BSI I am happy, until I find otherwise, that they are looking after our interests. Bear in mind they are part of an international team and do not just work on their own.

It may be that the plastic parts are metal backed, removing the risk of spread of fire, but I have no easy way of knowing.“. Exactly the point I keep trying to make. We don’t know, but can suggest. Given the objective, we need people who will know to carry through the required remedies. These people populate the working groups that deal with standards as well as manufacturers and materials suppliers. This is another reason to involve Which? who, if they actively participate in BSI – as they should in my view – can help ensure, among others, that salient proposals are made and the consumers voice is amplified.

There are plastics with different degrees of flame retardence, heat resistance, and the structure behind the plastics plays a part whether bonded or otherwise. It may be reduced distortion in heat is required.

I imagine the working groups will have looked at such options, and others, including UL’s work on fire containment.

No one has to wait for a new standard to incorporate better safety features. Reputable manufacturers will, I believe, be ahead of standards. Standards tend to follow new developments and good practice.