/ Home & Energy

Is the product safety system failing you?

product safety

Product safety is a burning issue, and yet the government’s new product safety team doesn’t have the right tools for the job. Our End Dangerous Products campaign is calling on the government to publish an Action Plan for the new Office for Product Safety and Standards within the next 90 days.

Tragically, the risk posed by dangerous faulty appliances is all too real. Our latest analysis finds that high-risk appliances cause more than eight fires every day on average.

In 2016, the fire in a block of flats in Shepherd’s Bush, which forced many families out of their homes, is thought to have been caused by a faulty Indesit dryer (a brand owned by Whirlpool). Many of those families are still waiting to move back home.

Dangerous dryers

As many of you will know, we’ve raised our concerns over Whirlpool’s fire-risk dryers on multiple occasions over the past two years. And last year we threatened legal action with a judicial review against Peterborough Trading Standards, which ultimately forced Whirlpool to change its advice for dryers affected.

Unfortunately, the problem isn’t going away. According to our findings, faulty washing machines and tumble dryers are the most high-risk appliances, causing 35% of fires between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2016. Other high-risk appliances for the same period include cookers and ovens (11%), dishwashers (10%) and fridges, freezers and fridge freezers (8%).

And yet, despite this consumers are still unknowingly being put in harm’s way as manufacturers produce dangerous products that are making their way into people’s homes.

And yet, despite repeatedly calling on the government to create an independent national body with the tools to get unsafe products out of people’s homes, it still isn’t doing enough.

Fix our safety system

In January this year, the government announced that a new product safety team – Office for Product Safety and Standards – would be working in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to help safeguard consumers.

But if consumers are going to be properly protected, we need stronger national action to keep unsafe products out of our homes. The current product safety regime is antiquated and no longer fit for purpose – it must be replaced. A fundamental reform is needed to stop dangerous products from reaching UK households.

Lives depend on it.

End Dangerous Products

There really is no time to waste. The UK’s product safety regime needs urgent reform to protect lives. That’s why we’re giving the government until the 16 May 2018 to publish an Action Plan for the Office for Product Safety and Standards.

The government must set out both the true scale of the product safety risks that we face in the UK and the immediate steps that the Office will take to avert further devastating fires. It must also detail what the Office will do to remove the remaining one million fire risk Whirlpool tumble dryers from people’s homes.

Help us secure action by signing our petition and joining our campaign to End Dangerous Products.


Have you owned a dangerous or faulty product? Do you think the government needs to reform the UK’s product safety regime?

Comments

Which? reveals the children’s Halloween costumes that fail fire safety tests
26 October 2018
Which? warns parents to be wary this Halloween, as a snapshot investigation has found some children’s costumes fail to meet fire safety testing standards.

Why do Which? not press for retailers who sell products that do not meet regulatory standards to be prosecuted?

Peter Spence says:
26 September 2019

I have a suggestion, based on the fact that my Indesit dishwasher has just started smoking and making unpleasant electrical smells ;-{{.
I am not sure if it is due to the manufacturer or not; and it does not seem to be possible to find out, especially if it is not subject to the official recall notices.
So it raises the issue of how the recall notices are established and if faults are slipping through the net.
If a site, such as Which or electrical safety search, could capture data as to appliance type, model etc… – as well as fault then that might help catch near accidents and help prevent dangerous accidents – and give everyone some visibility at an early stage.

You are not alone Peter , one lady would not put up with the denials of the company that “it was their products fault ” so got in TWO expert who BOTH agreed that it was “Resistive Heating ” something I know a lot about in my decades as an engineer (practical) and electronic repair . She won !
Its caused by INSECURE connections in an electrical circuit where ,instead of zero resistance and zero current a connection becomes loose thereby causing a low ohmage to develop which causes a local rise in amperage across 230V AC resulting in a heating of the connection .
Think car battery connection ,which when loose causing overheating in the said terminal.
It is to my dismay that this country has turned into a service industry country and the public no longer think from an engineering base , where in the past engineering apprenticeships employed many 1000,s of generally young men who now seem to be taught —cooking !

Which ? I can go to many websites dealing in domestic appliances and get detailed info on engineering aspects of household goods but here where I think should be the basis and first call of those needing practical help Which ? is “veering away ” from a core part of its existence .

Peter Spence says:
26 September 2019

An interesting point. I am impressed by the lady’s tenacity. And perhaps Which should have such advice on finding such experts (but not sure who to contact on this)
These type of faults could be found long after purchase – and indeed is not something I had considered.

Thanks for replying Peter (many don’t ) as this is obviously an electrical connection fault –IMO- having actually repaired production line equipment, this is down to faulty production line build /construction being lax so no blame should fall on a consumer but always does by the “no blame ” commercial attitudes and the bigger the company the worse it gets especially those US conglomerates .
I deal exclusively with British based /British run businesses usually those that sell to other businesses and I have never had trouble getting reimbursed/replacements of products.

Peter, you do not say how old your appliance is and it may be some component has become loose over the years or motor insulation has degraded perhaps. If it is worth the cost of having a domestic appliance repairer visit then I’d suggest find out what the problem is before you use it again. It sound unsafe but could be repairable. If you feel competent you could look inside it yourself to see what might be going on. Don’t forget to unplug it!

As far as I know there are no general problems with Indesit dishwashers; the recall only applied to tumble dryers.

I do agree that Which? – through Which? Connect – could collect far more detailed information on domestic appliance faults from their 30 000+ members. This would gradually build up a picture of where faults are in particular brands and models to give both helpful buying information and also help track likely problems for those who already own them.

DerekP says:
26 September 2019

Engineering apprenticeships are alive and well at one of my major clients. These days, both women and men are employed in those roles.

In my view, it’s important that large electrical products are periodically inspected, serviced and checked for electrical safety. Vacuum cleaning can remove accumulated dust, which can be a fire hazard. Internal inspection can reveal signs of overheating connections (a point made by Duncan), deteriorating electrical insulation, worn bearings, loose parts, deteriorating or chafed hoses, worn motor brushes and other problems. In Peter’s case it should be easy to establish the cause of the problem. As Malcolm says, the fault could be repairable.

Why do most people have their boiler checked regularly but carry on using white goods until they stop working?

We’ve discussed this before. The cost of opening up and examining many appliances annualy would probably be prohibitive. One reason why some, may be many, could be helped by having appliances that give access to maintainable parts, with suitable instructions. However most appliances seem to last well without any such attention. A regular PAT test would not be expensive per item, but if you consider all the electrical items in your house the total could be rather high.

I’d suggest gas boilers offer more of a safety hazard than most appliances, particularly the way they burn efficiently or not, emission of dangerous fumes, and the corrosive deterioration of sensors for example. Your house insurance may also be affected if you have not serviced your boiler and damage related to that should occur.

I am specifically referring to inspection, maintenance and testing of white goods. The cost of doing this may be offset by the inconvenience of breakdowns and the reduced risk of fire.

With small electrical goods that use a two-core lead, inspection of the condition of the lead, the plug, fuse and correct function is all that’s really needed.

I understand that. The call out charge for a domestic appliance may be £40+ with a labour cost depending on the time to dismantle and inspect say 3 appliances – tumble dryer, washing machine. dishwasher – and possibly cooker, plus testing a fridge freezer. I’d suggest while it would be useful it would not be necessary annually, and most people would feel the money spent was not worthwhile in view of the good safety history of most appliances. Like extended warranties it is probably better economically to wait for a breakdown and then pay for it.

I suggested periodic rather than annual inspection. With fridges, freezers, hobs, ovens, and microwave ovens, cleaning is most important, but with tumble dryers, washing machines and dishwashers, a proper internal inspection is worthwhile – both for safety reasons and to help avoid premature failure. If you are competent to do the jobs yourself you can save money.

Little side-story regarding product safety which might be of interest.

During a recent warm spell, with wall-to-wall sunshine, my better half called me to say she’d smelt smoke in the inner hallway. Needless to say, I was there quickly, and followed the smell into the adjacent shower/utility room where I tracked the smell down to the Everest window frames, recently installed, melting and smoking profusely.

A glass of water cooled the frame, and the culprit turned out to be something superficially innocuous: a two-sided mirror which she keeps on the window sill for – well, I’m not sure what. Anyhow, one of the sides is concave and that’s the side that had been leaning at exactly the right angle and at exactly the right focal length to concentrate the sunlight into a mini plasma beam. That beam had melted the plastic so the aluminium under-frame could be seen and might well have caused a fire.

This happened in September – in the UK – so one can only imagine the effect in June during a heat wave. Notwithstanding that it made a great talking point with friends, it does show just how easily something as apparently harmless as a simple makeup mirror could be responsible for a house fire.

Ouch. UPVC will melt and emit toxic fumes, but it’s fire-retardant. I have some glass paperweights on a window sill – deliberately one that is north-facing.

Good to see plastic endorsed for its fire retardent properties :-).

I presume you are referring to our earlier discussions about use of plastics in the casing of white goods, Malcolm. UPVC melts and produces toxic fumes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VZx8weWytI

For appliances a metal case makes more sense because it can contain fire.

The heat from the melting plastic could well have triggered a fire in the wood-slat blind we have in that room.

UPVC melts at a temperature below that needed to start a fire in wood. Had the concave mirror focused the sun’s rays on the wood or curtains, that could certainly have started a fire. I hope that mirrors and lenses are supplied with a warning to keep them out of the sun. I have a magnifier that I use for repairing electronic equipment and that came with a fabric cover for the lens.

https://www.carehome.co.uk/news/article.cfm/id/1592173/Fire-chief-warns-about-mirror-fire-hazards-after-care-home-blaze

PVC exposed to flames may well eventually give off toxic fumes but I’m not aware that when it simply melts, without flame, as in Ian’s case that it would emit toxic fumes. Have you a link to this?

I cannot vouch for the source, but this article says that it does: https://www.creativemechanisms.com/blog/everything-you-need-to-know-about-pvc-plastic

As several posts are about the qualities of UPVC , my neighbour in an upmarket area I lived in went on holiday ,about a week later several police cars arrived at the house .
It turned out that the whole window frame had been cut out during the night and the house burgled much jewellery was taken along with other expensive items like Rolex watches , my own house at the time had aluminium window framed DG.

That’s a rather different risk, Duncan. Early UPVC windows were externally beaded and window panes could be removed fairly easily. Multi-point locking does not help on patio doors that could be lifted out with a spade. Even though these problems have been addressed, anyone considering installing UPVC really needs to look at the security features of different products on offer. Aluminium frames fell out of favour because the early ones provided cold-bridges and resulted in condensation, but that problem has been overcome.

Thanks for the additional info on aluminium frames Wavechange –didn’t know about the early condensation .