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Update: it’s time to overhaul the UK’s product safety system

Product safety

We have today released our report on the UK’s product safety system. In it, we call on the Government to urgently overhaul the UK’s broken product safety and recall system.

The UK’s fragmented product safety system simply isn’t fit for purpose and, as such, is potentially putting people’s lives at risk through a lack of joined-up national oversight and action.

Whirlpool saga

Take, for example, the long-running saga with Whirlpool’s fire-risk tumble dryers where Peterborough Trading Standards initially failed to force Whirlpool to change its advice to consumers. This was despite more than 700 instances of Whirlpool-owned brands of tumble dryers catching fire in people’s homes.

Sadly, it took the threat of a judicial review by Which? back in December 2016 to finally force Peterborough Trading Standards to change its approach.

In January 2017, Peterborough issued two enforcement notices to Whirlpool, forcing the manufacturer to change its safety advice. Owners of affected dryers are advised to switch off the machine and not use it until it has been fixed.

The safety system shouldn’t rely on organisations like us to threaten legal action in order to ensure consumers are adequately protected.

A new safety system

In our view, and as highlighted in our new report, the product safety system simply isn’t fit for purpose and its over reliance on a local approach to a national problem poses grave risks to consumers. The current system has no single source of information on product recalls for consumers and uses an ineffective local solution to tackle what is a national problem.

Problems with the product safety regime are made worse by the lack of resources for local trading standards teams, which have lost more than half of their full-time equivalent staff and expertise since 2009. This, combined with an over reliance on manufacturers to self-check their products’ safety, paints a worrying picture.

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union could also place even more pressure on an already stretched system as we could lose important protections from the EU’s enforcement network, as well as access to the EU’s Rapid Alert System for dangerous non-food products.

We’re concerned that the Government has been slow to respond to serious incidents and subsequent reviews following product related fires. In October 2016 the Government set up a Working Group on Product Recall and Safety. We’re awaiting the conclusions from this working group, but we hope it has firmly grasped the scale of the problems facing the current system.

Read the Which? report

Action on safety

We’re calling on the Government to take urgent action and create a new national body that has all of the tools it needs to get unsafe products out of people’s homes.

We also believe a single, reliable and well-publicised website should be created to provide authoritative information and advice when dangerous products are identified or recalls are required.

Update: 20 July 2017

The Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety has published its report and outlined recommendations for improving the UK’s product safety system.

    The Group’s recommendations include:

  • setting up a central scientific and technical resource;
  • working with the British Standards Institute to create a Code of Practice for businesses and regulators to set out best practice for undertaking and evaluating corrective action and recalls of products;
  • improving the way product-related accident and fire data is gathered; and
    establishing effective arrangements between trading standards and electrical goods manufacturers through Primary Authority, to strengthen compliance and recalls.

These recommendations are not the fundamental reform needed to fix the UK’s broken product safety system, which currently poses grave risks to consumers.

The report heavily promotes primary authority partnerships as a part of the solution. We have concerns about the use of primary authority partnerships between businesses and local authorities – which failed consumers in the case of tumble dryers from Whirlpool brands.

We’re calling on the government to take urgent action to put consumers first and to create a new national body to lead on product safety, as well as a genuine ‘one-stop-shop’ to provide authoritative information and advice when dangerous products are identified or recalls are required.

Do you trust the current product safety system? Do you agree that the system needs overhauling? What would you do to improve the safety system to make it better for consumers?

Comments
Guest
Ted Clapham says:
30 July 2017

Having had one or two problems recently, and not, as it happens with appliances bought cheaply, but premium products at premium prices, thew lovally available advice ids not very serviceable, so the local and advice services of which have proved invaluable. The folk I feel sorry for are those who are, in Mrs May’s words, “just about managing” or worse, who cant afford the fees, and are therefore pushed around by greedy suppliers!

Guest
B J Rowney says:
31 July 2017

I would have thought that manufacturers are required to provide goods that are fit for purpose, this being the case I would also think it would not be unreasonable to set a quantity of failures which if exceeded would automatically trigger action to have those products withdrawn from sale. If the manufacturer cannot show they have taken action to ensure products are safe and fit for purpose those products should be taken off the market untill such time the manufacturer can demonstrate they have 1/ fixed the problem for future manufactures and 2/ show they have a robust system in place to ensure all products in service have been brought in line with the latest manufacturing standard.

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Guest

I agree in principle but the system would have to take account of the consequence of failure. It may be inconvenient, such as a food mixer or vacuum cleaner stopping working, or it may be serious, such as a fridge or washing machine going on fire.

Guest
nikki says:
31 July 2017

Having had an issue with inner tubes for a motorcycle that had potential fatal flaws in their construction. It is of grave concern that although the vendor was reported to their local trading standards it appears that nothing has been done to remove these inner tubes from the market. Had the inner tube suddenly deflated at 50mph this would of most certain of cause an accident and possibly resulted in death. Fortunately for my brother, the inner tube let go whilst the motorcycle was being restored and hadn’t yet been ridden. These brand new inner tubes extremely dangerous as they suddenly let go along the packing seam with no warning.

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Guest

Nikki You might have noticed I take a great interest in all things from the Land of Built to a Price ( China ) . I have noticed that many plastic/rubber/nylon components are being made from inferior chemical composition . Like everything else in life its down to how much importers will pay for products and the fact China has literally 1000,s of engineering factories of all types including chemical , this includes inner tubes for motor-cycles . You are speaking to an old British motor -bike enthusiast so I know how dangerous it is to have a blowout at high speed , especially the front tyre where you lose total control. Its time something was done about those cheap rip-off profit merchants who put profit ahead of British lives . In the interest of saving human life could you post the make of those inner tubes Nikki ?

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Guest

Tubeless tyres do not suddenly fail unless run under-inflated or severely damaged, whereas tubed tyres certainly do, as I recall from my days as a motorcyclist in the 70s. Since the consequence of sudden deflation of a front motorcycle tyre is serious, as Duncan has pointed out, the motorcycle industry should have introduced tubeless tyres at the same time or before they were adopted on cars, but that did not happen.

I am surprised that tubed tyres have not been phased out.

Guest
C. S. Mc Ferran says:
31 July 2017

I would agree with B J Rowney, with the proviso that faulty products already sold are recovered by the manufacturer as part of ttheir responsibility. I think also that a ‘one stop shop’ website would be a good first step, as a way of providing info directly to the users of suspect goods, and possibly in-field modifications.

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Guest

C.S – this of coarse does not apply to ANYTHING coming out of China (manufactured ) where government export law dictates that all responsibility is in the hands of exporters and zero faulty goods are returnable to China . This applies to Chinese made goods but even if a foreign company has factories there re-imports will not be allowed.

Guest
c. fitzpatrick says:
1 August 2017

My bedroom sits next to a faulty boiler, im a council tennant, the council are blaming worchester the boiler company and the boiler company are blaming the council. in the meantime im left with a boiler with low pressure and very hot water to no hot water sometimes. nothing is being done and i dont like using it and keep it switched off 23hours a day. the pressure gage is around 1 which im told by worchester is no good. it worries me that 2 stupid official bodies while arguing about whos to blame could cause a fatel accident.

i have a similar situation with my fridge freezer and Beko. the f.freezer has always made strange noises, i called out beko expecting a new one. They sent out a the Beko engineer and he said all is well and the gas just does that. I think its bull crap and after putting up with it for 3 years im sending it to the charity shop soon.
The only time it doesnt make weird noises is when its totally full!!!! Ive NEVER known anything like it.

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Guest

As the landlord I presume your council has responsibility for the boiler and should sort it out for you. Irrelevant who is to blame.

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Guest

C. Fitzpatrick your right about the lower pressure limit my boiler has a lower cut-off limit where you get no heating/hot water its a safety device , nothing to do with your water pump . In my case there is a expandable pressure equaliser that if the boiler is not used for a while the water pressure reduces to zero but there is a pressure valve that raises the water pressure and letting it run for a minute or less while watching the pressure gauge rise to approx- 1.8 restores it again for a long time. If , in your case the actual INCOMING water pressure is around 1 then you have a real problem with your water company but your council should be pushing the water company to comply with its own regulations as regards minimum pressure supply . I would contact the water company direct to get their point of view on this so that you have some technical data to hit the council with.