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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?


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!

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.

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.

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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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.

Tubeless tyres are standard equipment on most modern motorcycles, along with radial tyres.

Inner tubes are required for motorcycles that use traditional designs of bicycle-style spoked wheels, because the rims are not inherently air-tight. When combined with traditional cross-ply tyres, rapid deflation is possible, if punctured.

Riding a motorcycle is inherently much more dangerous that driving a car, so it makes good sense to keep tyres, wheels brakes and suspension in good working order, so that risks are not agravated by poor equipment.

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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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.

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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Further information is on the website of the London Fire Brigade: http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/news/LatestNewsReleases_gaping-hole-in-fridge-freezer-safety.asp#.WZrch7S4lE4

Even the metal-backed fridge-freezer burns merrily thanks to a gap at the bottom that could, I suggest, be covered by a removable metal plate. We cannot guarantee that appliances will not go on fire but we could design them to be able to contain a fire, so that it will not spread and damage property and could result in loss of life.

The amendments to the safety standard will be made by the International Electrotechnical Commission, I presume, and will be implemented by the EU as Euronorms, (EN) and the UK will simply adopt them. All countries with standards bodies like BSI will have had the ability to discuss draft proposals and make their own submittals. National committees have a wide representation in their membership, and so proposals should have been considered from a range of viewpoints and disciplines. LFB are listed on the BSI Committee along with many others including consumer groups.

So one would expect that effective improvements to safety would be taken on board. If we are concerned about something that looks sensible but is not adopted we should have an explanation given so we can understand the reasoning. From past experience this has usually been given in notes on Drafts for Development.

I hope Which? will keep in touch with the work of BSI, by direct involvement in appropriate committees, preferably to give the consumer case. I would also hope they could then report factually on the various arguments presented to help us understand why particular decisions might be made.

I do hope that Which? will pursue, Malcolm. The common causes of fire in the home are well known, and there are many ways of avoiding them and preventing fire spreading. These are not always well implemented and the risks are obviously higher in multi-occupancy buildings.

We rate appliances for how energy efficient they are, we rate cars for their performance in crashes, but I have not seen any tests that would help us make an informed decision about which tumble dryers are less likely to set the house on fire.

Having recently left a FTSE 100 risk management team i can give you an insight into how distributors and manufacturers operate.
Lets be clear “commercial opportunity” (money) trumps most decisions.

The Good
– business has woken up to product compliance.

The Bad
– levels of product knowledge is terrible in buying teams. How can you buy something safe if you don’t know much about it?
– Company’s do not understand product compliance. I’ve seen UK manufacturers testing to old / incorrect standards / inappropriate standards. Don’t think british is best.
– There is to much reliance on tisk transfer. I.e. We can get our supplier to pay if something goes wrong.
– Overseas buying is hit and miss. My experience has seen buying from overseas with little or no verification / pre delivery checks.

This is just a hint of incompetenct at the surface. Unfortunately because safe buying is quite technical senior management don’t have any appetite to understand it so its not well supported.

Hi David – Can you give us any specific examples with supporting evidence?

I am very concerned that successive governments have run down Trading Standards despite growing problems of unsafe and counterfeit products.

In a global economy I would wager David has probably only just scratched the surface of some of the unsavoury practices that take place at macro-economic level.

Looks like I might have just posted something relevant here:

Where the same product has 3 different brand names. Search for 1260w mixer on Amazon.

I agree with what Beryl has said, but how do we get to know about the ‘unsavoury practices’?

Interestingly, the link I posted above was then hidden away under ‘Business’ by the BBC…

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As you say, I’m not a radical and I would not criticise those who are, unless they were making false allegations. In this Convo we are discussing the inadequate system for dealing with recalls. We are told that it is ‘broken’ but it has never worked. 🙁

I would prefer to focus on the simpler problems where the facts are clear but if whistleblowers or others with information can expose wrongful practices then many of us will be very grateful.

I never like the term “broken” – much overused. However the cracks were enlarged when Trading Standards lost substantial funding. They have lost expertise, we cannot generally talk to them any longer, and they have become, at best, reactive when they should be proactive.

I would like to see TS reformed, with National TS dealing directly with national issues, responding to reports from local TS. It requires funding properly. One way would be to impose a levy on all appropriate new product sales where safety recalls could be required to allow TS to set up a compulsory registration system and manage safety issues, as well as helping fund their other activities.

What does Which? think? Would it support this? I presume a good deal of benefit would result from a liaison between Which? and Trading Standards to the benefit of consumers.

Malcolm – You mention not being able to talk to Trading Standards. If that’s the case, I can better understand the comments made by you and others in our Conversations. It’s now several years since I had need to discuss anything with TS, but Citizens Advice were always helpful and efficient to me and passed my case to TS. I have talked at length to TS over various issues but no action was ever taken as far as I am aware.

Let’s keep up the pressure to push for restoration of TS as an effective service.

I tried to talk to Peterborough Trading Standards when the Whirlpool / Indesit dryer issue arose, but was only referred to Citizens Advice, who responded but had no help to offer. I do not know if Trading Standards do it everywhere, but my local one, and Peterborough, simply refer you to CA on their websites and offer no means of direct communication by email, for example.

Many people are sensible when requesting information, or wanting to provide it, and it is very frustrating not to be able to communicate with the “right people” but to get diverted / fobbed off to third parties. In rare instances I have contacted my MP, currently regarding energy tariffs and the BEIS’s views. He, I have to say, has always been extremely helpful. But I would much prefer to correspond direct – why should we not be able to talk to those whom we pay to provide our services? Having said that, recent direct correspondence with the Food Standards Agency and Ofgem have been fairly promptly responded to and productive.

The outcome might have been different if you lived in an area covered by TS and you had a problem with a company.

As I have explained before, Citizens Advice acts in the same way as a company or GP surgery does, collecting information and then referring cases to the appropriate organisation. I have a family member who works a couple of days a week for CA and confirmed this. Some of us are very well aware of which department they need to speak to, but many don’t, and I would not like to see the limited resources of TS being wasted in listening to callers telling them about problems they cannot help with and having to explain that they need to ring someone else.

Just today I had to contact a company that has twice failed to deliver what I have paid for, on behalf of a national charity. I have spoken to man in charge on about six occasions but still have to go through the process of speaking to someone else and explaining the reason for my call. I accept that the system is run that way because most people will not know who they need to speak to.

I think many people will know what organisation might help them, and be prepared to be pointed in the right direction otherwise. Using the web can often help find it. But if you have a problem you need help with, you need to contact someone – a fair chance you might find the right person from the outset. Why have to go through a third party every time? That seems like a bigger waste of resource.

Citizens Advice told me, when I asked, that they do not accumulate complaints to see the size of a problem and do not follow up anything referred to Trading Standards so cannot tell if any action has been taken. I see little point in that sort of approach.

It is TS that keeps the information about complaints. Once I was told that they would only take action if there were similar complaints in the near future. Think of it as triage in a hospital, where cases are details are taken and the patient is referred to the appropriate department for treatment. The patient might think that they need to have their broken finger put in plaster or have their skin wounds dressed but the priority is to check for head injury after the crash. Anyway, that’s my thoughts and they fit in with how the system currently operates.

Perhaps we need to pull together with others and push for improvement in TS, but I don’t know how to raise awareness of the problem. Having asked many people who have no real interest in consumer affairs, either they don’t know the purpose of TS or can only relate to weights & measures.

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In the absence of a proper government scheme for notifying the public of recalls, I am registered to receive recall notices by email from Electrical Safety First. This works very well and I have learned about recalls of a number of items owned by me and friends.

I received an alert about a Sylvania batten led recently. I looked this up and found that it’s not just one product but a whole collection of related products: http://luxreview.com/article/2017/07/sylvania-recalls-led-battens-over-shock-fears I notified ESF but no action has yet been taken, but have had no response. In the past they have promptly updated their website.

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Consumer Affairs in the US advises me daily of recalls in ALL categories. If they can do it for the US market one would think Which? would be capable of it in the UK. Being business friendly perhaps Which? is not keen to interfere with the current system.

I should point out that Consumer Affairs is free and to be honest does take money from firms so not entirely a consumer body.

ConsumerReports is on the other hand a subscription based consumer body granddaddy to Which?/ Consumers’ Association. They do to some good testing in their test facilities but even they drop the odd clanger.

I would strongly support Which? having a major role in setting up a good system for comprehensive product registration and representing the interests of consumers.

Anyone can subscribe to receive comprehensive weekly reports from the EC RAPEX database: https://ec.europa.eu/consumers/consumers_safety/safety_products/rapex/alerts/?event=main.listNotifications For electrical goods, I have mentioned that Electrical Safety First sends email notices when recalls arise. I doubt that most people would use these services, even if promoted, because most of the information is irrelevant.

Does Consumer Affairs make available to the general public or just to their subscribers?

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I presume that this is what you are referring to, Duncan: https://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/default.htm As I have mentioned, above, we have the EC RAPEX system. I have no idea if it is as comprehensive, but it might be more relevant to products we buy.

The US is a bit of a curate’s egg and we follow much of what happens there.

If your car or mine is recalled because of a safety issue, neither of us has to look at emails about a variety of recalled products or to search databases, we are contacted by DVSA if our car is affected. That’s what we need with all products from washing machines to children’s car seats.

Duncan – The FDA site is very interesting. I have been reading a detailed warning letter to Biomerieux Inc from 2014 concerning complaints. It’s nothing to do with household products but I’m familiar with their lab products. I am well aware of the FDA but this is the first time I have looked at the safety and recalls information. Thanks very much.

As I said – it is free.

That is largely because there is compulsory registration of motor vehicles to enable effective recalls. I want to see compulsory registration at point of sale for all appropriate electrical goods so recalls can be also effectively made. Can we lobby Which? to back this and help with proposals. National Trading Standards is one suggestion for the authority to oversee this. There may be others. But until we make a start, nothing is likely to happen from Government.

My thoughts are wider as we will never know where the next problem will arise. So the report is an excellent start and the Government needs to now take action in short term and long term.
For the long term the key items I believe are:

Safety issues on any item must be raised by anyone (I do mean anyone), collected by a central body for transparency, analysis (high level) and for supplier/owner action. This is a data collection and simple analysis function only so that suppliers can take action. Suppliers and safety organisations can then be challenged and shamed into action. By doing this you quickly learn where the issues are, including those that are ‘unallocated’. For example where there is no clear ownership of the issue at the time. Using data analysis this group will be able to predict future issues and future costs to consumers and emergency organisations, so that costs can be recovered from those not taking the safety role seriously. E.G. Any emergency callout cost should be be recovered from the product owner/ supplier. This includes the cost of the fire brigade police and ambulance attending the incident.
Safety Systems (product, service suppliers and Safety organisations!) should be audited where level of organisation / supplier/ company competence is assessed and published. For example 5 Star company Safety rating means that due to safety design a serious safety event is UNLIKELY or if it does happen product recall process and company commitment is assured. A 1 Star basically means that LACK OF ADEQUATE safety is in place such as some companies operate today. Can you imagine a 1 Star company not wanting to improve immediately. Think about the star ratings on food hygiene! It is always in the headlines when there are issues.
c) A Safety Standards Authority that is devoted centrally to the following functions: Safety Product / Service, Safety Organisation Standards, Safety Capability levels assessments, monitoring and Auditing. I don’t believe they should collect the data and reports as this will be another in house check.

All the above can be done cost effectively but will take time. The first action is to collect the data centrally! I suggest this is a role that Which could take on. This role could be funded by suppliers as set cost could be minimal. The database is where the power of the argument to change should come from not deaths, injury or damage.
Hope this helps the discussion.

it not just white goods at home but car/ vans/ trucks as well that needs know proplems on van ect are not put right , unless you pay for it , they say it fare wear and tear, itneeds to change