/ Home & Energy

How dangerous are your home appliances?

white goods

9,754 fires have been caused by white goods in the UK since 2014 according to The Sun. That’s 10 fires-a-day. In light of these numbers, how can the product safety system be seen to be working?

Figures revealed by The Sun show that nearly ten fires a day are caused by faulty white goods products. With numbers like that, thousands of households are being potentially put at risk.

It’s clear that the government needs to stop dragging its feet and put in place a product safety system fit for purpose.

Fire-risk machines

According to The Sun’s data, in the three years from 2014, 9,574 fires were caused by white goods including washing machines, tumble dryers and fridge-freezers, resulting in at least five deaths. The real figure is likely to be higher as only 30 out of 51 fire and rescue services responded to The Sun’s freedom of information request.

The number of fires caused by white goods indicates failures in the product safety and recall system.

But this is just one market. White goods don’t include all of the electronic items sitting in your living room, under the stairs and in your garage or shed.

Product safety system

Sadly, the government doesn’t appear to be listening. In fact, the Consumer Minister, Margot James, said: ‘There is a robust system in place if faulty products need to be repaired or replaced.’

But we know that the system is failing and this has been amply demonstrated by the long-running Whirlpool-owned fire-risk tumble dryer saga.

As some of you will know, we first started talking about this in 2015, when it was reported that around 750 fires were linked to some Whirlpool-owned Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Proline and Swan tumble dryers. And then last year we had the news that a tower block fire in Shepherds Bush, which left 50 people unable to return to their homes, was started by an affected fire-risk dryer.

Despite us challenging Whirlpool to step up to sort this mess out it has so far failed to issue a full product recall on the fire risk tumble dryers, or even publish a comprehensive list of affected models.

Our CEO, Peter Vicary-Smith, explained here on Which? Convo last month that both Whirlpool and Peterborough Trading Standards have failed to act quickly and in the best interests of consumers. Meanwhile, the Consumer Minister is failing to use any of the enforcement powers available to her and fix this problem now.

A broken system

Our current product safety system is heavily reliant on a local approach to a national problem that involves global companies. What’s more is that local trading standards, who currently deal with product safety problems, are not set up to handle this.

And when something does go wrong there’s currently no single source for information where consumers can find out about the recall or safety issue.

We know this system isn’t working. When these issues were last debated in Parliament in April, the Consumer Minister praised Whirlpool for managing to register almost 40% of affected machines for repair or replacement almost two years after the issue came to light, as this exceeded the industry standard of 10-20%!

Do you think Consumer Minister Margot James MP was right to say the product safety system is robust?

No (97%, 582 Votes)

Yes (3%, 15 Votes)

Total Voters: 597

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Robust response?

Just let that sink in for a moment. Potentially millions of fire risk tumble dryers remain in homes and that is considered a positive outcome. Thousands of fires are caused by faulty machines every year and the Minister responsible has publicly called the current product safety system ‘robust’.

This isn’t acceptable, and that’s why we’re calling for an urgent overhaul of the UK’s product safety system.

Are your concerned about the safety of your home appliances? Do you enough is being done to protect us from dangerous products? Should the government take action and revise the product safety system?

Comments
Member

Thanks very much for this Conversation, Peter.

I wrote to Margot James about my concerns about fires caused by household goods. I did not receive a personal reply but was told that the government was looking at the Amdea system, where this trade association encourages members of the public to register their products.

It seems OK at first glance and many manufacturers of white goods are members of Amdea, but what about all the other electrical products that are recalled? What about children’s toys, car seats and all the other products that may be subject to recall? It’s not just white goods we need to look at.

I’m not keen on companies mixing up the safety issue with marketing, data collection (market research) and competitions. I registered the purchase of a small electrical item and looked at the lifestyle questions, one of which was what was my annual income. The irresponsible behaviour of some companies has put many off registering their products and obtaining information about recalls.

What we need is a way of registering purchases that will avoid the possibility that data could be misused. DVSA does this for cars, so that if there is a recall for my vehicle, I can be promptly informed. I have benefited from this and so have many people I know.

Details of recalls are added to the EC Rapex database: https://ec.europa.eu/consumers/consumers_safety/safety_products/rapex/alerts/?event=main.search

I suggest registration of goods at the time of purchase and to make it a requirement for all retailers to pass on the information to a government body responsible for informing us if our products are affected by a recall.

It is vital not to ignore goods in rental properties or those bought secondhand. I suggest that in addition to the responsibility of retailers, we all have the opportunity to inspect our list of possessions online so that it can be checked and items added, or deleted when disposed of or sold or given away.

I very much welcome an overhaul of consumer safety and the active participation of Which?

My greatest concern is the run down of Trading Standards by successive governments, so we now have counterfeit and dangerous products on sale and if consumers report problems there may be little chance of action. If Which? does not take this up, I don’t know who will.

Member

A number of us have, in previous Convos, proposed that all major appliances should be compulsorily registered at the point of sale so owners can be contacted if a general fault is uncovered. It will require a system establishing to hold data and to automatically contact affected consumers, but the benefits are clear (well, they are to me). My personal suggestion is this should be given to National Trading Standards to operate, with local trading standards in future being required to take information direct from the public, and other organisations, to provide information on serious faults. It will require funding and, again, a levy on the sale price could be used. Has Which? lobbied Margot James about this?

There a 23 million or so households, each with probably 3 major appliances, so the reported incidents amount to around 0.0015% of households and 0.0005% of appliances. Some of these will be inherent appliance faults, some will be misuse and abuse. I am not underestimating the seriousness of any fire, however caused, but the way figures are portrayed can be misleading. As fires have causes other than from appliances – cooking, smoking, candles and so on – I would also like to see sprinklers mandatory in at least multi-occupation buildings, and possibly in all domestic kitchens.

We have discussed elsewhere work being done, and proposals made, for improving fire safety in appliances. But I don’t know who is actually taking these proposals and putting them to those who can act on them, if they prove of value. I’d like to see reports on progress at the international committee responsible for the safety of domestic appliances.

Member

The low number of five deaths arising from over 9,500 fires started in domestic appliances is a tribute to the building regulations and the prompt and effective responses of the fire and rescue services, not as a result of careful and conscientious design by the manufacturers. It is not a marketing facet so it is not a high priority despite what they say. And as this article so rightly makes clear the government has a major responsibility to the UK’s citizens which it is shirking. I really do hope Which? will go on the warpath over this.

Although there were other causes for the spread of the fire, it was initially reported that the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower started in a fridge-freezer and that as a consequence over eighty people have lost their lives. This should weigh heavily on the consciences of those who say the the present safety system is good enough. I appreciate that there might be all sorts of explanations for how the fire started and the public inquiry will go into that but if ever there was a good time for the government to take a responsible initiative it is now, and not wait for the right political moment which I suggest is what is in their minds to do.

Member

It is a good prompt for appliance registration, although in this case we do not know how the appliance fire arose – whether a product fault, abuse, misuse, or whatever. I think a far more worrying issue is the way this tragedy seems to have exposed a severe weakness in the building regulations or their application. It has cost, in one event alone, more than 15 times the deaths attributed to appliances in 3 years. I await the outcome of the investigation in the hope that it will explain what happened and how, and how such tragedies can be minimised in the future.

Member

Here is an official list of white goods that have been recalled: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/household-appliances-recalled-due-to-fire-risk

Several years ago I recall reading that around half a million Bosch/Neff/Siemens recalled dishwashers had not been accounted for and long after publicity about the Whirlpool dryer problem, some people only became aware that they had a machine that should have been replaced or modified.

Member
bishbut says:
19 August 2017

Are they really that dangerous or is it that some people use them in a way that causes danger Many things are dangerous If not used as they should be Do you follow the instructions carefully every time

Member

Something that has concerned me for a while is the same product with multiple brand names.

As an example, search for 1260w mixer on Amazon and you see the same product with 3 different unknown brand names.

Owner reviews say they are made in China. How do these products conform to safety regulations? If one of these products was found to have a serious fault, who would be ultimately responsible? How do you recall a product when it has multiple brand names and product codes?

Member

alfa, if a product such as this is marketed in the UK (as opposed to an individual buying it off the web and importing it privately) then the product has to meet UK (European) safety standards. If it does not, it is being marketed illegally and the European seller is responsible and can (should) be prosecuted.