Government launches product safety office

Government launches product safety office

THE OFFICE for Product Safety and Standards will ‘manage responses to large-scale product recalls’, as well as identify risks from products.

The Independent reported on the new office, which aims to ‘manage recalls’ of products and is ‘strengthening the UK’s product safety regime’, and offer businesses ‘hit by unfair competition from rogue firms’ with assistance. This comes after last week’s news that the business, energy and industrial strategy select committee had criticised the government for not yet overhauling a ‘flawed and poorly resourced’ safety regime for electrical white goods.

In August last year, London Fire Brigade (LFB), Electrical Safety First and other organisations and individuals sent a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May urging action on white goods fires. In particular, the committee was scathing of the previous revelation that one million faulty Whirlpool tumble dryers are being used in the UK.

Whirlpool has faced criticism for its failure to recall the up to one million dryers that pose a fire risk, and its range of appliances caused ‘three times more’ fires in London than any other manufacturer, according to LFB data. In turn, last year a Welsh coroner said the company’s ‘reluctance to digest inquest lessons’ was an ‘obstacle to preventing further deaths’, after two men died in a fire in their flat in Llanrwist, North Wales in October 2014.

MPs were also angered by Whirlpool’s decision to close its replacement scheme for two types of dryers, launched in 2015, under its Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Proline and Swan brands. These could be a fire risk ‘following reports of fires started by excess fluff catching the heating element in the machines’. The committee wrote to Whirlpool asking why it had ‘chosen to end the scheme’, and criticised the government for being too slow to overhaul a ‘flawed and poorly resourced’ safety regime for white goods.

It also urged Whirlpool to repair faulty machines ‘within two weeks of being contacted’ by owners, or explain action it plans to take, calling its previous response ‘inadequate’. In its view, the government must give ‘serious consideration’ to establishing a ‘single national product safety agency’, which the Office for Product Safety and Standards has been revealed to be.

Andrew Griffiths, the business minister, stated: ‘The new Office for Product Safety and Standards will strengthen the UK's already tough product safety regime and will allow consumers to continue to buy, secure in the knowledge there is an effective system in place if products need to be repaired or replaced.’

Simon Blackburn, chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA’s) safer and stronger communities board, said: ‘The LGA is pleased that its call for more support from government for local trading standards teams around product safety has been answered. Today’s announcement is a positive step towards making sure that those teams are able to protect our residents from faulty electrical equipment, such as tumble dryers or fridge freezers, which can cause fires which can destroy life and devastate property.’

Alex Neill, of consumer group Which?, commented: ‘The Government has finally accepted that the UK's product safety system needs to be fixed, but this action falls short of the full overhaul it so desperately needs. Consumers need an independent national body which has real powers to protect them and get dangerous products out of their homes. Failure to do so continues the risk of further tragic consequences.’

LFB also responded, stating that it would continue to call for a ‘single government backed product recall database’ as well as for recall notices ‘to be better publicised to reduce confusion’, for ‘greater regulation of second-hand appliances’, ‘changes to the way that fridges and freezers are manufactured’, and for all appliances to be ‘marked with a model and serial number to allow identification after a fire’.

Charlie Pugsley, deputy assistant commissioner, stated: ‘I won’t be able to rest until I know that people can easily check whether or not they have a potentially deadly appliance in their home. We welcome the establishment of the new Office for Product Safety and Standards but their first act should be to establish a single government backed product recall database to make it easier for people to check whether they are using a faulty appliance.

‘We don’t even know how many defective white goods there are in use in homes across the UK but we do know there are at least a million Whirlpool tumble dryers with an identifiable defect that has caused over 750 fires in the UK.’