Government questioned over white goods action
BARONESS DONAGHY of the House of Lords asked the government ‘what action they propose to take to ensure the safety of consumers’ after last month’s Which? report.
Last month, Which? named 250 of the ‘most popular’ fridges and freezers as ‘potentially unsafe’, adding that they ‘could be putting lives at risk’. It demanded UK retailers ‘immediately stop’ selling the specific models, after finding that the backing material ‘on almost half of all’ the appliances tested ‘was made of an unsafe plastic that posed a fire risk’.
Models include appliances from ‘most if not all’ leading manufacturers, including: AEG; Kenwood; Hotpoint; Smeg; Candy; Hotpoint; Zanussi; Indesit; Whirlpool; Hoover; Bush; and Ikea. This comes after London Fire Brigade (LFB) stated that ‘even though there was on average one fridge or freezer fire a week’ in London, it believed most manufacturers ‘were still dragging their heels on making fire safety improvements’.
The investigation looked at over 500 products, with its data released due to what Which? called a ‘lack of government action’. While it accepted that refrigeration fault fires were rare, with only 8% of fires caused by faulty appliances, it noted that the plastic backing material ‘did not in itself’ cause fires but ‘accelerated them’. It did not demand a product recall but called for retailers to ‘immediately stop selling these products’, though the public should not ‘panic – the risk is low’.
No plastic backing sample could withstand a flame for 30 seconds, so in the event of a fire they would ‘not sufficiently prevent the flame from reaching the flammable insulation inside’, while no metal or aluminium samples caught alight. Writing for Politics Home, Baroness Donaghy stated that safety laws for fridges and freezers ‘are not fit for purpose today’, adding that ‘we are still awaiting the various reports on the Grenfell fire. Who would have thought only a year ago that this topic would be in the spotlight’.
She pointed out that the Which? report ‘should concern us all’, as the named devices ‘failed the rigorous safety standards applied by Which? – that represents 43% of the market […] I am not suggesting that the manufacturers are breaking existing laws. I am saying that those laws are not fit for purpose today. My main concern is fire safety.’
Baroness Donaghy also contended that ‘anyone who thinks I am a representative of the nanny state should view the Which? video on the testing procedures’, also stating that ‘another concern among safety experts is the state of the second hand market. Those on a tight budget will often buy their goods from second-hand shops. Because of the decimation of Trading Standards posts in local government, there is no guarantee that these appliances will be safe’.
With ‘flawed current safety standards’ not set to be replaced until next year, she defended Which? and stated it ‘is not trying to be alarmist’. She concluded by noting ‘I will be asking the government whether it endorses the Which? recommendations and what action they propose to take to ensure the safety of consumers during this interim period’.
A new code of practice for product safety recalls to help retailers ‘improve the success’ of recalls was the ‘first major announcement’ from the Office for Product Safety and Standards, launched in January. It aims to ‘manage responses to large-scale product recalls’, identify risks from products, ‘manage recalls’, and help in ‘strengthening the UK’s product safety regime’, as well as offer businesses ‘hit by unfair competition from rogue firms’ with assistance.
This came after the business, energy and industrial strategy select committee criticised the government for not overhauling the ‘flawed and poorly resourced’ white goods safety regime, and it was also scathing of the revelation that one million faulty Whirlpool tumble dryers are being used in the UK. Last August LFB, Electrical Safety First, other organisations and individuals wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May urging action on white goods fires.
Whirlpool faced criticism for failing to recall up to one million dryers posing a fire risk, and its appliances caused ‘three times more’ London fires than any other manufacturer, according to LFB. 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 flat fire in Llanrwst, 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, which could be a fire risk. The committee wrote to Whirlpool asking why it had ‘chosen to end the scheme’, and urged Whirlpool to repair machines ‘within two weeks of being contacted’, 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.