NFCC discusses Which? smoke alarm investigation
THE NATIONAL Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) commented on a series of tests undertaken by consumer group Which? that found four alarms sold online failed a whole series of tests for safety.
In the Which? study, four smoke alarms ‘widely available online’ were tested in eight smoke detection tests by the consumer group, and all four ‘failed all eight’ tests, with the company stating that the units were ‘cheap and deadly’, posed a ‘danger to anyone who owns them’, and are on sale ‘all over’ both eBay and Wish online marketplaces ‘for less than a fiver each’.
All four were made in China and sold to the organisation through Chinese resellers, and have received the company’s “Don’t Buy” designation, with Which? pressure on the two marketplaces seeing ‘almost 200 listings’ for the units removed. All four alarms failed all eight laboratory tests, with the problem of these alarms being for sale online ‘widespread’, and the tests saw each inserted into a fire chamber with smoke from four separate fires.
These separate fires were made up of wood, cotton, plastics and solvents that ‘would be present in a house fire’, and the tests record how quickly the alarms sound and how dense the smoke is, with two samples of each product tested for a cumulative eight opportunities for smoke detection. All four units detected no smoke ‘at all’, even when the test chamber was ‘full of it’.
Which? found that 171 of the cheapest 500 listings for smoke alarms on eBay were for units ‘that appeared to be identical’ to the four tested, while among the top 100 cheapest it found 84 that ‘appeared to be identical’ to those four. On Wish meanwhile, Which? found 28 listings for the four units among 200 listings.
The consumer group had previously alerted eBay to dangerous alarms being on sale last year, with 100 listings removed for one unit that failed seven of eight tests, though 60 further listings were found on a recent check of the site for an ‘identical looking alarm’ among the cheapest 500 on sale. Which? added that it was ‘calling on’ both eBay and Wish to contact all buyers of one of the units, ‘to alert them to the danger they pose and to explain how they go about getting their money back’.
In its opinion, both sites ‘need to take their responsibilities seriously and do more to stop unsafe products from being listed in the first place’. An eBay spokesperson responded: ‘The listings flagged by Which? have been removed and the sellers informed. The safety of customers is our number one priority and we work closely with bodies such as Trading Standards to ensure listings sold on our marketplace comply with the law.’
A Wish spokesperson commented: ‘We look to our community to help us ensure that our products are up to the standard that customers expect. We are grateful to Which? for alerting us to this issue and looking out for the needs of the consumer. We are working to remove these products from the platform and are following up with the merchants in question to ensure they are adhering to local laws and regulations.’
The NFCC responded to the investigation by urging people to check if they had purchased one of the alarms, and to ‘replace them immediately’, as ‘it is essential fire safety products are accredited and tested to the latest European and British Standards, which ensure they are reliable to use’. It also advised consumers to buy smoke alarms from ‘reputable companies’ and look for safety marks, including the British Standards Kitemark and Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB).
It also thanked Which? for its ‘work in keeping communities safer from fire’, and noted that the consumer group will be passing findings onto the Office for Product Safety and Standards. Roy Wilsher, NFCC chair, stated: ‘People trust online companies to ensure the products they buy from them are safe. The lives of those people - and the lives of their families - who have unknowingly purchased unsafe smoke alarms online are in danger and efforts should be made to contact them to inform them of the latest findings immediately.
‘It is deeply concerning that three of the four faulty smoke alarms carried the CE safety standards mark. I urge people to buy fire safety devices for their homes from reputable companies and to buy products that carry product safety symbols such as the British Standards Kitemark. It is not worth risking the lives of your loved ones by buying cheaper products online.’