It is shocking to note that more than 60 house fires a week are being started by faulty washing machines, tumble dryers and fridge freezers, according to a recent analysis by consumer champion Which?.
Which? has gathered this data through Freedom of Information requests and confirms that although the number of fires has been at the same level over the last five years, faulty kitchen appliances have reportedly caused approximately 16,000 potentially deadly fires across Great Britain since 1 April 2012.
Faulty washing machines and tumble dryers are the most high-risk appliances, causing more than a third of fires (35%) between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2016. Other high risk appliances for the same period include cookers and ovens (11%), dishwashers (10%) and fridges, freezers and fridge freezers (8%).
People around the globe will remember that the Grenfell Tower blaze on 14 June 2017, in which 71 people died, began with a damaged fridge freezer on the fourth floor. While issues with the cladding on the outside of the building saw the blaze spread quickly, the root cause again led to calls for stricter action to ensure the safety of white goods.
The Grenfell Tower disaster remains very much in public consciousness. Only last week, rapper Stormzy used his appearance at the BRIT Awards to question Theresa May's response to Grenfell and call for the appointment of additional panel members with decision-making power to sit alongside retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who is the chair of the inquiry.
Even now, over eight months on from the disaster, the problem continues and people remain at risk of defective products in their own homes. Which? has stated that more than one million potentially lethal Whirlpool appliances remain in use in the UK alone and there have been dozens of reports of tumble dryers igniting, predominantly those made by Whirlpool.
Clearly more must be done to ensure dangerous products are kept out of consumers’ homes and Britain’s current product safety regime must be improved.
The Government recently announced the creation of a new Office for Product Safety and Standards as part of its response to the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety. The Office will aim to provide a national central resource offering scientific and technical support to local authorities on product safety issues. Its focus will be on identifying consumer risks and managing responses to large-scale product recalls and repairs.
Following concerns raised by Which? through its recent investigations, the systemic problems with the regime for dealing with unsafe products have become more apparent. Frankie Rhodes, an associate in Penningtons Manches’ product liability team, says: “It is vital for consumers to remain vigilant and aware of the serious problems that can be caused by defective products. Whilst it is encouraging to see evidence of some action being taken to improve the position in the UK, the current measures do not deliver what is required. We would welcome the introduction of a new, independent national body with actual powers to protect consumers. Their interests must be paramount, people must be aware of how the process works and there should be a proactive approach to market observation. There should be a duty to engage directly with consumers - by sharing information, trends may be recognised and awareness of safety issues increased.”