The safety of Electrical Goods in the UK Contents

1The safety record of electrical goods

Fires caused by defective electrical goods

1.The frequency and devastating consequences of fires caused by electrical goods in recent years has rightly focussed attention on the UK’s product safety regime. The Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, which killed 71 people, was thought to have started in a faulty fridge;1 a fire in 2009 at Lakanal House, caused by a faulty television, resulted in six deaths.2 These high-profile incidents serve to highlight ongoing concerns about safety standards. In spite of improving technology and an evolving regulatory regime, the number of fires involving faulty electrical appliances and leads in England has stayed fairly constant, at between 4,300 and 5,000 a year.3 Between 2010 and 2016, there were 1,598 fires in England caused by fridge/freezers alone.4 In 2015/16, 676 fires in England were caused by tumble dryers, leading to a total of 46 injuries and fatalities.5 There have been specific problems identified with defective tumble dryers and there has also been a campaign to ban plastic-backed fridges because of the fire safety risks associated with them.

Committee scrutiny

2.These specific issues raise questions about the adequacy and effectiveness of the UK’s product safety regime and prompted our interest. Initially, we held an oral evidence session with relevant stakeholders, including: the National Fire Chiefs Council; Which?; Electrical Safety First; the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances; Whirlpool UK; and, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute. We also sought to follow up the exchanges of correspondence between the previous Committee and Whirlpool about its modification programme for defective tumble dryers.6 We were not satisfied by the quality of the evidence that Whirlpool provided, and subsequently corresponded further with the company to obtain further information and assurances about its actions.7 Because of the inadequacy of Whirlpool’s response to acknowledged safety issues, and the wider concerns about product safety in the UK that we identified, we decided to produce this short report, in advance of a more comprehensive examination of product safety and consumer issues.

2 See: BBC News, Council ‘regrets’ Lakanal House tower block fire deaths, (24 February 2017). Details of other examples of fires involving electrical appliances see: BBC News Online, Unsafe fridges ‘risk lives’, warns London Fire Brigade, (3 March 2015); BBC News Online, Shepherd’s Bush tower block fire caused by faulty tumble dryer, (27 August 2017); BBC News Online, Tumble dryer action call after fatal Llanrwst fire, (28 November 2017). See also: Guardian, Tumble dryer model behind deadly fire had caused 20 other blazes, (August 2016)

3 House of Commons Library, Product Safety and Fire Risk in Residential Premises, (October 2017), pp 16–17. See also: Home Office, Detailed analysis of fires attended by fire and rescue services, England, April 2016 to March 2017, (12 October 2017), p 12.

4 Electrical Safety First, Five Fires per day caused by white goods in England, (July 2017).

5 Electrical Safety First, Electrical Safety First Core Data Set – England, (accessed 16 October 2017). See also: Which?, 113 Hotpoint, Indesit and Creda tumble dryer models pose fire risk, (December 2015); London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Parliamentary Briefing: White Goods Safety, 2016. See also: London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Fires in White Goods and Product Recalls: Actions for LFB in 2016/17, (March 2016).

6 See letter from then BIS Committee Chair to Whirlpool (February 2016) and letter from then BEIS Committee Chair to Whirlpool (September 2016).

7 See letter from BEIS Committee Chair to Whirlpool (9 November 2017) and letter from BEIS Committee Chair to Whirlpool (1 December 2017).

11 January 2018