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Which? action on product safety alerts

By Matt Stevens

How do you find out when a product has been recalled? And what action will Which? take when product safety issues are identified? Read on for the steps we're taking to inform and protect you.

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How we publicise product safety issues

Product safety matters and that’s why whenever we become aware of a product recall, or a safety notice, we’ll publish the information you need alongside our review of the product.

Where there are safety concerns about a specific product, we’ll publish a safety notice banner as part of the review. And if we have more serious concerns about the way safety is being handled by the company involved, we will take further action by adding warnings to reviews for all products made by that company or group of companies.

We’ll also consider removing Best Buys recommendations from products affected by safety issues and making products Don’t Buys.

By doing this, we hope our reviews will be crystal clear about any safety issues that you need to be aware of.

Safety notice on refrigeration appliances

We monitor and vary the assessments that underpin our reviews to take account of changing standards and areas of concern.

There has been a growing body of evidence from the London Fire Brigade to indicate that the backing material used on a refrigeration appliance can increase the spread of fire. Its tests have shown that if the insulation present in all appliances is not protected sufficiently by a flame-resistant backing, then it can ignite readily and lead to a rapid fire developing.

We are therefore taking the precautionary approach of only recommending those appliances with metal backing – either metal or aluminium laminate – or flame-retardant plastic backs. No non-flame-retardant plastic-backed products, even if they otherwise performed well in our product tests, have retained or been awarded our Best Buy recommendation.

Consumers who already own a refrigeration appliance with a non-flame-retardant plastic-back should be reassured that the likelihood of a refrigerator fire is very low. Our July 2015 research analysing government fire data found that only 7% of fires caused by faulty household appliances were caused by fridge freezers, fridges or freezers. And the material used in the backing allows an existing fire to spread – it isn’t the cause of fire itself.

To minimise the risk of fire in your kitchen, you can take the following precautionary steps as recommended by the London Fire Brigade:

  • Refer to your appliance manual to ensure recommended distances are kept between your refrigeration appliance and the wall and to ensure there are no other obstructions which can restrict airflow.
  • Make sure vents are not blocked and the area around yours appliances is kept clean to prevent the build-up of dust and grease.
  • Plug your refrigeration appliance directly into the wall rather than using an extension lead, and ensure the sockets are not overloaded with too many plugs.
  • If your white goods start making a strange noise, don't ignore it. If you suspect there might be a problem, always unplug it and contact the manufacturer or a qualified repair technician.
  • Don't be tempted to put that freezer in the hallway – if a fire does break out in your home, you need all escape routes to be clear.
  • Fit smoke alarms: white goods are often left switched on 24 hours a day, seven days a week; a smoke alarm will wake you up if a fire happens while you're sleeping. You should fit a minimum of one smoke alarm per floor and fit enough alarms to cover all areas where a fire could start, making sure they are tested regularly.
  • Fit a heat alarm in your kitchen – this will give you early warning of an increase in temperature caused by fire but won’t be set off by cooking fumes.
  • Register your appliance – by registering your appliance, you'll be informed if the manufacturers identify any issues with the product you have bought.

Whirlpool tumble dryer fires

In November 2015 Whirlpool admitted that more than five million of its vented and condenser tumble dryers in the UK could pose a fire risk. The dryers affected were made between April 2004 and October 2015 and are branded Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Proline and Swan. Whirlpool branded dryers are not affected.

Whirlpool has failed to name the affected dryers, instead directing owners online to find out if their dryer could be dangerous. A national repairs program has been launched by Whirlpool with free modifications being carried out on affected machines, but we’re concerned with how long it’s taking to make safe the millions of dryers in UK homes. And for more than a year, Whirlpool's advice to owners of affected dryers was to continue to use them as long as they weren't left unattended and that the lint filter was cleaned after every use. Following pressure from Which? this recently changed, see below.

Which? research in November 2016 found widespread concern among Whirlpool customers with more than one-in-five owners, who we first contacted in April 2016, telling us in November 2016 of wait-times of more than six months to have their dryers repaired. 

Which? takes action against Whirlpool

We’ve made all fire-risk dryers manufactured before October 2015 Don’t Buys and, because we have concerns about how Whirlpool has handled the product safety issues surrounding its dryers, we’ve removed our Best Buy logos from all products made by Whirlpool-owned brands.

We’ve succeeded in forcing Peterborough Trading Standards (PTS) to take action against Whirlpool, following our request for a judicial review. As a result of PTS enforcement notices, Whirlpool has now updated the tumble dryer safety advice on its websites and now warns owners to unplug and stop using their machines until they have been modified.

Which? calls for full recall of affected Whirlpool tumble dryers

This long-running issue highlights the fundamental weaknesses of the current product safety system. Trading Standards should not have required the threat of legal action to act on its duties as a regulator, stand up for consumers and put their safety first.

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home and legal services, said: ‘We now believe a full recall is necessary and the Government must urgently address the issues with the product safety system to ensure that consumers are protected from dangerous products.'
Join the Which? Conversation about to find out why we are calling for a full recall of fire-risk tumble dryers.

Which? calls for an urgent overhaul of the UK's broken product safety system

Which? is calling on the Government to urgently set up a new national body to take responsibility for product safety and recalls, which has the resources and expertise to identify dangerous goods and to make sure they are removed from people's homes. 

Which? is calling for urgent changes to the regime, including the establishment of a national body that can take control of dangerous situations as they arise and get products out of people's homes quickly, as well as creating a 'one-stop-shop' for information on product recalls.

Which? is concerned that the government is slow to respond to serious incidents and subsequent reviews following product-related fires. 

Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of Which? said: 'The product safety system isn't fit-for-purpose and its over reliance on a local approach to a national problem poses grave risks to consumers.

'The Government must now take urgent action and create a new national body that has all of the tools it needs to get unsafe products out of people's homes.'

Read our policy report, find out more and have your say