Consumer body Which? has issued a new report today calling for an urgent overhaul of the product recall system for faulty white goods and appliances – which they say is not fit for purpose and could be putting lives at risk.
The group has added its voice to calls for reform and said that action must be taken to remove faulty products from homes as soon as possible.
Many landlords provide white goods as standard – even in unfurnished properties. And with 36% of accidental house fires caused by appliances, electrical safety is something that we must all take seriously.
In the latest edition of the RLA’s Residential Property Investor we examined the issue and looked at what is being done to tackle it.
It should be noted that the interview with Charlie Pugsley of London Fire Brigade was conducted before the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Millions of UK households are using potentially lethal appliances according to London Fire Brigade, with firefighters called to well over 1,000 washer and dryer fires in England every year.
The cause of the devastating blaze that ripped through Grenfell Tower last month has now been confirmed as a faulty fridge freezer. While this was an unprecedented tragedy, affected by many factors in addition to the initial fourth floor fire, landlords need to be aware of the potentially devastating consequences of faulty electrical equipment.
Fire service research shows an estimated one in ten homes are using tumble dryers, washing machines and other white goods subject to a product recall or safety notice. However it should be noted that, at the time of going to press there was no suggestion that the fridge that caught fire in Grenfell Tower was subject to any recall.
Figures from the Association of Chief Fire Officers (ACFO) show that a massive 17,065 house fires were caused by domestic appliances in England in 2015/16 – almost one a day in London.
Of these 17,065 a total of 1,347 were caused by washers and dryers (the majority starting as a result of cooking equipment such as ovens and hobs).
Firefighters say that although human factors can come into play, most fires caused by washers and driers are as a result of faults beyond the control of the tenant or homeowner.
Whirlpool – fire bosses say lives still at risk
Manufacturer Whirlpool is currently undertaking a major modification programme after issuing a safety notice relating to two types of dryer under its Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Proline and Swan brands.
First issued in 2015 the notice warned consumers that tumble dryers manufactured between April 2004 and September 2015 could be a fire risk following reports of fires started by excess fluff catching the heating element in the machines.
The company originally told customers they could continue to use dryers while waiting for them to receive their safety modification, as long as they were not left unattended.
However, it changed this advice earlier this year following pressure from the fire service. Whirlpool now advises owners to unplug the machines and not to use them again until the fault is fixed.
London Fire Bridge (LFB) has warned that while more than 885,000 machines have already been modified, nearly three million Whirlpool appliances could remain in homes across the country.
How do I check my dryer?
If your tumble dryer has a green “dot” sticker in the door area or on the back, your machine already has the necessary safety modification and no further action is required.
If you don’t have the green dot sticker find the model or serial number and enter the details onto the Hotpoint or Indesit website. These can be found on the back of the dryer door or in the recess of the dryer door.
Total Recalls campaign
In response to the huge number of appliance fires they are being called to LFB is lobbying for a number of changes in manufacturing, communication and access to information through its Total Recalls campaign.
There are currently a variety of databases, manufacturers websites and advertising campaigns used to alert people to faulty appliances – but the fire service is lobbying for a single recall database to be established.
In April, London Fire Commissioner, Dany Cotton wrote to the company to say she was concerned lives could still be at risk while so many faulty machines remain in use – and to ask what the company is doing to trace them.
LFB believes the single, easily accessible recall register would make the urgent search for dangerous faulty appliances easier for both business and the consumer. The brigade is also campaigning for the support of MPs.
Speaking ahead of a Commons debate on product safety Commissioner Cotton said: “Companies such as Whirlpool, have a responsibility to trace faulty products and fire and rescue services want to work with businesses to raise awareness of the issue, but our country’s lawmakers also have a key role to play.
“We acknowledge the effort and resources Whirlpool has put into its modification programme but the fact that more than two million dryers could remain unaccounted for highlights the inadequacy of the current recall system.
“We believe having one central database or register would ultimately save lives, allowing consumers, landlords and second-hand retailers to quickly identify faulty appliances and find safety and recall information.”
“We attend nearly one fire a day involving white goods and while recent years have seen fires in the home steadily falling, fires caused by electrical products, such as tumble dryers, are decreasing at a much slower rate.”
Chris Town, RLA vice-chair said the association is backing the campaign.
He said: “If people see an appliance is working they think everything is ok, which it isn’t necessarily the case.
“The idea of a register for recalls makes sense and the RLA would certainly support it.”
Fridges and freezers
Fridges and freezers are also potential fire hazards, not least because they are permanently switched on and insulation is highly flammable.
Charlie Pugsley, head of fire investigation for London Fire Brigade said: “We had a single freezer fire in 2011 that caused the death of six people. In this case there was a working smoke alarm that went off, but the fire caught hold so quickly the people couldn’t get out. This was all down to a fault.
“Fridges and freezers are appliances that are on 24/7 and although people may not realise this, they are packed with polyurethane insulation foam that is highly flammable. The effect is similar to having a solid bock of petrol.
“We would advise landlords, particularly those with HMOs, to be very careful about where they leave white goods as they could be cutting off escape routes in communal areas.
“There are also issues with second hand goods and appliances. Some PRS landlords and tenants are struggling, so may buy second hand, but there are no robust policies in place for checks on used goods.
“Just from driving round over the last few years we have spotted five fridge freezers of a model type that were subject to a recall and have been involved in people’s deaths.”
LFB recently represented the National Fire Chiefs Council on a DCLG working group looking at fire safety in the PRS, the findings of which are due to be published soon.
Pugsley said: “We discussed PAT testing, but the working group decided to focus on the key issue of electrical installation. However, given the estimated total cost of a fire is £50,000 – a figure which has no doubt increased since it was set in 2008 – it is in a landlord’s interest economically, as well as in terms of their duty of care to their tenant, to make sure their appliances are safe.”
His advice to landlords is:
- Make sure all appliances are registered with the manufacturers
- Check your appliances against the recall list
- Visually check your appliances – you don’t need to be an electrician to see if wires are damaged or a control panel is broken.
- Tell tenants to flag up any unusual noises or smells and get them checked.
- Don’t leave fridges or freezers in communal areas such as hallways
What are my responsibilities as a landlord?
With specific regards to white goods, landlords have a duty of care to ensure any appliances provided are safe for tenants when the tenancy begins and are in proper working order throughout the tenancy.
For additional peace of mind some landlords may consider Portable Appliance Testing (PAT). This involves calling in experts to examine white goods and appliances to ensure they are safe to use. Such testing is not mandatory, but is considered good practice.
Government guidance recommends that when providing portable appliances for tenants, the landlord should check that every appliance has a CE mark. It also recommends that you should only provide appliances with additional safety marks e.g. the British Standard guidance mark or the BEAB approved mark.
Tenants should be given instruction manuals and told to read them.
Landlords are also obliged to have at least one smoke alarm on every storey of their property and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room where solid fuel is used. In terms of wider fire safety legislation, much depends of the type of property you have and who is living there, whether homes are purpose built or converted and if they are self contained or have common parts.
The RLA has produced a resource outlining the legislation, guidance and landlord responsibilities for each housing type, which can be accessed here.
What is the RLA doing?
In addition to backing the LFB recalls campaign the RLA is working with the government to promote urgent fire safety checks in PRS homes.
Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy the RLA has written to newly appointed Fire Services Minister Nick Hurd supporting moves towards a full review of fire safety in residential accommodation across all tenures.
The association hopes the review will increase clarity when it comes to responsibilities – highlighting concerns criminal landlords are able to find loopholes in the array of differing guidance.
Representatives of the RLA also attended Andy Burnham’s Fire Safety Summit on High Rises held the week after the Grenfell disaster, where it was decided a task-force will be set up, led by the Salford-City Mayor, working with the fire service, local authorities and public, social and private landlords to ensure all high-rise properties are safe.
- For more details about the Total Recalls campaign and the key asks – as well as a comprehensive list of recalled products click here.
- The Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances (AMEDA) runs website registermyappliance.org.uk which allows users to register goods and informs them of any recalls or repair programmes.