It's time to shift the responsibility for consumers' safety back onto manufacturers
Product liability specialist Jill Paterson discusses appliance safety and the need for manufacturers and retailers to do more protect the safety of people who purchase their products.
Posted on 13 February 2019
Research released by Electrical Safety First today shows that seven fires a day are caused by faulty electrical appliances, but that on average two-thirds of our electrical products are not registered with the manufacturer.
Four years ago I represented the family of Santosh Benjamin Muthiah at the inquest into his death. Santosh Benjamin died after trying to rescue his family from a fire which started with a fridge freezer. Following that inquest I called for more to be done to ensure that people who have faulty appliances in their homes are made aware of the risks, and argued that this should happen regardless of the cost to the company that put the product on the market in the first place. The London Fire Brigade also launched their “Total Recalls” campaign, which I wholeheartedly support.
Unfortunately, it seems that manufacturers and retailers are still not doing enough to protect the safety of people who purchase their products.
The London Fire Brigade reports that in spite of evidence showing that polyurethane insulation used in most refrigeration appliances is highly flammable, many manufacturers continue to use this type of insulation without taking sufficient steps to ensure that this material is protected from other components in the appliance, which could lead to fires. There is no current legal requirement for manufacturers to make those changes, but surely manufacturers should not wait for changes in the law in order to take steps to protect their customers?
In a similar vein, in April 2018, an investigation by Which? revealed that more than 500 of the most popular refrigeration appliances on the market were constructed using plastic backing material that has the potential to accelerate the spread of flames in the event of a fire.
Not only are manufacturers not doing enough to ensure the safe design of their products, concerns have also been raised about what they do when they discover faults which necessitate a product recall. Firstly, they can be very slow to take action. Secondly, the language that some manufacturers use in recall notices can lead to confusion. If you were faced with a notice stating that your product “may overheat” or carry the risks of “thermal events”, for example, would you sit up and take notice and understand that meant there might be a risk of fire? Why can’t manufacturers just be clear?
A step in the right direction will be for businesses to start to follow the recently published “Supporting better product recalls” Code of Practice (PAS 7100:2018) which provides guidance as to how manufacturers should monitor the safety of the products they sell for our homes and how they should carry out meaningful and realistic risk assessments as soon as they discover a potential fire risk. The Code also provides guidance on the content and layout of corrective action announcements.
Since Santosh Benjamin’s death, I have witnessed first-hand over and over again the type of devastating losses that can occur as a result of fires caused by faulty products. You can do your bit to protect yourself by registering your appliance at https://www.registermyappliance.org.uk/. This will give you a good chance of the manufacturer of your product getting in touch with you if they become aware of a fault post purchase.
However, whilst nobody wishes to detract from the simple message of registering an appliance, it’s high time that more responsibility for consumers’ safety is shifted back onto the corporations who make and profit from those products in the first place.
You can follow Jill Paterson on twitter at @paterson_jill. For more information about the “Expect it’s Safe” campaign concerning household appliances, visit https://www.facebook.com/eisappliances/