London fire brigade calls for urgent action on electrical goods safety

Rebecca Smithers Consumer affairs correspondent
Although nobody was killed in the Shepherds Bush fire, more than 100 families had to be evacuated Photograph: @liam_twomey/PA


UK householders remain at risk of injury and even death from potentially dangerous domestic white goods such as tumble dryers unless the government takes urgent action to improve safety standards, the London fire brigade warns.

A year after a serious blaze caused by a faulty Indesit tumble dryer ripped through several homes in a tower block in Shepherds Bush, west London, the government has yet to implement any of safety recommendations made by the brigade following the fire, which was attended by 20 engines and 110 firefighters.

The LFB is calling for a government-backed single register for UK product recalls readily accessible to consumers online, and better regulation of secondhand appliances.

The brigade, the mayor of London and other campaigners have together written to Theresa May to demand action to stop further fires. Although nobody was killed in the Shepherds Bush blaze, more than 100 families were evacuated with 26 being found temporary accommodation in hotels owing to the extent of the damage.

Nearly one fire a day in London involves white goods, the LFB said, with a Hotpoint fridge-freezer identified as the initial cause of the Grenfell Tower blaze in June. Between 2010 and 2016 there have been nine fatalities and 298 injuries as a result of fires involving white goods in London.

The figures do not include those who died in the Grenfell fire as the causes of these fatalities are subject to an inquest. Hotpoint urged owners of its fridge-freezers to check their model numbers for safety reasons immediately after the fire.

Last week an inquest resumed into a fatal fire in north Wales which may have started in or around a tumble dryer. Bernard Hender, 19, and Doug McTavish, 39, died after a blaze at a flat in Llanrwst, in October 2014. At an earlier hearing experts disagreed over what caused the blaze.

The LFB has made a series of urgent calls for action to make white goods safer as part of its Total Recalls campaign, which calls for a single, publicly accessible register of product recalls and better publicity to reduce consumer confusion.

Dany Cotton, the LFB commissioner said: “How many more devastating white goods fires does there have to be before the government makes it easier for consumers to check whether their fridges and freezers are on the recall list? Worse still, the secondhand market is under-regulated and there is little to stop people buying kitchen appliances which pose a serious fire risk.”

The LFB is also urging manufacturers to use less flammable materials in machines. Cotton said: “All new refrigeration and freezing appliances should have a non-combustible backing as standard. Many models still use a flammable plastic backing, which offers very little protection against the foam inside catching alight if a fire starts.”

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said: “The government’s delay in implementing these recommendations is simply inexcusable … The terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower in June is a stark reminder of just how devastating a fire caused by faulty white goods can be. Now, a year since the tragic fire in Shepherd’s Bush which led to these important recommendations, the government and manufacturers must urgently act to help prevent any further tragedies and keep Londoners safe.”

The coroner at the inquest into the death of Santosh Benjamin Muthiah, who died after saving his wife and two children from a fire which was caused by a faulty Beko fridge-freezer, recommended a series of measures to improve product recalls in 2014.

The government announced a review of the UK product recall system in November that year. A working group published its recommendations this year and the government response is due in the autumn.

The consumer minister Margot James said: “The government’s top priority is to keep people safe. Our one-stop shop product Recall website makes it clear to the public which white goods are safe to use at home and we are considering the framework for a national body to support consumers on product safety.”

The website is an “interim solution” providing links to significant sources of information on product recalls and corrective action but the government has agreed the need for a more comprehensive site.

The fault in the Indesit tumble dryer model which had caused the Shepherd’s Bush fire emerged before the incident, with numerous but less severe fires reported. The parent company Whirlpool had been replacing or repairing an estimated 3.8m potentially faulty dryers across the UK after identifying a fire risk safety defect in November 2015, caused when excess fluff touches the heating element.

It did not issue a product recall, telling customers they could continue to use their tumble dryer while waiting for the modification, provided it was not left unattended. That advice was change in February after pressure from consumer groups, with owners to unplug the appliances and stop using them until they were repaired.

Alex Neill of consumer group Which? said: “The current product safety system is broken and potentially putting people’s lives at risk. The government must put consumers first by creating a national body to lead on product safety and a ‘one-stop shop’ to provide information and advice on dangerous products and recalls.” Ends

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