Faulty white goods such as washing machines, tumble dryers and fridge freezers are causing more than 60 house fires a week and the figure has stayed stubbornly high in recent years, according to an investigation by Which?.
The new analysis, looking at fire data obtained through Freedom of Information requests, reveals that the number of fires has stayed at a similar level for five years, with malfunctioning kitchen appliances reportedly causing close to 16,000 potentially deadly fires across the UK since 1 April 2012.
The tragic Grenfell fire – started by a fridge freezer – raised critical questions about the safety of millions of household products, but Which? believes Government action to keep potentially dangerous goods out of people’s homes falls woefully short of what is needed.
Which? has this week written to ministers giving them 90 days to publish an action plan for the new Office for Product Safety and Standards, launched last month.
This must set out both the true scale of the product safety risks that we face in the UK and the immediate steps that the Office will take to avert further devastating fires. The plan must also include the action that the Office will take to remove the remaining one million fire risk Whirlpool tumble dryers from people’s homes.
The move forms part of Which?’s new campaign to ‘End Dangerous Products’, launched today, calling for fundamental reform of the UK’s antiquated product safety regime to keep dangerous products out of our homes.
The campaign also demands that manufacturers and retailers immediately remove unsafe products from the market and consumers’ homes.
Fundamental failings in the current product safety system mean some specific appliances pose a disproportionately high risk of starting a fire as the result of a fault.
The consumer champion’s analysis shows faulty washing machines and tumble dryers to be the most high-risk appliances, causing more than a third of fires (35%) between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2016. Other high risk appliances for the same period include cookers and ovens (11%), dishwashers (10%) and fridges, freezers and fridge freezers (8%).
The data also reveals a number of brands that cause concern, including Whirlpool-owned brands Hotpoint and Indesit, Beko, Hoover and the smaller brand Haier.
While a number of brands query the Fire and Rescue Service’s statistics on which these findings are based – in particular the fact that they are not based on forensic analysis and cannot be considered as definitive or certain – (details in notes) Which? believes that the fire officer’s initial assessment on the likely cause is the best available indicator, and it is on that which our analysis is based.
For dishwashers and fridges, freezers and fridge freezers, Which? compared the number of fires attributed by the Fire and Safety Services to a brand from 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2016, with the market share estimate that Euromonitor published on that brand for the same period.
Hotpoint dishwashers were linked to more than a third (34%) of all fires caused by faulty dishwashers where the brand was identifiable between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2016, but Euromonitor figures reveal Hotpoint’s estimated share of the dishwasher market was less than 12% in each of the last four years. Indesit was linked to 10% of identifiable dishwasher fires, its market share is around 6%.
In addition, Hotpoint fridges, freezers and fridge freezers were linked to nearly one in five (17%) identifiable refrigeration fires, but at best the estimated market share accounts for 10% of the UK refrigeration market during that period. A Hotpoint fridge freezer also started the tragic Grenfell fire, although it’s not yet clear whether the manufacturer was at fault.
Faulty Beko fridges, freezers and fridge freezers were recorded as linked to a quarter of refrigeration fires where the brand had been identified. However, Euromonitor’s estimates put Beko’s market share at around half that. Beko has since provided Which? with information that suggests it is taking positive steps to tackle safety concerns and says that it was not aware of any instance where a Beko refrigeration appliance manufactured since 2007 has been proven as the cause of a single fire.
Tumble dryers and washing machines feature high on the list of appliances causing concern. When looking at these, Which? produced market share estimates for brands based on a combination of factors including our own expertise, along with Euromonitor’s assessment of the laundry appliance industry as a whole and in some cases, where it was provided, the manufacturers’ own estimates.
According to the analysis, faulty Hoover tumble dryers were involved in about 12% of fires where the brand was identified, and the figure is the same for Hoover washing machines. Hoover tells us its UK market share averaged 8% for washing machines and 10.2% for tumble dryers in the two-year period we analysed. Hoover stressed to us its commitment to appliance safety and told us that it fully complies with all safety laws.
Hotpoint dryers were also linked to almost a third (31%) of all fires caused by faulty tumble dryers where the brand was identified. Which? estimates Hotpoint’s share of this market at no more than 25%. Haier was recorded as linked to 6% of identifiable washing machine fires, but the market share Which? estimated is closer to 1%. Haier has told Which? that the affected models are no longer being made.
Which? is concerned that without stronger national action to keep dangerous products out of our homes, the situation will get worse when the UK leaves the EU. The Government must replace the UK’s antiquated product safety regime.
Peter Vicary-Smith, Which? CEO, said:
“It’s shocking that there are more than 60 house fires every week in the UK because of faulty appliances. People will undoubtedly be worried to hear our findings that some of the most common household appliances represent a disproportionate risk of causing a fire due to being faulty.
“The Government must now publish an action plan for the Office of Product Safety and Standards in the next 90 days, setting out what it will do to keep dangerous products out of consumers’ homes and tackle Britain’s broken product safety regime.”
Notes to editors:
FOI DATA AND ANALYSIS:
FOI data was gathered from the organisations responsible for collating UK fire statistics: the Home Office, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Welsh and Northern Irish governments. The data we received reveals the number of fires that were deemed to have been caused by household appliances or appliance leads between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2016.These two years were chosen for analysis because more recent data was incomplete, and data for previous years has already been analysed in the July 2015 edition of Which?.
The figures we analysed do not take into account the severity of the fire (they include incidents of smoking components as well as actual fires), nor the age of the appliance that was deemed to have been the cause. The fire officer records the most likely cause of the fire in their professional opinion, based on information available to them at the time. The cause is not forensically investigated and it therefore cannot be considered as definitive or certain.
For higher-risk appliance types, we have also highlighted instances where we think that a brand’s proportion of fires is significantly higher than its share of the UK market by volume (ie the total number of sales rather than the total value of sales). For dishwashers, fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers, we’ve used market share data from reputable market research provider, Euromonitor. For washing machines and tumble dryers, we have used our own estimates that are based on our own expertise, along with Euromonitor’s assessment of the laundry appliance industry as a whole and in some cases, where it is provided, the manufacturers’ own estimates. Fires for which the brand was unidentified were excluded from our analysis. A number of brands have questioned the reliability of the statistics (pointing to the lack of forensic certainty) but we think that the fire officer’s initial assessment as to the likely cause is the best available indicator, and it is on that which our analysis is based.
UK dwelling fires caused by faulty appliances and leads:
*Not included in FOI response. Data taken from table 0605 of the Homes Office’s Fire statistics data tables. Data for Wales in 2016/17 is provisional.