Recent months have seen a tsunami of media headlines around unsafe electrical products, from exploding telephones to the fire risk of certain tumble dryers. Less well known, however, is the scale of the damage arising from electricity.
Martyn Allen guest blogs for Leigh Day looking at what needs to be done to improve defective product recall.
Electrical Safety First is a campaigning charity dedicated to preventing deaths, injuries and damage caused by electricity. While it focuses on promoting behavioural change through consumer campaigns, it also works with industry to support best practice and lobbies government, and other stakeholders, to prioritise consumer protection – particularly on the issue of product safety and recalls.
Research indicates it causes well over a quarter of a million (350,000) serious injuries and more than half of all UK domestic fires, with the vast majority started by electrical products. Electrical fires cost millions in terms of property damage but no price can be placed on the personal loss they can entail.
In general, the UK has a good product safety record but with a global, and increasingly complex, supply chain comes significant traceability issues. Most recalls are only 10%-20% effective, which means that there are likely to be millions of unsafe goods remaining in people’s homes.
All our consumer advice promotes buying from respected traders but even the most reputable company can be affected by a recall or safety notice. And here, I need to add a word about terminology. Most large white goods are not ‘recalled’, their size makes this prohibitive. In terms of corrective action, whether it is a safety notice or a full-blown recall, response requirements are generally unchanged – to trace consumers and repair, replace, or remove the problem product.
Our report, Consumer Voices on Product Recall, found that 77% of people would be more likely to respond to a recall if they were fully aware of the potential dangers a recalled product presented. It also emphasised the need for improved consumer engagement, as 47% of those we surveyed claimed never to have seen a recall notice. Not surprisingly, a key report recommendation was for manufacturers and retailers to use a range of communication channels (including social media), to target the demographic buying their products. The days of a small notice at the back of a local paper, or posted at the rear of a retail outlet, are no longer – and seemingly never were – enough.
Electrical Safety First has been raising awareness of electrical product safety for some years, through a range of initiatives, from consumer and industry campaigns to our highly successful annual product safety conferences and political campaigning. And we are one of the key industry stakeholders chosen to sit on a new government-backed working group developing urgent recommendations to improve the safety of white goods - including tumble dryers.
The Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety, which was established following a serious fire in Hammersmith caused by a faulty tumble dryer, brings together expertise from the fire service, trading standards, consumer groups and industry. The group will focus on issues around the causes of fires in white goods, the marking of appliances to make them easier to identify after a fire, and a code of practice for product recalls - including the peer review of risk assessments. The Consumer Minister, Margot James, has asked the group to report back with interim findings by the end of this year.
The charity has also established – in response to industry feedback - a consultancy service to help improve product safety and recall processes. We now offer a portfolio of services – including risk assessment, product testing advice, guidance on electrical product sourcing and due diligence, as well as product safety training – to all those involved, at every stage of the electrical product supply chain.
With the limited success of recalls and well over 200 electrical items recalled in the last four years, it’s evident that the system needs to be overhauled. We are happy to use our expertise to help achieve this and, most importantly, help save lives.
Electrical Safety First offers a range of tools to help people avoid the dangers of electricity. To find out if a product is recalled, click here and for more information, visit www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk
This post was written by Martyn Allen.