Watchdog urges fireproof labels on home appliances as identification rates drop

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Fire investigators are increasingly unable to identify white goods that cause domestic fires, leading to a call to fireproof labelling on appliances.

Consumer group Which? said people’s lives were potentially being put at risk because investigators could only identify information about the appliance brand or model in a third of fires.

The watchdog found that, of the 3,203 fires caused by faulty appliances between April 1 2016 and March 31 2017, investigators could only find the crucial information in 33% of cases.

The figure is a significant drop on the previous three years, when investigators were able to identify the make and model in almost half of white goods fires.

The fall means it is becoming increasingly difficult for authorities to link dangerous products to domestic fires and gather the necessary evidence to initiate a product recall, Which? said.

It is calling for the Office for Product Safety and Standards to include commitments in its forthcoming strategy to ensure that manufacturers use fireproof labelling on all of their appliances so that unsafe white goods can be identified and removed from consumers’ homes.

The watchdog suggested stamping a unique identification number such as a serial code into a small metal plate and placing it on the appliance as a practical way of ensuring identification, similar to the vehicle identification number (VIN) used to identify cars.

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: “The number of fires caused by faulty washing machines, tumble dryers and fridge freezers has stayed shockingly high for a number of years, but our research shows it is getting harder to identify the make and model of the appliance in the majority of instances.

“The Government must set out in its forthcoming product safety strategy how it will ensure that manufacturers use fireproof labelling on all of their appliances, so that identified dangerous white goods can be quickly removed from people’s homes, and potentially save lives.”

Simon Blackburn, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Councils are clear that manufacturers have the lead responsibility to consumers to make sure that their products are safe, and to take steps to address this where faults are identified.

“Part of this process must involve faulty appliances being able to be identified where they have caused fires.

“While manufacturers have primary responsibility, the Government framework for product safety must support this as much as possible.”

London Fire Brigade deputy assistant commissioner Charlie Pugsley, the brigade’s head of fire investigation, said: “As part of our Total Recalls campaign we have campaigned for years for white goods to be marked with the model and/or serial number so that even if an appliance is badly burnt, it can still be identified.

“Our research showed in serious fires, white goods were not identifiable in up to 50% of cases due to lack of distinguishing marks.

“Our fire investigators spend valuable time combing through unique design features so that we can try and link fires in faulty machines.

“Such a simple change by manufacturers would enable us to work with them to identify potentially life-threatening faulty white goods and we back Which?’s call for action.”

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson said: “The Government’s top priority is to keep people safe. We’re committed to investigating how to ensure products are identifiable in the event of a fire and will publish the outcomes of our research in due course.

“Britain’s product safety requirements are among the highest in the world. Since 2010/2011 the number of fires caused by household appliances has fallen and, through the Office for Product Safety and Standards, the Government is investing an extra £12 million a year to further protect consumers.”

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