When will white goods fires be properly dealt with?

05 September 2017

Following the very tragic Grenfell Tower fire, it was unfortunately established that the originating event for this fire was a fridge freezer fire. There were additional acceleration factors due to the method of cladding used, but at the source of the problem was once again white goods.

In response to this and the previously well publicised tumble dryer fires London Fire Brigade have recently launched their Total Recalls campaign. They explain that:

“Nearly one fire a day in London involves white goods. Most fires caused by these appliances are not down to the owner but by faults beyond the control of the householder.

The Total Recalls campaign is here to make it easier for people to protect themselves from potentially lethal faulty appliances.

We're calling for a number of changes in manufacturing, communication and access to information. We are calling for the government, manufacturers and retailers to make these changes that will make people safer.”

Among their key suggestions are:

• Change the way fridges and freezers are constructed, so that the insulation material is protected from the components in the appliance, which could cause a fire.

• Include sleeping risk as a factor in risk assessments, given that many white goods are operating for 24 hours per day.

• Include recalls on international products on the UK register.

• Mark all appliances with model and serial number so they can be identified after a fire.

• Publicising recalls better.

• Publish risk assessments.

• A single, publicly accessible register of product recalls.

• Greater regulation over the sale of secondhand appliances.

The product liability team at Curtis Law and our experienced Fire Prosecution lawyer Iain Blundell are all backing this campaign.

Iain who has experience on both sides of the fence, having prosecuted landlords, building owners and company directors who have not dealt appropriately with Fire Safety matters, as well as acting for Landlords and advising on the regulations, explains:

“The key feature which Landlords are often unaware of is the concept of the ‘Responsible Person’ in Fire Safety law. The landlord of a property in multiple occupation (flats, HMOs, shared/student accommodation) is usually the Responsible Person and must ensure compliance. A suitable and sufficient Fire Risk Assessment – the starting point for any landlord – should include sleeping, occupancy and electrical appliances as risk factors. There have been successful prosecutions brought against landlords or building owners where a fire involved white goods, often coupled with poor Fire Safety compliance in other areas, but there is clearly a lot more work needed from the Government.”

Jerard Knott, who leads the Product Liability team explains, “we have all seen too many occasions where a family’s life is turned upside down due to an electrical fire which is sourced from white goods. The common statement when seeing the family is “I’ve seen the reports but I never thought it would be so bad and never thought that it would happen to me.” For the family and particularly children the loss of everything they have is devastating and psychiatrically damaging as many things are irreplaceable.”

We have one family in particular who woke up due smoke alarms going off at 01:30am and having realised that there was a fire in a new tumble dryer evacuated the property. The fire brigade attended within 10 minutes but the ground floor of the property is a total loss.

There is currently no appetite for a full recall of the affected products even though this is absolutely necessary. Advice such as stay in the same room as your tumble dryer while it is on is not an adequate solution to a commercial problem which seems to be more about profit than safety.

Sign up to the campaign at http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/total-recalls/what-you-can-do-to-stay-safe.asp. If you need advice please contact the team.

The Product Liability Team are a cross department team, acting with the aim of reducing the risk and making products safer. Our team includes experienced product liability litigators and health and safety advisers and prosecutors. Call 01254 297130 or email info@curtislaw.co.uk.