Carolyn Harris: We must take action on the faulty electrical goods putting lives at risk
Domestic electrical appliances cause more than five UK house fires every day. The government must get tough on manufacturers, retailers and unscrupulous sellers to help save lives, says Carolyn Harris
It’s something we hear all the time. It’s meant to give us reassurance and stop us worrying about our children, our possessions or our investments. If they are ‘as safe as houses’ that should put our mind at ease.
But how safe actually are our houses? They may be sturdy, robust structures, but they are no match for some of their biggest threats. And one of the most hazardous of these is electricity which causes more than 20,000 house fires annually, resulting in hundreds of thousands of serious injuries and around 70 deaths per year.
The general public needs to be more aware of the potential danger of faulty installations – the biggest single cause of fatal electrical home fires. While homeowners, landlords and tenants make certain they have smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and regular checks on gas supplies, many neglect their electrical installations and subsequently leave potential dangers undetected until it is too late.
And in addition to this, every single day people bring electrical products into their homes that further threaten their safety.
Domestic electrical white goods are, all too often, the cause of house fires in England. In 2016, products such as dishwashers, tumble dryers and fridge freezers were accountable for 1,873 fires – that is an average of more than five fires every day.
In June last year, we all remember the tragic loss of 72 lives when Grenfell Tower caught fire and burned savagely. Despite the cladding on the outside of the building being a major factor in the spread of the flames, it was a fridge freezer inside one of the flats that initially started the fire.
And smaller electrical products can pose a huge safety risk too, particularly counterfeit products which often contain substandard or faulty parts. These fake goods are estimated to be responsible for over 7,000 domestic fires in the UK each year.
Counterfeit items like hoverboards, hair straighteners and food blenders have all been responsible for electrical fires in recent years and research undertaken by Electrical Safety First on a range of fake mobile phone chargers found that 98% of them had the potential to cause serious damage either by catching fire or by delivering fatal electric shocks.
The sudden and continuing growth in online shopping has exacerbated the problem of substandard replica electrical products. Sellers now have a bigger platform and a wider audience to showcase their counterfeit goods. Research shows that almost two-thirds of all counterfeit electrical goods are now sold online, with sales via social media growing at an alarming rate.
Online suppliers have a responsibility to protect their customers, and yet we are constantly seeing cases where this is just not happening. Some of the leading online selling platforms – names that we all believe we can trust – are allowing third parties to sell substandard, counterfeit products which are causing life-changing injuries and deaths.
Consumers often don’t even realise that they are purchasing from a third party and believe they are buying genuine products from a trustworthy supplier.
As chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Home Electrical Safety, I have been working with colleagues, Electrical Safety First and other industry representatives in a bid to tackle these problems.
We have met with leading producers of domestic white goods in a bid to ensure that known faulty products are removed from circulation.
We are targeting online suppliers to get them to improve their controls over third-party sellers and ensure that all products being retailed through their sites are genuine and safe. And we are working with anti-counterfeiting organisations to further develop detection of fake and dangerous products.
We need to re-educate the general public about the dangers of electricity and electrical products in their homes. So many injuries and deaths could be prevented every year and I will continue to work hard to make this happen.
Carolyn Harris is Labour MP for Swansea East and chair of the APPG for Home Electrical Safety