Fire and fury - Authorities must put an end to avoidable house fires that put millions at risk
Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee Rachel Reeves says authorities can no longer stand by while irresponsible firms take advantage of a system that is too lax.
Several distressing cases over the last few years stand out as stark reminders of the sheer devastation that can be caused by fires in people’s homes, which all too often result in death or serious injury.
The figures behind the headlines present an equally shocking picture. Since 2010, faulty electrical goods have accounted for more than 4,000 blazes each year in England. Nearly 700 fires, leading to 46 injuries and deaths, were caused by tumble dryers alone in 2015/16 . For example, fires caused by tumble dryers caused two deaths in Llanwrst in North Wales in 2014 and led to a major incident at a block of flats in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, in August 2016.
In a modern economy with seemingly high regulatory and product standards, this simply shouldn’t happen. The fact that it does throws the spotlight on the actions of Government and industry.
Whirlpool and its defective tumble dryers have been at the centre of the storm. In 2015, the company revealed that more than five million machines were faulty and a potential fire risk. Whirlpool did take some steps to address the problem by launching a modification programme. However, the firm has failed its customers and it has exposed flaws in the safety regime.
Aside from its decision to repair rather than recall machines and the unacceptably long delays to the subsequent modifications, Whirlpool’s initial advice that tumble dryers were safe to continue using under supervision must surely have put people at risk. As Charlie Pugsley of the National
Fire Chiefs Council put it ‘if you know there is a risk of fire…tell people not to use it.’
We believe that, with a potential fire risk identified as far back as 2015, it is unacceptable that around one million machines are still out there - potential ticking time bombs in kitchens and utility rooms across the country. Whirlpool must now start to make amends by taking urgent action to fix or replace these faulty tumble dryers.
However, the problems go deeper than just one firm and the situation with Whirlpool is symptomatic of a product safety system that is as faulty as one of the company’s machines.
The Government has kicked in to the long grass the findings of a review on product recall led by Lynn Faulds Wood, a well-respected champion for the consumer.
She has called for the creation of a new official national product safety agency to show much needed leadership in upholding standards and Ministers should now stop ignoring her recommendations.
They must consider how crippling cuts to funding for local authorities are impacting on the ability of Trading Standards to properly enforce regulations.
It may not be the most visible service for many, but there cannot be any more vital role than ensuring the safety of the public.
Finally, any excuse to use Brexit to dilute standards in the name of deregulation and cutting red tape, as some would undoubtable argue for, would be unforgivable.
Our Committee is clear. The authorities can no longer stand by while irresponsible firms take advantage of a system that is too lax.
It is time for both the Government and Whirlpool to get their act together, put an end to future avoidable home fires and ease the worries of millions of people in the place where they should feel safest.
Rachel Reeves is a Labour MP and Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee
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