The Roaring Twenties? comment: electrical safety first

It’s a new decade and some media outlets have christened it the revamped ‘roaring’ twenties – the so-called ‘party-period’ between the wars. But for leading UK consumer protection charity, Electrical Safety First, our introduction to 2020 has been about recalls and the ‘roar’ of new innovations. Martyn Allen, Technical Director at the Charity, explains how it has developed online tools to help manufacturers, retailers and consumers to improve recall rates - and reduce the re-sale of potentially dangerous electrical products.


n my last couple of articles for IER, I discussed some of the issues around

Whirlpool’s recall of tumble dryers sold in the UK under its Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline brands. To recap briefly: an estimated 5.3 million affected dryers were sold in the UK between April 2004 and September 2015. It’s been claimed they have been responsible for at least 750 fires over an 11-year period. That recall process is still ongoing. But just before last Christmas, Whirlpool had to issue another official safety notice. This time it was for over half a million of its Hotpoint and Indesit washing machines, sold between October 2014 and February 2018. These machines could be affected by a flaw with the door-locking system, which could lead to overheating and, potentially, fire. Given high-profile recalls of this nature, it is not surprising that product safety has risen rapidly up the news – and political – agenda. We have been working for some years now,

to help both industry and consumers get to grips with the issue of recalls, which is a continuing theme in our annual product safety conferences and industry seminars. As readers of this column will know, Electrical Safety First has been urging the Government to establish a central database, so people can easily discover if they have a recalled item. However, consumers will need to be reassured that their information won’t be used for marketing purposes - an issue of increasing importance, given growing concerns around personal data security and online platforms. In the meantime, we have been developing some online tools, which we hope will help address the thorny issue of recalls – and other

February/March 2020

Marketplace when they are purchasing from a third-party seller. This was developed following our initial discovery of recalled products being sold by private sellers via online platforms. We then listed a washing machine on both eBay and Facebook Marketplace and included the model number, which would have identified it as a recalled item. We found that neither model nor serial numbers of white goods were mandatory requirements in the sellers’ description. In our 2018 report on the sales of secondhand goods online – Hot Bargains, Killer Deals - we found that over half of private sellers rarely, or never, check if an item they are selling has been recalled. Yet consumers have less protection when buying from a private seller, rather than a business, as the former has no obligation to disclose faults, although misrepresenting goods isn’t allowed. In a recent survey, we found that 44% of consumers didn’t feel confident about differentiating between the likes of Amazon and Amazon Marketplace - the latter being where they are more likely to be buying from third party sellers. The online tools I mention here are just

potentially dangerous electrical goods. Manufacturers and retailers can’t trace consumers with a recalled item if it hasn’t been registered. And our research indicates that almost 270 million unregistered electrical products are still in UK homes. So, at the beginning of this year, we launched a new Alexa app, to help consumers effortlessly determine if they have a recalled electrical product - simply by giving Alexa the item’s brand name. It follows on from the launch of our Google

Chrome Plug-in, Check it Out, which warns consumers shopping on eBay and Amazon

two examples of how the Charity is working to improve recall rates. In the meantime, we continue to call for Government to establish a central recall database. And we maintain our mantra of always buying from a reputable retailer – and always registering an electrical product. In our view, it’s a safety essential.

To use the Check it Out tool, simply go to the Chrome Store and type in Electrical Safety First. The tool becomes active while browsing Amazon Marketplace and eBay, and is constantly being updated – it is currently in its BETA stage. | 13

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