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OPINION


September 2019 ertonline.co.uk


Martyn Allen l Technical Director, Electrical Safety First


Product safety - Stepping out of the shadows


Martyn Allen, Technical Director at Electrical Safety First, recently wrote about its long-standing campaign to improve product safety – including providing expert testimony to the BEIS Select Committee investigating Whirlpool’s recall of its faulty tumble dryers. Here, he provides an update on the situation – and details the Charity’s on-going work to ensure consumer protection.


s most readers will be aware, in November 2015, Whirlpool (also including the Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline brands) first issued a safety notice for a number of its tumble dryers. The official recall notice, which Electrical Safety First lobbied strongly for when the problem was first discovered, was only issued this year. Today, it’s estimated that there are approximately 500,000 affected machines still in UK homes. Low registration rates mean it’s not possible to provide a definitive figure, or indeed location, of the machines. Responding to public and political concern, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy BEIS) Select Committee met in July to investigate Whirlpool’s approach to the recall, including support activities. As noted in my previous article in ERT, Electrical Safety First had lobbied hard for Whirlpool to release the model and serial numbers of the affected machines – which, following the BEIS meeting, they agreed to do. Previously, concerned consumers had to input their machine’s model and serial number via the Whirlpool website. However, this had resulted in the Charity being inundated with queries from people asking us to ‘double-check’ if their item had been recalled. We argued (successfully) that publishing a list of the model and serial numbers of the recalled tumble-dryers not only made it easier for consumers to check for themselves and gain reassurance, it was essential for those without easy access to the internet.


A


Online marketplaces Following the aftermath of the BEIS meeting, two other significant issues arose. We discovered that affected tumble dryers were still being sold by third-party sellers via various online marketplaces. Currently, model and serial numbers are not a


mandatory field when listing an electrical


appliance for sale on major platforms. This makes it difficult for the consumer to make an informed buying decision. Electrical Safety First believes these fields should be compulsory, to help online marketplaces prevent recalled items being sold on their sites by third party or private sellers. However, we are mindful that some sellers will not be aware that their model has been recalled. Which is why more


15


needs to be done to increase public awareness of recalls. (And why we are still pressing the Government to establish a centralised recall database that is easily accessible to consumers). I should also add that, on contacting eBay, the listings were swiftly removed from its site. The company also informed us that it will undertake a broader search to identify recalled items – and explain to sellers how to check if their item is subject to a recall. We can only praise the company’s swift action in ‘delisting’ the affected machines we identified. But further work is essential, to prevent such items being listed in the future.


These concerns have been echoed by Carolyn Harris MP, who recently chaired a Parliamentary debate on the regulation of online sales. And the Minister for Consumers, Kelly Tolhurst MP, has written to sites such as Amazon Marketplace, Facebook Marketplace and eBay, to ask how they are addressing this matter.


The second issue that has arisen came via an


investigation from a national newspaper, which ‘outed’ what it called Whirlpool’s use of non- disclosure agreements (NDAs). The paper is claiming the company: “…faces demands to reveal how many (people) it has paid to keep silent about blazes in machines it had apparently ‘fixed’”. Whirlpool stated that when negotiating compensation payments to consumers (which are often conducted by their insurers), standard documents are sometimes used that include common confidentiality provisions; adding that it has not sought to enforce these against consumers in this context.


Electrical Safety First is extremely concerned that an NDA should be used in relation to product safety issues. We believe such use should be banned. The Charity is urging the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) to make evident that it is working in the interest of the consumer at all times, by banning NDAs, or any other instrument designed to produce the same outcome. We will keep you updated!


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