Senior fire officers warn recall system is 'inadequate'

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Britain's senior fire officers are warning that the product recall system is "unsuccessful and inadequate". They say an "unprecedented" number of faulty electrical goods remain in people's homes, as manufacturers' safety alerts fail to trace them.

Peter Dartford of the Chief Fire Officers Association says:

The average success rate for recall products is between 10-20%, that means that there are between 80-90% unsuccessful and that is unacceptable.

The new call for action from fire chiefs is backed by The Electrical Safety Council, which says there are "potentially millions" of faulty products in UK homes.

Home damaged by a fridge freezer fire
Home damaged by a fridge freezer fire Credit: London Fire Brigade

The Turkish owned kitchen appliance giant, Beko, has nearly 130,000 potentially dangerous appliances still in peoples homes - despite its recalls.

London Fire Brigade warns that fridge freezers from one batch have caused dozens of fires, leading to one death. Some Beko tumble dryers have also caused blazes. Shockingly, one type of Beko cooker has killed ten people, according to coroners records revealed in ITV's Tonight programme.

Beko has not admitted liability for any of the deaths. Coroners ruled that the deaths were accidents.

"When you buy a cooker, you don't expect it to kill" says Brian Smith, whose son Richard died aged 30 when a recalled Beko cooker gave out carbon monoxide.

Richard Smith died from carbon monoxide poisoning
Richard Smith died from carbon monoxide poisoning Credit: Family handout

I was very angry a cooker could be placed on the market that could kill. It was only later on that we started to find out about the recalls.

– Brian Smith

The cooker can be made safe by a simple modification done in the home. The message never got through to Richard Smith and his housemate, Kevin, 32, who died alongside him in the same tragedy.

The Beko cooker's manual warned about closing the grill door, but it was not prominently displayed in the safety section. That's because the firm did not realise the dangers.

Kevin Branton was found dead in the house he shared with Richard Smith
Kevin Branton was found dead in the house he shared with Richard Smith Credit: Family handout

You wouldn't want anything to happen to anyone who had got one of these cookers to their family as it has happened to ours.

– Brian Smith

Recall regulation in the UK allows manufacturers wide leeway over when and how they choose to deal with dangerous goods. Even if courts decide they have made mistakes, the maximum fine is only £5000. It is a tiny figure when compared to the turnover of multinational manufacturers.

What we are calling for as a penalty is proportionate to the profit they make on that recalled product. To me, the penalty should actually hurt if they are going to take notice. At the moment there is no incentive to take action.

– Martyn Allen, Electrical Safety Council's technical unit
Image of a home damaged by a fridge freezer fire
Image of a home damaged by a fridge freezer fire Credit: London Fire Brigade

Beko is not the only kitchen appliance manufacturer desperately hunting faulty goods. Bosch sold a batch of dishwashers, sometimes branded as Neff or Siemens, with a fault that can cause blazes. Some Hotpoint dishwashers can also cause house fires.

Thousands of these recalled items remain in peoples homes in the UK, yet for those worried that the recall system is ineffective, there is worse news. Warnings from safety experts suggest austerity cuts at Trading Standards could hamper the way defective products are policed. A reduction in enforcement could increase the number of potentially dangerous electrical products on the market according to a new report from the Electrical Safety Council.

What makes faulty kitchen appliances so dangerous is that they are in the heart of the home and are often used unsupervised. Fire Officers at the National Fire Service College replicated a kitchen appliance fire for the Tonight programme, to be shown on Thursday. Within minutes of ignition, flames reached 800 degrees.

The kitchen is highly loaded with fuels, wood, timber, furnishings, plastics which have all the capabilities of poisoning people. The temperature is very important but it is the smoke that is given off by all these materials that will kill people in their property.

– Mark Wilkinson, Fire College instructor

Consumers determined to check whether their homes are safe from recalled goods face an uphill struggle. Officials have failed to create a single website where all product warnings are gathered. Although manufacturers often take out newspaper adverts and letters, it is clear that customers can miss them with catastrophic consequences.

Marga and her husband Derek came close to death after a fire at their home in Norfolk, which was alleged to have been caused by a faulty Bosch dishwasher. Their pet dogs died in the blaze. "The fire officer said we had a couple of more minutes then we wouldn't have been able to get out. It was a very close call" says Marga. Bosch says the cause of the blaze is the subject on on-going investigations.

The big kitchen electrical firms say they have done all possible to put safety first and have achieved far better recall results than that dismal industry average of just one in ten traced. Beko's marketing boss Teresa Arbuckle told the Tonight programme:

We are incredibly sorry for what's happened, for any incident or accident that's been linked to a Beko product, we are deeply sorry.

Our systems, our inspection, is absolutely up to EU standards, we've sold 22 million appliances in the UK"

The company visited thousands of homes and made thousands of phone calls, as well as placing national newspaper adverts. The company maintains that:

Statistically, Beko products are no more prone to fire than any others.

– BEKO STATEMENT

Hotpoint and Bosch have also used phone calls, visits and advertising in their attempts to trace thousands of faulty goods.

Those whose homes and lives have been wrecked believe more should be done to trace recalled goods. Many of them say that to solve problems in the system, a vast industry that is used to selling must focus on "reverse marketing".

When things go wrong manufacturers must use their expertise to get goods back, rather than get them into our homes. Peter Dartford of the Chief Fire Officers Association puts it this way, "The reality is that it is the manufacturers who have created these risks and it is their moral and legal responsibility to ensure these risks are eradicated from homes up and down our country".

'How Safe is Your Kitchen?: Tonight', Thursday at 7.30pm on ITV.