According to a study by Which?, washing machines, tumble dryers and dishwashers pose the greatest risk of household fires.
Fire service data over two years shows washing machines caused 14% of fires categorised as due to a faulty appliance, followed by tumble dryers (12%) and dishwashers (11%), consumer group Which? found.
Ovens were responsible for 8% of the fires, while televisions and microwaves each made up 3%, followed by electric blankets (2%) and irons (1%).
According to the figures, around 3,700 fires have been caused each year as a result of faulty appliances.
It is important to keep in mind however that, whilst these fires may well have been categorised as being due to a “fault appliance” that the nature of the fault or the severity of damage sustained does not seem to be explored. From our own research over the years as an example, we have yet to see a tumble dryer failure resulting in smoke or flame damage that was not a result of either a failure to clean filters allowing a build up of fluff to smoke or ignite or, something that has been put in to dry that should not have been.
Likewise, an oven or cooker fire is almost exclusively caused by fat or grease that ignites through poor cleaning and maintenance.
The figures and, many of the reports of any appliance related fire will rarely, if ever, report the actual cause of the problem after it has been investigated. Whether these issues have been caused by a fault in the appliance or by installation or through improper use is unknown.
Some Brands Worse Than Others
Which? highlighted some brands that appeared to cause a higher number of fires than others, naming Hoover and Candy washing machines and Hotpoint dishwashers and tumble dryers.
Hotpoint issued a public safety notice relating to its FDW20, 60 and 65A dishwashers earlier this year, saying it was "aware of a small number of cases of dishwashers when an electrical component has failed", adding that "this may lead to overheating and in rare cases a potential fire hazard".
However, Which? said it found that there were as many instances of fires recorded relating to Hotpoint's DWF3 dishwasher range, which has not been recalled.
Which? said Hotpoint had informed it that an assessment of the model had found the risk of fire to be very low.
Which? said it was not possible to say "beyond doubt" which brands were most likely to catch fire because most fires were never forensically investigated, adding that the fire officer decided the cause and in some cases did not record details such as the manufacturer of the appliance or the model number.
This is also what we have found when trying to research instances where appliances are blamed for causing a fire, very often the relevant information to reach a conclusion is not available. This makes it very difficult, if even possible at all, to say with any certainty that appliances are or are not dangerous to any degree at all or, even if they are a potential fire risk.
Which? Survey Results
The watchdog found that a quarter (23%) of consumers have owned a product that was subject to a recall or safety notice in a survey of around 1100 people.
Just over half (58%) were sent information directly from the manufacturer, while 67% of those that received information contacted the company for a repair or refund and a quarter (23%) stopped using the product or threw it away.
But 5% of owners continued to use the product.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "It's shocking that everyday household appliances can pose such a danger. People's safety must be the priority, so manufacturers should act fast to recall products as soon as they realise they're faulty.
"We want the Government and manufacturers to do more to analyse and release the data they collect on appliance fires to help reduce the thousands of fires that are caused by faulty products."
However industry sources seem to suggest that the UK power supply chain may also have a hand in this recent spate of so-called “fires” as, we are told, that the UK electricity companies have failed to meet EU standards and that the supply can be outside of these parameters. This can cause issues with mains power carrying components designed for the new EU standards that are supposed to be in effect across Europe such as power switches and electronic control modules.
It is perhaps true that manufacturers should take account of this however, if they are informed that the UK electricity supply meets certain criteria and, it does not, then it is difficult to point the finger of blame their way entirely.
The Level Of Risk In Numbers
On balance to offer some perspective on the matter our own research dictates that there are approximately 27 million homes in the UK almost all of which will have a washing machine. We will assume that there are 25 million washers out there for round numbers.
Using the average of 2.3 people to each doing the average 117 washes per year per person, that's 269 washes per year, per home which equates to 6,727,500,000 wash cycles run in the UK every year.
Even if there were two washing machine related fires per week that put the odds of such an instance happening to you at over 64,680,000:1.
The odds of being in a plane crash are 11,000,000:1 almost six times greater risk.
The odds of being killed in a car crash 5000:1.
Out of all the washing machine fires we have seen over the past decade or so, there has not been a single fatality reported.
Of course, sadly, lives have been lost through appliance related failures but these are far from commonplace.
With modern safety measures on home wiring, fitting and maintaining a smoke alarm in your home as well as the safety measures inside the appliances themselves, the risk of injury and fatality are incredibly low indeed.
Obviously we are not advocating that people are complacent about fire safety as that would be wholly irresponsible but we do think that these reports should be viewed in perspective and the actual risk level assessed correctly and not using scaremongering headlines to get page views or reads.
We will defer to the universal advice from all the fire services as well as ourselves when it comes to appliances and safety:
- Appliances should not be left operating unattended, for example, when going to bed or out while applainces are running as this can be dangerous
- Fit a smoke alarm to your home and ensure that it is working with regular tests
- Children should be kept away from kitchen appliances as much as is practical
- If you have gas appliances ensure that you have a carbon monoxide detector and this it is operational and tested regularly
- Ensure that appliances are installed and maintained correctly in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations
- Ensure that your home electrical system is safe and that your appliances are installed on RCD safety circuits