New safety tool comes as faulty washing machine fires hit five year high in England
A new development for smart speakers could help to prevent fires in UK homes.
The add on, compatible with Google Home and Alexa, will inform users, when prompted, if a manufacturer has issued a product recall.
The response rate to electrical product recalls in the UK is typically low, mainly due to products not being registered, meaning many faulty appliances go undetected in millions of homes across the country, as consumers unknowingly use potentially hazardous appliances.
Users can instruct their speaker to open the Electrical Safety First app and will then be able to ask “Hey Google, has my washing machine been recalled?” The smart speaker will then ask them for the brand name and inform users if any recall has been issued for that brand, prompting them to act.
Developed by Electrical Safety First the smart speaker tool is just one way in which the charity is using smart tech to reduce the risk of electrical fires in people’s homes.
The launch of the tool comes as new analysis by the Charity reveals fires caused by faulty washing machines in England have hit a five year high with 517 reported fires recorded last year[i].
Home Office data shows that since 2015/16 washing machine fires caused by faulty appliances and leads have increased by 15%[ii].
Angela Downer, a nurse and mother of four, knows first-hand how frightening an appliance fire can be after her Hotpoint dishwasher left her Oxfordshire home badly smoke damaged:
“I do what many people do and put the dishwasher on before bed. I didn’t think that something so convenient could be so dangerous.
It was pure luck I was even awake; my daughter was home from university and we had stayed up later than usual to watch a Netflix show. I went into the kitchen and that’s when I saw the sparks coming from the top of the dishwasher.
It happened a second time and that’s when the lights in the house went out. I rushed to check the fuse box and when I came back into the kitchen I could see the red glow of flames. I called 999 immediately and the operator told us to get out of the property. I rushed my daughters out of the house as soon as I could. Oxfordshire Fire Service were truly amazing, they arrived within minutes. The operator was fantastic too, and really calmed me down.
You don’t expect something like this to happen in your own house. As soon as I got my children out and the fire service arrived I wasn’t scared anymore. But in those few minutes it’s so scary, especially when you can see the flames.
The fire was relatively small and contained to the kitchen on the ground floor but the smoke damage has been horrific. Smoke reached the third floor of the house, the carpets are destroyed and we have had assessors in to see what more needs repairing. I later found out the dishwater was a recalled Hotpoint machine. I had no idea it was recalled. I bought the property in 2018 and it came with the house. I didn’t give it a second thought and never registered it. It’s just not something that crossed my mind before.
We as a family have completely rethought our habits. I’ll be registering my appliances in the future and we’ve all become so much more safety conscious as a result.
I wouldn’t be sharing my story today if I had lost one of my daughters – that’s too painful to even think about. I am very aware just how lucky we all are to be safe.”
With the success rate of product recalls in the UK between 10% - 20%,the charity hopes that by using smart tech, consumers will be more inclined to check their appliances.
A survey of more than 2000 UK adults carried out by the charity found that the ability to be able to ask their smart audio speaker about a product recall had a positive impact on engagement. Of those surveyed nearly 90% said they would be more inclined to check their appliances for a recall if they could do so using a smart speaker[iii].
Lesley Rudd, Chief Executive of Electrical Safety First commented: “Smart technology has the ability to do so much more than just tell us what the weather is like, it can also help to keep us safer in our homes. Our latest tool for smart speakers will inform users if a manufacturer has issued a product recall in seconds and prompt them to take action. With millions of smart speakers in homes we hope to weaponise smart tech to help protect people and their homes from electrical fires.”
Kevin Morgan, from Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service (Home and Community Safety), said: “Make sure the electrical appliance has a British or European safety mark when you buy it. Don’t overload plug sockets. Unplugging appliances when they are not in use will also help reduce the risk of fire.
“We recommend having a smoke alarm on each level of your property. If you do have a fire in your home, our advice is to get out, stay out and dial 999.”
The Charity has also launched a smartphone app, currently available on iOs with an Android version coming later in the year. This will allow users to search for recall information and also direct them to register electrical products, providing another “smart” option for staying safe in the home.
Notes to editors:
- Electrical Safety First is a UK charity dedicated to reducing and preventing damage, injuries and death caused by electricity. More information can be found at electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk.
- Consumer research was conducted via the survey group, Censuswide with a sample of 2,002 adults across the UK, nationally representative of the general population. Research was conducted in the field between 14.01.2021 to 15.01.2021
How to use Alexa Skills / Google Home Voice App
The app makes it easy for people to find out if they own an electrical item that has been subject to a recall or safety notice. It’s very simple to use on both Alexa and Google Home.
- Ask your device to “Open Electrical Safety First”
- You can then ask if your product type has been recalled, the device will then ask you for a brand name:
“Alexa, has my fridge been recalled”
“What brand is the fridge?”
or, ask immediately for a specific brand and product:
“Alexa, has my [Brand Name] fridge been recalled?”
or, ask for any product manufactured by a specific brand:
“Alexa, have any [brand name] been recalled?”
- The device will then either tell you that there are a certain number of recalls for your search or, if not, encourage you to sign up for email alerts from Electrical Safety First when there is a product recall.
For more information please contact:
- Joshua Drew T: 07864009875 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] Analysis of Home Office ‘Appliance Fire Dataset’ where fires linked to washing machines whereby the cause was faulty appliances as leads for 2019/20 were recorded as 517 in total.
[ii] Analysis of Home Office dataset ‘Appliance Fire Dataset’ where accidental electrical appliance fires linked solely to washing machines where the cause was deemed to be “faulty appliances and leads”. Of these fires in 2015/16 there were a total of 449. This figure increased for 2019/20 to 517 representing just over a 15% increase in five years.
[iii] Research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Electrical Safety First polled 2,000 UK adults who already own a Google Home or Alex smart audio device. Those surveyed were asked “If you were able to check if an electrical product in your home was subject to a recall due a fire risk by asking your smart home device such as your Google Home / Alexa, how much more likely would you be to check if the product was recalled?” Of those surveyed 45.85% answered “much more likely” whilst 43.41 answered “somewhat more likely”.