A coroner has called for electrical appliance safety standards to be overhauled after a father died rescuing his children from a house fire.
Santosh Benjamin-Muthia, who was 36, lost his life in 2010 after his Beko fridge-freezer cover set alight due to a defect in the defrost timer. This was not the only fire these fridge-freezers had been implicated in; Beko had received at least 15 reports of house fires caused by its appliances between 2003 and 2006.
At an inquest in Barnet Coroner’s Court on September 26th, coroner Andrew Walker recorded a narrative verdict in Mr Benjamin-Muthia’s death, and called for a series of additional sanctions to be levied against electrical goods manufacturers who produce dangerous goods and do not recall these items when they discover they are dangerous.
Accepting recommendations made by Hertfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards Unit and the London Fire Brigade, Mr Walker agreed with calls to develop an online open database for consumers to report appliance safety problems.
He also said that white goods manufacturers who breach their duty to notify consumers of dangerous defects should face greater sanctions, including two years’ jail and unlimited fines – currently, these companies can only be fined up to £5,000, which a drop in the ocean compared with the cost of an appliance recall.
To reduce the number of house fires caused by white goods, Mr Walker also said that fire brigades who attend fires started by these domestic appliances should be required to report the incident to Trading Standards, and that retailers should be required to store the contact details of all white goods purchasers for ten years to improve the efficacy of product recalls.
Following the inquest. London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety Regulation Steve Turek said his organisation “fully supports” the coroner’s recommendations.
He pointed out that almost every household in the UK has a fridge or freezer, and that although most of these appliances work properly “without incident”, they can become faulty, and fires that involve them can be “very serious”.
Mr Turek advised people to leave their homes immediately and call the emergency services in the event of a fire, and to unplug electrical appliances and arrange a repair or contact the manufacturer if they believe the item may be malfunctioning. He also recommended that people buy smoke alarms, check that these devices work properly, and plan how to escape from house fires in advance.
Beko’s Managing Director for the years 2002 to 2010 Clayton Witter said that although the firm was aware of the fault in the fridge freezer, it did not think the issue was “serious enough to warrant a recall”. The Beko appliance in question was eventually recalled in November 2010, after Mr Benjamin-Muthia’s death.
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