Series in which Sophie Raworth reveals how household products are tested, putting the makers' claims on trial and showing how to get the best value for money.
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Take a look around your home.
Can you be sure that every appliance is safe?
Is everything a company tells you about a product true?
And are you getting the best value for your money?
With the help of the country's top experts, we're going to see
what it takes to test the household products we use every day.
We'll discover how they're pushed to their limits.
We'll put the maker's claims on trial...
..and show you how to make your money go further.
You'll find these products in any ordinary house.
But this is no ordinary house and no ordinary street.
This the Watchdog Test House.
Hello. We're deep inside one of Britain's leading science centres.
Here at the Building Research Establishment,
some of the products and materials that we use every day
are put to the test
to make sure that they're safe, environmentally friendly
and that they don't fall apart.
Coming up on today's programme... They're lethal
and they could still be in thousands of homes.
Do you own one of them?
The cooker produced massive amounts of carbon monoxide.
They had absolutely no chance.
How does a big manufacturer react
when something as dangerous as this gets onto the market?
None of us put our products on the market with
the expectation that it will cause injury or death or damage.
No-chip nail varnish? Not what we found.
I've got quite a lot of chips on both hands.
And how the development of fire retardant chemicals has
radically reduced your chances of dying in a house fire.
Every year, hundreds of products, from cars to chairs,
lawn mowers to slimming pills, are recalled because they're defective
and, in some cases, extremely dangerous, like this Beko cooker.
In 2008, Beko discovered that on a number of different
models, the grill was emitting lethal levels of
the poisonous gas carbon monoxide when used with the door closed.
But even though the company recalled thousands of them,
some owners may still be unaware of the risk.
Richard Smith was 30 years old and living in Saltash,
a town on the bank of the River Tamar in Cornwall.
The month was November. The year was 2010.
We got the call from Richard's work on the Friday
to say that he'd been off work and
they couldn't contact him on his telephone, so my wife
and I went round that Friday, and when we got to the house, all the
lights were on, and we had concerns then as to where Richard was.
Brian had no option but to break into Richard's house,
a house that his shared with his friend, Kevin Branton.
I climbed over the back wall
and got into the house through the patio doors, which were open,
and that is when I saw Kevin slumped on the settee.
I knew something was wrong at that stage.
I then ran upstairs, hoping to find Richard...
..and that is when I found him on the bed, but as soon as I touched him,
he was cold and I knew there's nothing I could do for him.
It soon became apparent that both Brian's son, Richard,
and his housemate, Kevin, had been overcome
and killed by fumes from their Beko Flavel cooker.
The boys were cooking their supper under the grill,
and at some point, one or the other of them
must have accidently shut the grill door whilst it was lit.
As soon as they did this, the cooker produced massive
amounts of carbon monoxide over a period of a couple of minutes.
Carbon monoxide is an invisible yet highly poisonous gas.
Breathing it in can make you unwell and, in high doses, can kill.
A lethal dose is just 500 parts per million.
This cooker produced 14,000 parts per million in just two minutes.
They would have just been very, very sleepy
and gradually lost consciousness,
and they had absolutely no chance from that moment.
Beko already knew about this serious fault with their cookers.
In fact, two years before Richard and Kevin died, the company
had issued a full recall of 30,000 products,
all manufactured between 2003 and 2009 because of other deaths.
As soon as we became aware of the problem,
any retailer we had supplied the product to,
we made them aware and we recalled that product.
We tried, we feel, everything we could to try and reach people, and
we will continue to try and reach people to prevent future tragedy.
But despite trying to warn owners of the potential risk,
at least eight people have died and many units remain untraced.
There were 30,000 put on the market. We believe
there are still about 3,900 out there that we need to track down.
And the work to find those cookers continues.
Really, any opportunity we can, we will take,
and I think your programme, actually,
is a great opportunity for us to
appeal to people if they've got a Beko cooker to go and check it.
And then if they contact us, phone us, visit our website,
we can advise them whether or not their product is affected.
I think of him every day, but sometimes, it's just a tiny thing -
a High Vis jacket with a woolly hat pulled over his ears,
little things like that. And I take a second glance and for a second,
I think he's back.
And that's probably the hardest thing to cope with.
I miss my son. We think of him every day.
And I just wish he could be here.
The inquest declared the cause of death accidental
and no action was taken against Beko.
But what was it about the cooker that went so terribly wrong?
Although the instructions stated that the door must be kept open
during grilling at all times, that was to prevent a fire.
It turns out it was never tested for carbon monoxide with
the door shut.
So once we'd identified that problem, we worked with the test
houses to get their testing regimes changed
and with the standards bodies to get the standard changed,
so the European standard was changed.
None of us want this sort of thing to happen.
None of us put our products on the market with
the expectation that it will cause injury or death or damage,
and that's why safety is such a high priority and that's why we work
so hard to try and put products out on the market that are safe.
The safety of cookers has improved
and most of them now have a safety cut-out
or an air gap around the seal
to prevent high levels of carbon monoxide if the grill door is shut.
Testing standards have also been modified to include carbon monoxide
tests on grills with the door closed.
Later, we'll be heading to the UK National Standards Body
to see just how rigorously cookers and their grills
are now put through their paces before they come onto the market.
Now, your nails. They certainly go through a lot everyday,
from opening doors to driving, washing up
or spending all day at a computer.
Which is why, if you wear nail varnish,
you'll probably choose one which promises not to chip.
But do these products really stand up to their claims?
Let's find out.
I can't wait for this one, Sophie!
Right, in today's test, we have a range of nail polishes that
claim to be chip-resistant across a range of price brackets.
The most expensive polish we could find is the
Dior Vernis Haute Couleur High Lasting Nail Lacquer at £20.50.
It claims to give "impeccable hold" and a "chip-resistant formula".
Our mid-range product is
the Bourjois So Laque 10 day Glossy Nail Polish at £5.99.
It claims to be "ultra-resistant" and "enriched with vinyl
"and resins to prevent your nails from chipping".
And our cheapest product -
Boots 17 Lasting Fix Nail Polish promises to have
that "lasts for up to five days" and costs just £2.99.
We'll be comparing these to B Quick One Coat Nail Varnish.
It costs £4.99 and makes no claims about being chip-resistant at all.
The key ingredient with the non-chip nail varnish is
a group of compounds called film-forming compounds.
They create a network of molecules which stick together
across the surface of your nail and, in theory, should make it non-chip.
So that's theory. Time to find out what happens in practice.
Dr Laura's painted these fake nails with equal amounts of varnish.
Beautifully done, Dr Laura!
She's also created her very own slightly terrifying-looking machine.
We call it the Chip-o-meter.
Dr Laura clamps the painted fake nails next to it to see
if any of the varnish comes off.
Each of the nails is left for two minutes.
OK. First, our most expensive product, the Dior nail varnish.
This one has chipped.
The rest of the nail still looks good, so it hasn't
spread across, but under these conditions,
it has chipped off a bit.
Next, the mid-range Bourjois polish.
After two minutes on the Chip-o-meter, how's it done?
Second nail, we can see clear chip marks quite a long
way along the edge, and it's the edge where you would expect it to
start chipping if you were wearing this nail varnish.
Now, the cheapest polish, the 17.
So product number three, which was the 17, has come off an awful lot.
There is a clear amount of removal from the surface there,
so it hasn't stood up to the test very well.
And finally, how will these compare to the product which makes no
claims about being chip-resistant, the B Quick?
It's actually performed slightly better than the 17 polish,
which claims to have chip-resistant colour.
But neither polish has done as well as the Dior, which has won this test,
or the Bourjois polish, which came second.
So when it comes to chip-resistance, at the moment,
it seems spending more might just be worth it.
So that's the lab.
But how will they all perform where it really matters,
real life? Find out later.
Sitting comfortably? You should be
because the furniture in your home has probably been built to
an exacting design.
Strict safety standards, too.
In fact, sofas, armchairs, beds and cushions sold in the UK meet
some of the highest requirements in the world.
But it wasn't always this way.
Before the development of fire retardant chemicals,
a sofa could catch fire within seconds
and smoke could reach life-threatening
levels in just three minutes. Here's Lynn Faulds Wood.
'Welcome to Watchdog. In tonight's programme...
'All these people have written to us...
'This is the acrylic fur fabric cover we saw earlier.
'I'm going to light it just with an ordinary household match.'
The year is 1985 and I'm demonstrating just how
dangerous loose furniture covering can be when exposed to a flame.
That's two minutes, and you can see that's like a bonfire
sitting on top of that chair. The whole thing's caught alight.
But by far the bigger risk to life back then
was the foam filling manufacturers used on the inside.
When polyurethane foam was first invented in the 1950s,
it was hygienic, hard-wearing and it gave people a level of comfort
they hadn't been able to afford before.
The trouble is, it had one fatal flaw - it could easily catch fire.
In fact, at the height of its popularity, in the 1970s,
you were almost four times more likely to
die in a house fire than you are today.
Just take a look at this footage
filmed in a lab at the Building Research Establishment.
The technician drops a match onto the sofa and leaves the room.
After one minute, the sofa is fully alight
and the flames are out of control.
By two minutes, a thick layer of poisonous black smoke has
formed on the ceiling.
And in just three minutes, the whole room is ablaze.
Just imagine if this was a real fire in a real house.
What we found is that people didn't have time to escape,
so they were rapidly overcome by the smoke from a fire,
and then, obviously, couldn't find their way out.
The fire brigade were all too aware of the dangers.
But one day in 1979 made the public very aware of them, too.
On 8 May, a faulty electrical cable started to
spark in a branch of Woolworths in Manchester.
It set fire to the foam-filled furniture stacked on top of it,
which began emitting poisonous cyanide gas and carbon monoxide.
Soon, the whole building was ablaze.
'Flames were streaming out of the three second-floor windows
'and smoke billowed out across Piccadilly Gardens
'before the first of the fire engines arrived.
'And the fire station is only a few hundred yards away.'
Ten people lost their lives in Woolworths that day
and 47 others were injured.
Bob Graham, assistant chief fire officer at the scene,
later told Watchdog what happened.
The main injuries were carbon monoxide or smoke inhalation
for the casualties.
The smoke from burning polyurethane
and the covering fabrics, at that time, is very acrid.
It only takes one breath and it affects your throat.
Strangely, you can't shout because it affects your vocal cords as well.
It was as a result of that Woolworths fire
back in 1979 that Bob Graham became a fierce campaigner for change.
Many other chief officers joined him.
And by 1980, some legislation had been introduced -
furniture coverings had to resist a smouldering cigarette.
But the law was patchy.
Some types of upholstery were completely exempt
and it didn't cover the highly flammable foam at all.
It took years to find a solution -
a new chemical that could make foam fire retardant.
In the mid '80s, the foam industry developed
the technology to add melamine into the foam at the point it is mixed.
And that drastically reduces the tendency to burn.
But this new type of foam was more expensive and, without legislation,
getting all manufacturers to act was a slow process.
Then what are the Department of Trade doing about it?
Well, not a lot at the moment.
They've known about the problem for a long time. They say they're
very concerned, but they're not really doing very much about it.
It wasn't until three years later, 1988, that
the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations were introduced.
It followed a Christmas period in which 24 people
died in house fires.
Firemen are sick to their stomachs with going into burnt houses
and pulling out these poor little mites, who are dead, charred.
Quite a dreadful experience for any man to have to face.
For the first time, covers, upholstery
and filling materials all had to go through strict flammability tests.
We take blocks of foam, place them on a test rig
and then we use an ignition source and we ignite that. That burns,
and what should happen is that the foam should self-extinguish itself.
And five years later, the legislation was extended to
cover the sale of second-hand furniture.
Now, the 1988 Fire Safety Regulations only apply to furniture sold
here, in the UK.
Unlike a lot other safety laws, they weren't introduced across Europe.
So, in a recent test,
when the flammability of European sofas was compared to
that of a British sofa, the impact of the legislation was plain to see.
The Slovakian sofa on the left reaches life-threatening
levels of fire and smoke in just three minutes,
whereas the one from the UK takes 20 minutes to get to the
The fire takes longer to develop.
So what we notice is that people are much more likely to be
aware of fire in time for them to get out and escape.
There's plenty of evidence out there that says, actually,
lives were directly saved as a result of this legislation.
So the good news -
this country now has some of the safest furniture around.
Now, fuel for your car.
It costs the average family over £1,200 a year.
But do you use petrol or diesel?
Should you drive to your local supermarket
or buy from the nearest petrol station?
Well, with us now to talk about getting
the best value for your money is Emma Butcher from What Car?
Does it matter, first of all, where you buy your fuel from,
whether it's a supermarket or your local petrol station?
Well, no, not at all, not in terms of quality.
There's no evidence to suggest that quality is
dependent on where you buy your fuel. The one thing you
do have control over is how much you pay for it, and costs vary
right across the country, whether you buy from the supermarket,
an oil company station or an independent petrol station.
What about standard unleaded versus premium unleaded
because there's a huge hike in the price, isn't there? Is it worth it?
Well, premium unleaded is generally around 9 pence per litre more
expensive than standard unleaded petrol, so you'd need to see a
really big increase in fuel economy for it to be worth your while.
We would say, save your cash. Go for the standard petrol.
And what about diesel cars versus petrol cars because, certainly,
when you fill a diesel car up,
you seem to getting a lot more miles for your money?
Absolutely. Diesels traditionally are much more economical than petrols.
However, that's not always the case.
So what you really need to do is decide how many miles you're going to
do in a year, and then you need to look at the whole life cost of the
car, from how much you pay up front to your tax, insurance, servicing,
depreciation and, of course, your fuel, based on the MPG figure.
And then work out which is the best value for you.
We looked at around nine different models of all different
kinds of cars on the road today and we found that, in general,
the odds were pretty evenly stacked between a petrol being more
economical than a diesel or vice versa.
-Basically, very worthwhile doing your sums!
-Emma, thank you.
Back to nail varnishes now and those products which claim not to chip.
We put three to the test in the lab and none came out unscathed,
but some did perform better than others.
So, how will they cope in the real world?
Time to go to the wall.
Yes, Sophie, I can tell you can't get enough of this stuff!
Right, according to our one-off lab test, so far, the more
expensive chip-resistant varnishes are outperforming the cheaper ones.
Now it's time for our not-so-scientific real-life tests.
So, say hello to today's volunteers
who, as it happens, are rock climbers!
I don't normally wear nail varnish
cos it doesn't last five minutes, especially if I'm climbing.
I never wear nail varnish on my nails any more
just cos there's no point.
It'll last me a day, if I'm lucky, and that's it.
Each volunteer has applied one coat of the chip-resistant nail
varnishes to each nail on their right hand and allowed them
to dry as per the instructions.
Hannah is wearing the most expensive Dior polish that
costs £20.50. Jade is wearing the mid-range £5.99 Bourjois polish.
And Karyn is wearing the 17, which costs just £2.99.
On their left hand, they've each applied the varnish which
makes no chip-related claims - the B Quick One Coat, costing £4.99.
Now for our challenges.
Round one - the rummaging through the handbag test.
We've hidden a key which our volunteers will each have to find.
The bag contains some common objects, like a hair brush,
a mobile phone and, just to mix things up a bit, some more random
ones, including a fork, some batteries and a classic novel.
I've always wondered what ladies carried around in those big bags!
Anyway, they're off!
And they've done it!
That was actually quite stressful!
They may have found the key, but will their nail varnishes have survived?
Well, the Dior one, there's a few tiny little chips
there and there and one on my thumb.
And the one that makes no claims is actually fine.
On Jade's hands, neither the mid-range Bourjois nor
the B Quick polish, which makes no claims, are doing particularly well.
I've got equal chippage on both.
But on Karyn's hands, both the cheapest polish, the 17,
and the product which makes no claims are both performing well.
The one that I'm wearing 17 on held up pretty well.
There's not really any chips at all.
And the one that makes no claims has a little
bit of chipping on the edges, but not very much.
So, how will they do in round two - the washing-up bowl test?
Each of our volunteers will have to wash up the same amount of dishes
in this hot soapy water, otherwise known as nail varnish Kryptonite!
The one that's made no claims hasn't really changed.
There's a slight bit of wear right at the very tips.
The Dior one has worn away a bit more at the ends.
So again, on Hannah's hands, the product which makes no claims
is slightly outperforming the Dior.
On Jade's hands, there's also a few more chips.
Both the Bourjois and the one that has no claims,
just a little bit of chipping on all of my tips.
And finally, the cheapest polish, the 17.
Mine seem to be still OK, both of them.
Just a couple of chips, but faring pretty well.
So, it's the cheapest polish, 17, on Karyn's hands
that's performing the best in our test at this stage.
But now to the toughest of our challenges,
the moment you've all been waiting for - the climbing wall!
Nail varnishes, ready? Go!
And back they come.
Let's see if the nail varnishes have survived this.
First up, the most expensive polish - the Dior that's on Hannah's hand.
Overall, the Dior has fared slightly worse
than the one that hasn't got any claims,
so I would definitely go for the one with no claims.
How about the mid-range Bourjois?
I've got quite a lot of chips on both hands.
Maybe the scratches I had there before have just got worse,
and this one, well, I must have just caught the wall.
Not good, on both hands.
As for the cheapest 17 polish?
Both seem to be doing really well still.
There's some tiny scratches,
but not to the point where they'd need to be redone yet.
I wouldn't want to spend that much money on a really known brand
when, actually, the cheaper ones are doing really well.
So, across our one-off set of real-life tests,
what have we learned?
Well, as each volunteer experienced different results with the no
claims product, it does show the amount of chippage
depends on how careful you are with your nails.
But one thing is clear.
Just because nail varnishes claim to be chip-resistant doesn't
mean they're not going to chip, no matter how much you spend.
Dior told us they are pleased their product performed best in the
laboratory tests, but say that, given the unscientific conditions
used in our real-life tests, they do not accept that the results are
an accurate reflection of the true performance of the their product.
Bourjois told us that they meet industry standards in order
to make their claims, which are supported by tests,
in real-life conditions and independently verified.
Back to the kitchen now and the cookers that Beko recalled
because the grills were emitting dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
That was in 2009.
As a result of the deaths caused by this serious fault,
standards have since been improved,
and new models now go through more stringent tests before they're sold.
So just how stringent are they?
To find out, we've come to the British Standards Institution.
Testing a cooker to the latest safety standards takes some time -
hundreds of tests over a couple of weeks.
So today, we've asked Graham to take us through the highlights
on a typical mid-range product currently on the market.
First up, emissions.
We have a special-sized pan which is placed over the burner.
It's got a special hood on top of it which allows us
to catch all of the combustion products from that burner
and then analyse them in this gas analyser here.
There are limits for how much carbon monoxide is allowed to be
emitted by each burner.
As it's being tested in a confined space,
a fail is anything over 1,500 parts per million.
The burner's been running for 20 minutes.
The carbon monoxide was about 30 parts per million, which is
very low, so that's a pass and we can move on to the next test.
Next up, temperature.
The test we're doing now is for the temperature of the front surface
of the cooker, which is accessible to children and people around the home.
So what we do is we set both ovens operating with a centre oven
temperature of 200 degrees C for an hour,
also with pans boiling on the hobs, and then we measure
the temperature of the oven doors and the whole front surface.
The overall temperature is monitored using a thermal imaging camera,
then a temperature probe is used on the hot spots.
The glass panels shouldn't go above 80 degrees Celsius.
This one reaches just 59, well within the requirements.
How will it do on the next test - the impact strength test?
So this is replicating people just bashing into it,
just day-to-day rough and tumble that you get in your house.
An impact hammer subjects the glass to a force of 0.5 newton metres
three times in each area of weakness.
The cooker passes this test, too.
Now for that new addition to the standard -
testing for carbon monoxide levels with the grill door shut.
After the incidents that arose where, sadly, some people died
because of problems with their grill,
the standard was changed very, very rapidly. The industry was
very quick to recognise that standard needed to be improved.
The test involves operating the grill as normal then closing
the door. The grill must meet a strict carbon monoxide
emissions limit or the burner must shut down within 15 minutes.
So the burner's gone off at that angle,
so not even close to being closed, so there's no risk of anybody
starving the air supply to the burner.
That's a safety device that's on most cookers these days.
There are millions of gas cookers in use in homes throughout the UK.
They're extremely safe, but the standards industry is working
day in, day out, to keep raising the bar a little bit to make them safer
and adapt the standard as necessary to cope with today's environment.
If you want more information on the safety of products in your
home you can go to our website.
That's all for today. Thanks for watching.
Series in which Sophie Raworth reveals how household products are tested, putting the makers' claims on trial and showing how to get the best value for money. Lynn Faulds Wood looks at the safety of products in the home and the Watchdog campaigns that have been saving lives for more than 30 years.