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We all want to feel assured our kettles will hold themselves together when we’re making a nice cup of tea. A handle coming away from a kettle full of scalding hot water is an obvious hazard – scald injuries can be very serious.

There was a new product recall last week – for an electric kettle from which the handle can detach. How does it happen that a fundamental requirement like handle strength can fail?

More than just electrical

Electric kettle safety

RCM electric compliance mark

All electrical appliances in Australia have to pass requirements for electrical safety. Those regulations do include other aspects of an appliance, but many kettle recalls have been for non-electrical aspects.

The Kitchen Aid Electric Kettle recall last week is just the latest of several on the Product Safety Australia Recalls listing.

Of the 10 recalls listed for electric kettles, only 3 relate to electrical hazards. The other faults are for something wrong with the body of the kettle itself. These were:

  • One case of the plastic viewer window shattering into the kettle
  • One case of lead leaching inside the kettle
  • Five cases of handles detaching

All those kettles probably carried the RCM mark.

Importers must understand how it all works

Electric kettle importers would be well aware of the electrical safety compliance scheme. Compliance with the electrical safety scheme requires an appliance to have adequate mechanical strength and pass tests demonstrate this, but I wonder whether some may assume that electrical compliance also means the rest of the product is safe. Perhaps it’s even a sub-conscious assumption. Either way it’s a false one.

All aspects of kettle design must be assessed for safe performance by manufacturers and then checked by importers.

And it’s not enough to just have one sample pass the tests – quality assurance must apply to the production stage. Failures may be happening because production does not meet the specifications or construction requirements of the sample that was initially sent for testing.

Suppliers must ensure production samples match the construction and specifications of the tested, approved and certified sample.

Assuring product safety

Even beyond specific regulations, all products must be fit for purpose. With a kettle, getting boiled water safely into a cup or teapot is its primary purpose. Handle strength must be part of the kettle’s design and test performance before it’s put on the market. Other aspects include, obviously, plastic window integrity and avoiding leaching metals. There’s currently new regulations proposed for glass-bodied kettles which have been prone to shattering in a few instances (stay tuned for an announcement on that). But these are not the only things that can go wrong and suppliers must address all potential hazards.

Achieving product safety requires attention to safe design, production processes and quality assurance (to name a few aspects).

The recalls website does not give details of why the listed products had faults and we can’t assume the companies conducting the recalls didn’t have good product safety systems in place. However, something must have gone wrong for the recalls to be necessary. It’s a costly lesson for those companies. It’s also a lesson for all suppliers of consumer goods – safety cannot be assumed at any stage of the process.

Kettle safety