Government action demanded on white goods safety
UK MPS have criticised the government for not yet overhauling a ‘flawed and poorly resourced’ safety regime for electrical white goods.
In August last year, London Fire Brigade (LFB), Electrical Safety First and other organisations and individuals sent a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May urging action on white goods fires, with The Guardian reporting on the business, energy and industrial strategy select committee’s recent criticism of the government. In particular, the committee was scathing of the previous revelation that one million faulty Whirlpool tumble dryers are being used in the UK.
Whirlpool has faced criticism for its failure to recall the up to one million dryers that pose a fire risk, and its range of appliances caused ‘three times more’ fires in London than any other manufacturer, according to LFB data. In turn, last year a Welsh coroner said the company’s ‘reluctance to digest inquest lessons’ was an ‘obstacle to preventing further deaths’, after two men died in a fire in their flat in Llanrwist, North Wales in October 2014.
After that, MPs were angered by Whirlpool’s decision to close its replacement scheme for two types of dryers, launched in 2015, under its Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Proline and Swan brands. These could be a fire risk ‘following reports of fires started by excess fluff catching the heating element in the machines’. The committee wrote to Whirlpool asking why it had ‘chosen to end the scheme’, and criticised the government for being too slow to overhaul a ‘flawed and poorly resourced’ safety regime for white goods.
It also urged Whirlpool to repair faulty machines ‘within two weeks of being contacted’ by owners, or explain action it plans to take, calling its previous response ‘inadequate’. In its view, the government must give ‘serious consideration’ to establishing a ‘single national product safety agency’, asking ministers to respond by the end of February.
Rachel Reeves, Labour MP and chair of the committee, commented: ‘Whirlpool’s woeful response to the defect in its tumble dryers has caused huge worry to people with these appliances in their homes. Their delayed and dismissive response to correcting these defects has been inadequate and we call on Whirlpool to resolve issues urgently. Whirlpool must once and for all put an end to the unacceptable situation where a million machines are acting as potential fire hazards in people’s homes.
‘There is a strong case for a single national product safety agency. The government must implement the recommendations of an independent review on product safety, which they have been sitting on for nearly two years.’
Whirlpool responded: ‘After two years of extensive measures to raise awareness to this campaign, the number of consumers coming forward has fallen sharply. We can assure consumers that they if they contact us now, they can receive a resolution within one week.’
Jill Paterson, partner at law firm Leigh Day representing alleged victims of household appliance fires caused by household appliances, added: ‘We share the ‘deep unease’ of the committee over the approach of Whirlpool and other manufacturers of appliances to the risks serious defects in their appliances pose to the British public.’
LFB also backed the report and calls for Whirlpool to ‘take urgent action’ on the dryers, noting that the report ‘reflects safety concerns raised’ by LFB ‘for a number of years’. Charlie Pugsley, deputy assistant commissioner, gave evidence at the committee on behalf of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).
He said: ‘Without urgent action from Whirlpool and other manufacturers, lives and homes are being put at risk by faulty appliances. It is promising to see that the BEIS committee is backing what London Fire Brigade has been saying for years. In particular that we want to see a single register database for consumers to check if their products have been recalled, manufacturers publishing risk assessments and a Government response to the working group report on product safety which was set up after a number of white goods fires.
‘Whirlpool updated its advice to tell consumers not to use their tumble dryers until fixed, after pressure from the Brigade and other agencies and are now telling people to stop using appliances if there is a known fault. It is now time for the Government to take action to make sure consumers are safe in their own homes.’