New concerns over Whirlpool dryers
CONSUMER GROUP Which? has called for ‘clarity’ after 30 consumers reported that fixed dryers had caught fire, produced smoke or a burning smell.
Last May, BBC Watchdog Live ‘uncovered cases’ where Whirlpool tumble dryers have caught fire ‘after being fixed’, with Whirlpool having previously faced criticism for failing to recall up to one million dryers posing fire risks, and its appliances caused ‘three times more’ London fires than any other manufacturer, according to London Fire Brigade (LFB). In 2017 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 flat fire in Llanrwst, North Wales in October 2014.
The government’s business, energy and industrial strategy select committee was scathing of the revelation that one million faulty Whirlpool tumble dryers are still being used in the UK, and recently told the government that Whirlpool ‘should be made to’ recall fire risk tumble dryers, having been angered by the company’s decision to close its replacement scheme for the two types of dryers, launched in 2015.
Since 2004, over 750 domestic fires ‘are thought to have been started’ by affected dryers under the Hotpoint, Creda, Indesit, ProLine and Swan brands, with ‘fluff in contact with the heating element’ catching fire. Whirlpool has replaced or repaired around 3.8m dryers after identifying the fault in November 2015, but did not issue a recall, initially notifying customers that ‘they could continue to use their dryer while waiting for modification’.
This was provided dryers were ‘not left unattended’, but the advice changed in February 2017 when Whirlpool told consumers to ‘unplug and stop using the machines’, though even ‘upgraded’ versions have caught fire, ‘prompting the new demand for a formal recall’. Watchdog Live had found that some machines ‘have caught fire after being fixed’, with consumers having in some cases ‘had to drag’ burning appliances out of flats that had ‘earlier been modified’.
Now, The Guardian has reported on the ‘fresh concerns’ over repaired dryers, with Which? calling for the ‘urgent publication’ of a report into the Whirlpool dryers ‘amid fresh concerns’ about its repair programme and handling of the issue, which may have left ‘up to 500,000 potentially dangerous’ machines in UK homes.
Which? noted that over 30 consumers whose ‘fixed’ dryers had caught fire, produced smoke or the smell of burning, with some cases appearing to have been caused by ‘fluff catching on the heating element – the issue the modification was designed to fix’. Whirlpool claimed that there had ‘not been any reports of the problem reoccurring with modified machines’, though one consumer provided Which? with a report from a Whirlpool engineer that stated this was the cause.
Her machine had been fixed but started to produce smoke, and Which? said that ‘urgent clarity’ was needed for customers about the safety of the repair programme, with the government’s Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) beginning an investigation in May 2018 into the ‘effectiveness’ of Whirlpool’s approach and its ‘handling’ of the modification programme. The consumer group called for the Consumer Minister to ‘issue a recall if this cannot be guaranteed’.
Alex Neill, managing director of home products at Which?, commented: ‘The regulator’s investigation cannot continue to drag on when serious questions remain unanswered about Whirlpool’s approach to the tumble dryer scandal. It’s very concerning that hundreds of thousands of at-risk machines are still in people’s homes, and that there is still uncertainty over whether the repair programme actually works.
‘The OPSS must urgently release the findings of its investigation. If it finds Whirlpool has failed to put the safety of its customers first, the regulator must take robust enforcement action, including a full recall if necessary.’
In response, Whirlpool said it had been ‘unable to fully investigate’ the ‘allegations’, as Which? had ‘failed to provide essential details to support its claims, despite repeated requests for this information. We cannot therefore offer a considered response to Which?’s claims, and we question the reliability of its research methods’.
A spokesman added: ‘We have total confidence in the tumble dryer modification, which was extensively tested before and after being implemented. UK regulatory bodies have repeatedly concluded that the modification is the most effective way of rectifying this issue. We thoroughly investigate all concerns relating to our products as soon as they are reported to us. We can confirm there have been no reported incidents where the modification has proven to be ineffective.’