One million tumble dryers pose UK fire threat

One million tumble dryers pose UK fire threat

AROUND one million tumble dryers produced by Whirlpool in UK homes are ‘at risk of bursting into flames’, with the company failing to update consumer advice.

The Guardian reported on the faulty appliances, from brands including Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan, Proline and Whirlpool. The company’s communications director Ian Moverley told MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy committee ‘it had been difficult to get the message out to owners of the remaining faulty machines that they needed to be replaced or modified to make them safe’, trying to justify the company’s decision ‘not to change its advice to consumers’.

This had not taken place until six months after an Indesit model caused a serious fire in Shepherd’s Bush in west London, and though nobody was killed, ‘more than 100 families were evacuated, with 26 temporarily accommodated in hotels owing to the extent of the damage’. Users were only told six months later that ‘they must unplug and not use the faulty machines’, with Whirlpool having been replacing or repairing around 3.8m ‘potentially faulty’ dryers across the UK since November 2015.

At that point, it had identified a fire risk defect ‘caused when excess fluff touches the heating element’, but it did not issue a product recall, ‘originally telling customers they could continue to use their tumble dryer while waiting for the modification, provided it was not left unattended’. Mr Moverley stated that on modifying rather than recalling models, ‘we took our response very seriously and very diligently. We doubled the number of call centres and increased the number of engineers by 70%’.

However, pressed by Conservative MP Antoinette Sandbach on how many of the faulty appliances were in UK homes, he noted that ‘what we have seen is that the number of registrations [for modification] has fallen, but we estimate 1m’. The meeting came as part of the committee’s study of electrical appliance fires after a series of blazes, with MPs warned by Leon Livermore, chief executive of the Trading Standards Institute, that the current product safety system ‘was close to breaking point’.

The system, which ‘relies on local trading standards’, may also ‘not survive Brexit’, with Mr Livermore noting that council funding cuts had affected those standards services by slashing the amount of ‘market surveillance’ they could undertake. He added that ‘the current product safety system is already under pressure and won’t survive Brexit – which will make trading standards officers’ work more complex – or further austerity cuts’.

Mr Livermore also agreed with earlier witnesses, from the Which? consumer group, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and the Electrical Safety First group, who had said ‘an overarching product safety body was needed to help protect consumers and advise them on what to do when products were faulty and potentially dangerous’.

Labour MP Rachel Reeves, chair of the committee, ‘strongly criticised’ Mr Moverley for the ‘failure to send a more senior representative from the company on the operations or safety side’, as they ‘would have been able to answer the more technical questions’. In August, London Fire Brigade, Electrical Safety First and a host of other organisations and individuals sent a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May urging action on white goods fires.

Charlie Pugsley from the NFCC told MPs that the Shepherd’s Bush fire ‘might have led to deaths had it not taken place at 4.30pm, rather than at night’, while Alex Neill of Which? stated that ‘it is shocking that despite admitting that there are 1m potentially dangerous tumble dryers in people’s homes, Whirlpool is still failing to recall these machines voluntarily. Whirlpool must no longer ignore its responsibility for the safety of its customers and must conduct a full product recall. If it does not, the government must intervene’.