Which? criticises government over dryer fires report

Which? criticises government over dryer fires report

THE CONSUMER group has called the government report into Whirlpool dryers ‘fundamentally flawed’ and ‘toothless’.

In February this year, the group 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’.

Earlier this year Which? had called for the government to publish its report into the Whirlpool dryers, noting that up to 500,000 ‘potentially dangerous’ machines could still be in UK homes. The government’s Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) began an investigation in May 2018 into the ‘effectiveness’ of Whirlpool’s approach and its ‘handling’ of the modification programme.

Now the report has been released, and Which? has criticised the OPSS as ‘fundamentally flawed’ in its report, which it claims ‘appears to favour Whirlpool’s interest over people’s safety’. It said the OPSS had ‘failed to take decisive action’ to deal with the issue 11 months later, with the report having concluded that the risk to consumers ‘is low’.

Which? pointed out that it had continued to provide the OPSS with evidence of repaired dryers causing fires, but the final report confirmed that the government had ‘instructed Whirlpool to improve the way it manages risk and the way it communicates with its customers’. It cited one particular couple’s dryer fire and that it took five months, plus a fire and rescue service report citing the dryer as the cause, for Whirlpool to consider a claim ‘in the best possible terms’.

Caroline Normand, Which? director of advocacy, said: ‘This review is fundamentally flawed and appears to favour Whirlpool’s interest over people’s safety. It sends the alarming message that companies failing to deal with potentially dangerous products will not be made to take responsibility. The Office for Product Safety and Standards has failed to take decisive action to end this shocking three-year saga and instead thumbed its nose at the safety of those people who continue to report signs of fire in their modified tumble dryers.

‘We urgently need a strong, independent product safety regulator that will keep people safe. The Business Secretary, Greg Clark, must now step in and show the safety of consumers is the top priority for government, ensuring all machines that pose a risk to people’s safety are immediately removed from their homes.’

Which? also noted that it recommends users get the fixes done ‘even though our research has shown that Whirlpool’s repair might not work every time’, and advised that those with unmodified fire risk dryers stop using them ‘until you’ve had the modification carried out’. Whirlpool said it has ‘total confidence’ in the modification, and that it investigates ‘all concerns relating to its products’, stating that there have been ‘no reported incidents where the modification has proven to be ineffective’.

It added in a comment from a spokesman that it has been unable to fully investigate due to Which? ‘failing to share essential details’, and also questioned the organisation’s research. The Whirlpool spokesman added: ‘Nothing matters more to us than people’s safety – anyone who owns an affected appliance should contact us immediately on 0800 151 0905 and have their machine repaired within a week.’

Whirlpool Corporation also commented: 'We welcome the comprehensive and detailed review of the tumble dryer modification programme carried out by the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) which has concluded that the modification is effective and that consumers with modified dryers can continue to use them safely.

‘Safety is our number one priority which is why we have taken unprecedented steps to resolve this issue for consumers. We continue to urge anyone who owns a tumble dryer affected by the safety campaign to contact us to arrange a modification by calling us on 0800 151 0905.

‘We have worked closely with OPSS throughout the review and we look forward to responding formally to recommendations made in the report. We are committed that our learnings throughout this programme continue to be shared to further improve the UK product safety system and consumer confidence.’