Whirlpool recall discovers 65,000 fire risk dryers

Whirlpool recall discovers 65,000 fire risk dryers

THE COMPANY’S recall of fire prone tumble dryers has discovered 65,000 such units so far, with ‘hundreds of thousands’ said to ‘still remain’ in UK homes.

The company admitted in July to a government committee that ‘there could be as many as’ 800,000 fire risk dryers in UK homes. In June, it was ordered by the government to recall up to half a million in an ‘unprecedented’ government recall, ‘four years’ after fire safety concerns were first raised. 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’.

Specifically, the risk has been that lint could build up around the rear drum seal, fall onto the dryer’s heater, ignite and catch fire. In May 2018, BBC Watchdog Live ‘uncovered cases’ where Whirlpool tumble dryers caught fire ‘after being fixed’, the company having previously faced criticism for failing to recall up to one million dryers, 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 dryers are still being used in the UK, and told the government that Whirlpool ‘should be made to’ recall fire risk tumble dryers.

It had been angered by the company’s decision to close its replacement scheme for the two types of dryers, launched in 2015, and in February consumer group Which? called for ‘clarity’ after 30 consumers reported that fixed dryers had caught fire, produced smoke or a burning smell. It 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, but when its report was released in April, Which? criticised the OPSS’ reporting as ‘fundamentally flawed’, and said that the report ‘appears to favour Whirlpool’s interest over people’s safety’.

Now, BBC News has reported on the 65,000 units recalled so far, with the new report that ‘up to 800,000 were estimated to still be in use when the full recall began’. Options given in the recall include a free replacement ‘with no extra charges for collection or disposal’; a discounted upgrade to a higher specification model than the free replacement; or a ‘partial refund’ of up £150.

The news outlet added that of the 65,000 located affected dryers, offers for a resolution have been made on 63,000, with 42,00 repaired, replaced or refunded ‘so far’, and it taking a week ‘on average’ for new units, modifications or refunds to be processed. Around 73% requested a replacement, Whirlpool vice president Jeff Noel stating that ‘nothing matters more to us than people’s safety, so it is absolutely vital that we can identify where these affected dryers are and resolve the issue’.

Whirlpool had argued that its four year campaign had ‘resolved the issue for more than 1.7 million people’, making it ‘five times more successful than a typical product recall’, but its initial response had been described as ‘woeful’, and BBC News added that ‘high-profile critics’ had said that the company ‘had a responsibility to deal with the situation adequately’.

MP Rachel Reeves, chair of the business committee, added that despite an improvement in Whirlpool’s handling of the issue ‘concerns remained’, adding that the committee was worried about the ‘number of potentially dangerous machines that remained’ in homes, with the modification process ‘not as good as it should be’. It also wants an improvement on policing of the second hand market, with wider concerns ‘not helped by the lack of a fully independent product safety regulator’.