Whirlpool recalls 500,000 washing machines over fire risks

Whirlpool recalls 500,000 washing machines over fire risks

THE COMPANY has announced that ‘more than half a million’ machines need to be recalled ‘because of the risk of them catching fire’, after it had already recalled thousands of dryers.

The company admitted in July that ‘there could be as many as’ 800,000 fire risk dryers in UK homes, after being ordered by the government in June to recall up to half a million ‘four years’ after 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’ or lint building up around the rear drum seal, falling onto the heater.

Whirlpool has replaced or repaired around 3.8m dryers after identifying the fault in November 2015, but did not issue a recall, notifying customers that ‘they could continue to use their dryer while waiting for modification’. This was provided dryers were ‘not left unattended’, but advice changed in February 2017 when it told consumers to ‘unplug and stop using the machines’, though even ‘upgraded’ versions have caught fire, ‘prompting the new demand for a formal recall’.

In May 2018, BBC Watchdog Live ‘uncovered cases’ where dryers caught fire ‘after being fixed’, Whirlpool having faced criticism for failing to recall up to 1m 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 2014.

The government’s business, energy and industrial strategy select committee was scathing of the revelation that 1m faulty dryers are still being used in the UK, and told the government Whirlpool ‘should be made to’ recall fire risk tumble dryers. It had been angered by the decision to close a replacement scheme, and in February consumer group Which? called for ‘clarity’ after 30 people reported fixed dryers had caught fire, produced smoke or a burning smell.

The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) began an investigation in May 2018 into the ‘effectiveness’ of Whirlpool’s approach and ‘handling’ of the modification programme, but when its report was released in April, Which? criticised it as ‘fundamentally flawed’, and stating that it ‘appears to favour Whirlpool’s interest over people’s safety’. Most recently it had recalled 65,000 units, but now The Guardian has reported that over half a million Whirlpool washing machines need to be recalled due to a fire risk.

Certain Hotpoint and Indesit models sold between 2014 and 2018 are affected, a spokesperson said, adding that ‘when the heating element in the washing machine is activated, in very rare cases a component in the door lock system can overheat, which, depending on product features, can pose a risk of fire’. Approximately 519,000 affected machines make up ‘about 20% of the total number sold’, with Whirlpool stating customers should visit www.washingmachinerecall.whirlpool.co.uk.

The OPSS’ chief executive Graham Russell commented: ‘Whirlpool is recalling models of washing machines due to consumer safety concerns. They have advised consumers with affected models to unplug their machine until it is replaced. The Office for Product Safety and Standards will closely monitor Whirlpool to ensure the recall is carried out successfully.’

Sue Davies, chief policy adviser at Which?, said: ‘This safety alert will cause huge disruption for millions of people who will have no washing machine over Christmas, and following the tumble dryer scandal, leaves Whirlpool’s reputation as a company that can be trusted on product safety in tatters. People will rightly be asking what Whirlpool knew about these fire-risk machines and when, so there must now be a thorough investigation into this public safety issue.

‘We know the company has a track record for appearing to put corporate reputation ahead of public safety in its disgraceful handling of the unsafe tumble dryer crisis. Customers will be hugely frustrated that this recall is not set to start for weeks and that they are not being offered refunds for machines from a brand they may no longer want to have in their homes.

‘This ongoing saga with Whirlpool demonstrates once again that our product safety system is not fit for purpose and that the OPSS should be replaced with a new independent product safety regulator with real powers to finally hold companies to account over dangerous products.’