Whirlpool ‘worst offender’ for London white goods fires
ACCORDING TO London Fire Brigade (LFB) data, the manufacturer’s machines caused ‘three times more’ fires in London over the last eight years than the next company.
The Guardian reported on the LFB figures, which found that ‘tumble dryers and other white goods’ from Whirlpool caused ‘more than three times’ as many fires in the city in the last eight years ‘as the next worst offending manufacturer’, in this case Bosch. In total, 2,891 fires in houses, flats and public settings led to 10 deaths and 348 injuries, with the data compiled featuring details of all manufacturers whose products had triggered over 50 fires each.
From January 2009 to September 2017, 895 Whirlpool or its umbrella brands’ products caused fires, including 69 under the Whirlpool brand, 502 under Hotpoint, 257 under Indesit, 12 under ProLine, 51 under Creda and four under Swan. Bosch appliances caused 276 fires, with 203 Bosch, 55 Neff and 18 Siemens appliances responsible. Finally, Hoover/Candy saw 209 fires caused, Beko 191 and AEG/Electrolux/Zanussi with 157.
The site reflected on Whirlpool being ‘mired in controversy’ over its previous decision ‘not to recall faulty items at risk of bursting into flames’, with The Guardian stating that the Grenfell Tower fire ‘was also sparked by a fridge freezer under Whirlpool’s Hotpoint brand’. It also pointed out that the data ‘highlighted the potential dangers of household white goods’, two years after a fire risk in Whirlpool tumble dryers was identified.
Whirlpool’s response to the data was to question the ‘reliability’ of the figures, which it said should be ‘seen in the context of their strong market share’, while The Guardian pointed out that the Grenfell Tower fire ‘raised further concerns about electrical product safety, and pushed the issue up the political agenda’. The largest number of fires involved washing machines, at 908, followed by tumble dryers with 608, refrigerators at 600, dishwashers at 426, washer dryers at 192 and spin dryers at 69.
With flammable foam filled plastic backing igniting ‘easily’, refrigerator and freezer fires have ‘become a huge worry for firefighters’, as they produce ‘intense heat and toxic smoke’. LFB has called for manufacturers to switch to fire resistant backings ‘as standard’, urging consumers to ‘check specifications and only buy machines’ with this fire resistant backing.
Dan Daly, LFB assistant commissioner for fire safety, said: ‘How many more devastating fires do there have to be before it is made easier for consumers to check whether their fridges, freezers or tumble dryers are on a recall list? We also want business to step up and change how some fridges and freezers are manufactured.’
Earlier this month, it was announced that one million Whirlpool tumble dryers in UK homes are ‘at risk of bursting into flames’. The company’s communications director Ian Moverley told MPs ‘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’. 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.
It had identified a fire risk defect ‘caused when excess fluff touches the heating element’, but 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 on how many 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 that the current product safety system ‘was close to breaking point’.
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.