Whirlpool admits around 800,000 fault dryers in UK homes
THE COMPANY has admitted to a government committee that ‘there could be as many as’ 800,000 fire risk tumble dryers in UK homes.
Last month, the company was ordered by the government to recall up to half a million dryers in what was called 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’, with the company 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 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 this year, 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’.
BBC News has now reported that in another session at the government’s business, energy and industrial strategy select committee, Whirlpool has admitted there ‘could be as many’ as 800,000 affectted dryers, after company executives were pressed by MPs to admit that the number of unmodified machines ‘could be higher’. Around 750 fires ‘at least’ were blamed on the fault in an 11 year period, the government stated, with Whirlpool contending it had logged 54 in ‘recent years’.
Three of those ‘were in machines that had been modified’, while London Fire Brigade’s deputy assistant commissioner Charlie Pugsley said that it had seen a ‘wide range of faults causing fires in machines that had already been modified’. Customer Jemma Spurr told the committee that her modified dryer had caught fire, adding that ‘despite repeated attempts to get in touch with Whirlpool directly’, she had ‘never received the report on the cause of her fire’, or an apology.
She also claimed that she had been asked to sign a non disclosure agreement about the incidents, but spoke out ‘anyway’, with Whirlpool executive Jeff Noel apologising to Ms Spurr during the hearing and stating that it had ‘modified every machine bought to its attention’. The company also said that non disclosure agreements were ‘standard industry practice during insurance settlements’.
The BBC’s Colletta Smith, consumer affairs correspondent, stated that the company has seen a ‘string of bad publicity’, with its corporate vice president Jeff Noel having had to respond to safety concerns about its fridge freezers following the Grenfell Tower fire, and this latest appearance in front of a government committee not ‘the first time’ it has had to defend itself.
She added that ‘customers are understandably frustrated, and the white goods market is particularly dependent on trust’, with consumers ‘more likely to read online reviews’ or ask family and friends for recommendations on household appliances ‘than any other purchase’, with this ‘string of damaging news’ affecting Whirlpool at a time of ‘increased competition’. During the recall, customers will be able to have current dryers modified or get a new machine ‘free of charge’.
Whirlpool Corportation gave the following statement: ‘The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) recently concluded a comprehensive year-long review of the dryer programme which confirmed that the modification is effective in resolving the issue. Safety is always our number one priority and we remain committed to resolving all unmodified dryers affected by this issue.
‘As we updated the committee, we are expanding our recall campaign to include further options to encourage remaining consumers to come forward and remedy their unmodified appliances. The crucial message to anyone who still owns an affected dryer and has not already had it modified by Whirlpool is to contact us immediately on 0800 151 0905, or visit https://safety.hotpoint.eu/, https://safety.indesit.eu/ or https://safety-swan.eu.
‘As advised by OPSS, consumers whose tumble dryers have been modified can continue to use them safely and there is no need to contact Whirlpool at this time.’
Sue Davies, strategic policy adviser at consumer group Which?, commented: ‘With Whirlpool admitting it has only managed to provide a modification or replacement for a tiny proportion of affected machines in the last two years, it's clear that the company is failing to do enough to keep customers safe. Now it has acknowledged that modified machines are still catching fire.
‘If the safety of Whirlpool's fire-risk tumble dryers cannot be assured, secretary of state Greg Clark must step in and ensure that all potentially dangerous machines are immediately removed from people's homes.’