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Andy Slaughter MP: ‘I want Whirlpool to implement a full product recall’

burnt tumble dryer

Andy Slaughter is Labour MP for Hammersmith. After a fire caused by a faulty Whirlpool tumble dryer damaged 26 flats in a block in his constituency, he’s calling on the government to urge the manufacturer to change its safety advice and issue a full product recall.

On 19 August, a fire broke out in a flat on the seventh floor of a high-rise block in Shepherds Court, Shepherds Bush, which is in my constituency.

The fire was caused by a faulty Whirlpool tumble dryer, and quickly spread throughout the building, causing damage to 26 flats across five floors. Up to 120 fire fighters attended the scene to put out the blaze.

The owner of the tumble dryer, Mrs Defreitas, was aware the machine was faulty and had followed Whirlpool’s safety advice to be present in the property and awake when the dryer was operating.

Despite this, a fire broke out and destroyed her home. Thankfully, the fire only caused a few minor injuries, with no loss of life. However, it could have been much worse.

Action urgently needed

There are approximately five million faulty Whirlpool tumble dryers in Britain. Over 120 models of dryer manufactured by Indesit, Swan, Creda and other lesser-known brands between 2004 and 2015 all share the same fault, whereby fluff gets trapped in the lint filter, overheats and can catch fire.

According to Whirlpool figures, approximately one million of these machines are believed to be out of use, while 1.4 million were registered and have now been replaced or repaired.

That means there are around 2.9 million unregistered Whirlpool tumble dryers that are yet to be modified. This is an enormous number of tumble dryers that pose a risk to life and property, and will do so as long as they continue to operate unmodified.

Since the Shepherds Bush fire, I have been calling on Whirlpool to change its safety advice to customers, as recommended by the London Fire Brigade, which advises consumers to unplug and cease using the machines with immediate effect.

I would also like Whirlpool to implement a full product recall, rather than merely replacing or modifying the faulty dryers.

What’s the government doing?

I have raised this issue on several occasions in the House of Commons, including in an Adjournment Debate I led on 13 September. The debate received cross-party support, but the response from the government was less than satisfactory.

As a result, I have since met with the Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility, Margot James MP, to discuss the issue.

Unfortunately, the government has so far failed to accept the severity of the risk posed by these faulty tumble dryers, so Whirlpool continues to avoid having to take any further action to rectify the situation. This is incredibly disappointing, given how potentially dangerous these machines can be.

However, I will continue to work closely with Which?, the London Fire Brigade, my colleagues and consumers, to force Whirlpool to listen to our concerns and ensure that no further damage occurs as a result of its faulty dryers.

I have also launched a petition calling on the government to urge Whirlpool to change its safety advice to consumers and implement a full product recall.

If you would like to sign the petition, you can do so here.

This is a guest contribution by Andy Slaughter MP. All views expressed here are Andy’s own, not necessarily those shared by Which?.

What do you think of Andy’s suggestion for a full product recall of faulty Whirlpool tumble dryers? What would you like to see be done about the issue?

Comments
Member

The manufacturers were evidently very aware of the fire risks attached to their tumble dryers at the point of sale. This is a excellent example of manufacturers using loopholes, exonerating them from the responsibilty of producing goods that are clearly not fit for purpose and the control Big Business has over UK trading directives.

Member

I doubt that Indesit were aware of the fire risk as far back as 2005. If they were then they should be prosecuted. I would like to know when the particular problem with Indesit dryers was first brought to light, what the design or material problem is that makes them so susceptible to fire and whether they pass the BS EN safety test. That would be useful for Andy to investigate.

I am sure Andy is aware that Iain Wright MP chairs a BEIS Committee that has twice written to Whirlpool asking to updated on “progress”. I have asked Iain Wright whether they have asked for sample dryers to be tested to find the fault, and whether they would press for compensation for customers who have been “unreasonably inconvenienced” ( waiting a year for any kind of attention counts as that, I think). They could also advice customers not to use their machines at all. Part of their reply says “I understand that the relevant Government Minister has also sought assurances over the handling of this matter and is conducting a review of product recalls and safety which will produce interim findings by the end of the year.”

There does not seem to have been much urgency about rectifying this situation by anyone involved, does there?

Criticism should be directed at Peterborough Trading Standards who seem to have been totally ineffective in dealing with Whirlpool, allowing them to set up a snails-pace programme with no thought for the consumers they are supposed to represent. Were we in the USA, I expect Whirlpool would have been forced to make large payments to recompense all customers and probably heavily fined for their desultory handing of this. However I have some (little) sympathy for them in that they inherited this huge problem when they bought Indesit. I wonder what investigation is being made of Indesit’s behaviour in bringing )this situation about by what seems a poor (or even defective design?

Member

Dryer fires are nothing new, they happen all the time on all brands.

Look at the figures, often they will not break down what brands or the percentage of each brand that suffers from a fire nor will they tell you why they went on fire.

Even these ones, you see the big splash in the media about a fire but, you never seem to see the results of the investigation and why it went on fire.

I’ll give you a clue though… there’s hardly any flammable material in a tumble dryer.

K.

Member

Discovering the cause of a fire can be difficult because a serious fire will destroy the evidence.

There may be little flammable material in the components of a tumble dryer but when in use, the fabrics in the load will be flammable once dry and it is well established that accumulation of lint is a fire risk. Instructions booklets often warn of the risk of fire if lint filters are not cleaned.

I am concerned that manufacturers of domestic tumble dryers have not included some form of interlock that requires the user to clean the filter before a cycle can be started. This would not be technically difficult or expensive.

With mains-powered electrical appliances there is always going to be a small risk of component failure and fire, but an all-metal case could contain a fire, at least in a condenser dryer. When the oxygen was used up the fire would go out. There are many photos showing that plastics used in control panels and case tops do not survive fires.

Whirlpool has warned of the fire risk associated with certain models of tumble dryers but perhaps this is an opportunity of looking at the design of dryers and other appliances with a view to improving safety standards.

Member

As far as I can see the plastic components here are pretty well intact and show little deformation. I do not know what contribution blocked lint filters make to the possibility of a fire, but it seems clear that something about the Indesit design is causing a problem. Instead of speculating we should be looking at exactly what the problem might be and how it can be dealt with in future, probably by incorporating the lessons in the safety standard so all tumble dryer manufacturers can avoid the problem in future.

I would be surprised if some organisation has not looked in detail at this, and done tests. Presumably Whirlpool will have to have come up with their modifications. The information should be made public.

I have asked Which? if they would do tests on Indesit dryers to see whether they comply with the safety standard. It seems to me Which? should be providing “action” as well as words (a lot of them since this problem first arose). Is it Which?’s job? No. It should be for someone like trading standards to do this and look after consumers safety. Citizens Advice are not equipped to do this on their behalf, I imagine.

Member

It seemed to me that the fire that caused the damage shown in the picture must have been extinguished quite soon after it started since the paintwork on the cabinet doors either side of the machine has only bubbled up and there is no apparent burning of the carcases. There is also little evidence of progressive development of the fire as all the fire damage is to a consistent extent as if an accelerant had been sprayed across the scene, set alight, and then rapidly put out. I would suggest it is not a proper illustration of the effect of a fire emanating within a tumble drier and that in a real experience, after a few minutes, there would be considerable deformation and destruction of any plastic on the machine and laminates on adjacent surfaces, and then extensive burning of chipboard and wooden panelling giving rise to intense and hazardous smoke. Any nearly-dry fabric material inside the machine would have soon caught fire and burned. That nobody has been killed yet is a miracle.

It seems strange that the Health & Safety Executive appear not to have been involved so far. Manufacturers H&S obligations do not expire at the factory gate. In fact, one is tempted to ask why are so many bodies that should be taking a professional interest in this apparently running away or sitting on their hands?

Member

The fire may have spread behind the tumble dryer shown in the photo, accounting for the burning of the worktop above. This is a stock photo that has appeared in a variety of publications. Most of the photos I have seen show plastics that have burned or melted, and here is an example of the latter:

A Google search for “tumble dryer fire” will show other examples and it is worth looking at other appliances too. Have a look at the photos and decide whether plastics are a good choice of material for the casing of tumble dryers.

The Whirlpool problem provides an excellent opportunity to look at the safety of tumble dryers and other appliances. As John says, manufacturers have a responsibility for safety.