Yet another report has been published today to shame the ‘woeful’ response from Whirlpool to its fire-risk dryer saga and the ‘painfully slow’ response from Government too. So what more evidence is needed to finally improve our safety system?
Last October, Pete Moorey wrote here on Which? Convo about flaws in the product safety system after he gave evidence to the BEIS select committee.
Well, that group of influential MPs on the select committee have today joined the growing chorus of support for urgent action from Government and manufacturers to improve the product safety system. And it’s no surprise really…
Whirlpool safety issues
The select committee held its evidence session in response to rising concerns related to a number of product safety issues. Most prominently was the long and sorry episode related to Whirlpool’s fire-risk tumble dryers.
For background, in August 2015 Whirlpool informed Peterborough Trading Standards (PTS) that more than 100 Creda, Hotpoint, Indesit, Proline and Swan tumble dryer models (all brands owned by Whirlpool) or up to 5.3 million tumble dryers in the UK were affected by a fault, eventually linked to around 750 fires by 2016.
Since the news broke, we’ve attempted to intervene on a number of times due to what we see as Whirlpool’s failure to act in the best interests of consumers. Yet, Whirlpool continued to resist our calls for a full recall of these potentially dangerous machines, and instead continued with its modification programme.
In October 2017, it admitted to the select committee that one million tumble dryers remain in people’s homes.
Following the evidence session, Whirlpool withdrew its replacement programme, further calling into question its willingness to do all it could to get these dangerous products out of consumers’ homes.
And not forgetting that in September 2017 we also discovered that Whirlpool had been implicated in yet another product safety scandal. An inquest into a fatal fire in Llanwrst found that the fire had been caused by a different fault in one of the 100 affected models of Whirlpool-owned brand tumble-dryer.
Subsequently, the Coroner issued a ‘Section 28: Prevention of Future Deaths’ report that called into question Whirlpool’s approach to risk assessment. It expressed the Coroner’s ‘considerable concern’ that Whirlpool’s reluctance to act on reported fires was an obstacle to preventing fires and saving lives.
At present, Whirlpool has not undertaken any corrective action related to this fault.
Product safety system
These safety issues and failures to effectively remedy them have highlighted serious flaws in the UK’s product safety system.
We’ve called on the Government to urgently set up a new national body to take responsibility for ensuring manufacturers get dangerous products out of people’s homes quickly before there is further tragedy or loss of life.
These concerns are not new. In February 2016, the government-commissioned Lynn Faulds-Wood review into product safety shone a spotlight on these issues and made recommendations, including for a national product safety agency. Sadly, these recommendations have largely gathered dust.
BEIS select committee report
It’s fair to say the BEIS select committee has not pulled any punches. In publishing the report, its Chair Rachel Reeves said:
‘Whirlpool’s woeful response to the defect in its tumble dryers has caused huge worry to people with these appliances in their homes. Their delayed and dismissive response to correcting these defects has been inadequate and we call on Whirlpool to resolve issues urgently. Whirlpool must once and for all put an end to the unacceptable situation where a million machines are acting as potential fire hazards in people’s homes.
‘These problems go deeper than just one firm. Whirlpool’s response has highlighted flaws in the UK’s product safety regime which is fragmented and poorly resourced. There is a strong case for a single national product safety agency.’
The Committee’s recommendations include:
- Whirlpool must explain how it will deal with the remaining defective and potentially dangerous machines with a resolution for all customers within two weeks of contacting the company.
- Manufacturers should make available risk assessments as soon as any defects are identified.
- The Government must publish a full response to the 2016 Faulds Wood Review on the UK’s system for the recall of unsafe products by the end of February 2018 at the latest.
- The Government should actively explore the establishment of a single national product safety agency.
- Manufacturers of plastic backed fridge freezers should act to use safer materials, based on the number of fires associated with them.
Improving the safety system
We congratulate the select committee on its report and support for meaningful change to the product safety system.
The Government’s response to rising concerns about product safety has been lacklustre. It set up the Working Group on Consumer Product Safety and Recall, whose report published in July 2017 fell a long way short of the fundamental reform needed. And yet we continue to wait for the Government to respond to this report, which was promised to MPs before Christmas.
For too long, Whirlpool has been allowed to do what it appears to believe is just enough. Meanwhile, the Government has failed to comprehend the scale of reform needed or the urgency required to give consumers confidence a robust system is in place to protect them from dangerous products.
Do you think the Government will finally take action to improve the product safety system? Do you think Whirlpool could be doing more to find those remaining one million dryers?