/ Home & Energy

Product safety: what more is needed to finally force reform?

London Fire Brigade

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?

Comments
Guest
HH ROGERS C.ENG.F.I.MECH.E. says:
20 January 2018

Immediately this fault was disclosed I had all thee dyers in our complex stripped and checked. Although, by the very nature of the process, carry-over of fine particles would occur, the amount of deposition was low—- good filtration. These dryers are not Whirlpool design. A scheduled re-check is in being.
Whirlpool behaviour is deplorable; they should be systematically instituting machine checks to ensure that there is no re-occurrence of such a disaster.

Guest

It’ll be fine of course because the Government is very keen on introducing sprinklers into the building regs aren’t they……?

Guest

Sprinklers are now mandatory in Wales. As kitchen fires start for a variety of reasons – cooking is many times more likely to start a fire than a domestic appliance – having an automatic extinguishing (or attempt at) system seems very sensible.

Guest
GWEN McHUGH says:
21 January 2018

Please do your research before making comments about these faulty dryers. I keep seeing the word ‘CHEAP’ machines. My daughter bought a faulty hotpoint dryer, she saved for 8 months to by it and paid £295.00. I don’t call that cheap. The dryer was 13 months old when we realised the dryer was one of the faulty ones. Hotpoint offered a replacement at a cost of £100, money she didn’t have. She had to accept repair. It took 12 months before the engineer came out and the fault apparently was a rivet on the back of the drum a piece of tape was put over it and the engineer was gone in 10 minutes. So regardless of how careful people were to follow manufacturers recommended maintenance unless they took the back of the machine off (not recommended unless you are an engineer) it would have made little difference.
These machines should have been recalled as soon as they knew there was a safety issue.
Had it not been for the media, we wouldn’t have known it was faulty even though my daughter registered her machine when she bought it. The manufacturers should be held accountable and it should be legally bound to contact all those who registered their products not leave consumers to find out for themselves.
The problem is companies buy out their competitors and become monopolies (like Corrillian) and don’t care about their customers because they no longer have to compete. Where did pride in their products go?
Like everything nowadays PROFIT BEFORE SAFETY.

Guest

The average price of Which?’s “best buy” tumble dryers is £646.50, and of the “don’t buts” £202. This suggests a link between certainly price and performance, and very probably quality. You do tend to get what you pay for.

Guest

All products have to comply with the same safety standards, irrespective of price.

Guest

That is perfectly true, and they should. However, there was seemingly a design flaw in the dryer – presumably derived from Indesit – that Gwen has. I was simply pointing out that while some might see a £295 drier as not really cheap, those that perform best seem to cost a good deal more. My comment was not about safety, but about what a decent dryer seems to cost.

Guest

Fair enough, but it’s complicated by the fact that Which? has made all Whirlpool brands including Hotpoint and Indesit ‘Don’t Buys’ thanks to the appalling behaviour of the company. I strongly support this action.

Meanwhile back on safety, buying a heat pump tumble dryer should be a safer option than a condenser or vented dryer because it will not have a powerful heater that could ignite lint or fluff – the most likely cause of fire. Heat pump dryers are more expensive, not as fast at drying but cheaper to operate. They are the only ones I would consider buying.

Guest

as we’ve said before, a lower temperature conventional heater could be as safe.

Guest

As I’ve pointed out before, no manufacturer makes one, as far as I know. On the other hand there is a wide choice of heat pump dryers available from different manufacturers.

Guest

At a price. Can people who need tumble dryers afford to buy them? There is an article on heat pump dryers here: http://www.ukwhitegoods.co.uk/help/buying-advice/tumble-dryers/3845-are-heat-pump-dryers-worth-it

There are far more common causes of fire than tumble dryers.I hope that we learn from those that do occur to improve products that fail whether due to a fault, abuse or misuse. Sprinklers would be a sensible choice to ensure whatever the cause the fire could, hopefully, be controlled sufficiently while the brigade arrives, with cookinig the major culprit.

Guest
GWEN McHUGH says:
22 January 2018

The dryer in question is Hotpoint. If everyone had the means to buy dryers costing over £600, would companies then put more effort into safety? I think not. The safer dryers would then cost £1000. If I buy an electrical item and follow all manufacturers recommendations of use, should I still have to worry about safety?

Guest

No, safety should not be a worry. The Whirlpool dryer problem was a, presumably undetected, design issue until they were in use for some time (at least I hope that was the case). As was said above, all electrical products must meet the requirements of international safety standards, irrespective of price. A higher price should not mean “safer”, but generally better built to perform better and last longer.

Guest

As regards fire risk, there is not really any way of having zero fire risk at home.

Buying quality appliances – and using them according to manufacturers’ instructions will minimise but not completely eliminate the associated risks.

For example, an appliance like a quality tumble dryer may wear out gradually over time.

Eventually, it may become sufficiently worn that it becomes “dangerous” and so needs to be replaced.

I don’t think manufacturers will be able to set out clear instructions on when that needs to happen. Instead householders will need to exercise good judgement on when to replace appliances.

I don’t have a dryer. I do have a 30 year old washing machine that still works great. But, using the learning from experience on these convos, I now never run it unattended and I keep a fire extinguisher and a fire blanket close by.

Guest

Here is a Which? article that mentions heat pump tumble dryers: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/tumble-dryers/article/how-to-buy-the-best-tumble-dryer

It’s often claimed that heat pump dryers are slow compared with standard condenser and vented dryers, but they have improved. Heat pump dryers are more complex but fridges and freezers use heat pumps and they have a good reputation for reliability. Perhaps the cost of heat pump dryers will fall as they become more popular. Considering how much many people pay for a new kitchen, a heat pump dryer is not a huge expense. So far I have failed to find examples of fires caused by heat pump dryers, though as Derek says there is no way of eliminating risk.

Guest

Many people can’t afford new kitchens, so I sympathise with those who need to be careful with what they spend on an appliance. This is why I want Which? to be more thorough in how they assess products. I would like to see real value for money assessed, not just initial performance. For example, how well made is it (an indication that it could last longer), is it economically repairable (so I can keep it working), does the actual manufacturer (whoever made the brand) generally produce durable products? Then I’ve a better chance of choosing a decent machine that I might afford. The chances of it causing a fire are very very very low, particularly if I follow the instructions and use it properly.

Guest

I would like to see some redistribution of wealth between the rich and poor but that seems unlikely. 🙁 In the meantime, I think there is a good case for those that can afford to buy heat pump tumble dryer to do so. Forgetting to clean the filter might not have serious consequences.

As I have suggested before, a minimum guarantee period of five years would help ensure that white goods and other products were better made and more reliable because the company could not afford to pay for may repairs during this five year period.

Guest

“I would like to see some redistribution of wealth between the rich and poor but that seems unlikely. 🙁”

Presumably, those of us with greater than average wealth are all in a position to do something about this right now, not least by donating surplus income to suitable charities and other good causes.

Guest

Agreed Derek. Why do we have to wait for someone to “do it for us”? Taxes redistribute wealth, returned through the benefits system, so one way is to vote for higher taxes and higher benefits. One of my concerns would be that the wealth is redistributed to those who need and deserve it, not to those who do not want to contribute work but just try to live of others.We are fortunate these days that real poverty (as opposed to being in the lower end of the wealth scale) where you cannot clothe, feed, house or warm yourself is far less than it used to be. We do need to provide special help for those who do find themselves truly destitute.

Guest

“Many people can’t afford new kitchens, so I sympathise with those who need to be careful with what they spend on an appliance. This is why I want Which? to be more thorough in how they assess products.”

Those who cannot afford to spend much on appliances are unlikely to be subscribers and so not have access to information in Which? reports. I don’t suppose you are suggesting that the reports are made publicly available.

Incidentally, I have no time for helping those who decide that it’s a good idea to live off the state when they have the ability to support themselves.

Derek – I support wealth distribution by taxation. Many of us do support charities.

Guest

The vast majority of people are not subscribers to Which? but I have suggested Which? could offer additional ways to access product reports, on a pay per view basis perhaps, so they do not have to subscribe. I’d like to see many more people using Which?

Guest

@pkemplehardy, Peter, I have asked this question on numerous occasions but Which? have never, as far as I am aware, replied. If we do not know who owns defective appliances, such as Indesit et al unsafe dryers, how can you possibly arrange a “full recall”? Publicity has not worked. So just how do you contact all the owners? Perhaps you could seek out Which?’s view?

Guest

Whirlpool has never issued a recall, Malcolm. Despite all the publicity, all we have is a safety notice for the various brands, for example this one for Hotpoint: https://safety.hotpoint.eu/controller?a=pr&country=UK&lang=en_GB In my view the matter should have been taken out of the hands of Whirlpool and a recall issued by Trading Standards.

Guest

I do not know how you affect an effective recall when you do not know who to recall appliances from if they never registered them. That is my question of Which? All I can see that can be done is to publicise affected products, hope people read the publicity, inspect their appliance serial number and then bother to do something about it. In Whirpool’s case, even when that was done they were allowed to take action in a way and a timescale that was totally unreasonable, something Peterborough trading Standards were a party to and no one did anything of any real value to help affected consumers.

This is why I want to see compulsory regitsration at the point of purchase so that this will not happen to such an extent in the future, but unless we do something positive, rather than just talk, we’ll still be in the mire 3 more years down the line.

Indesit were/are members of AMDEA. I wonder how many registered their appliances with them through AMDEA and whether Indesit, or now Whirlpool, contacted all those affected customers.

Guest

We can thank Which? for seeking judicial review of how Peterborough Trading Standards – the primary authority for handling negotiations with Whirlpool – for making the company retract their advice that it was OK to continue to use the dryers that had been implicated in fires. In my view, the company should have been told to issue a full recall or, as I have suggested, this should have been done independently of the company.

In view of the failings of Trading Standards, for reasons we have discussed, I am glad that TS has not been given the job of setting up a new product safety office.

I do not know what use has been made of TV to raise awareness of recalls and safety notice. In view of the large number of affected machines, the company could have put a leaflet through every letterbox in the country.

Many of us do want prompt action and I am encouraged that product safety seems to be high on the agenda for Which?

Guest

I wonder, in view of the lack of response of owners to other publicity, how many would see or heed any advice not to use them? So much for a judicial review. Far too little, far too late to be of any real help to affected customers. We should have done far more, far sooner, to help consumers given the legal protection that SoGA offered to many.

We need to do something constructive in these situations.

I don’t think a universal condemnation of trading standards is at all justified on the basis of Peterborough TS’s failings in this one instance. I’d rather have what was a decent organisation, until the cuts, rebuilt, using what expertise remains, to continue in the work it was partly set up to do, than to start with novices.

Guest

@malcolm-r I’m replying on behalf of @darren-shirley and @pkemplehardy as both are tied up in lots of meetings and campaigning work at the moment…

So, as you know Which? has been calling for a recall of the fire risk Whirlpool owned-brand tumble dryers, because these products are dangerous. Whirlpool should be doing everything possible to remove the 1m defective machines remaining in consumers homes. A recall notice could allow a consumer with a dangerous product to get a refund or replacement. This would give consumers clearer course to getting redress than the corrective action put into place through Whirlpool’s modification programme. Recall notices require manufacturers to use “reasonable endeavours” to organise the return of a dangerous product, they do not solely rely on manufacturers to communicate with consumers who have registered their products. Given the potential for tragedy that a fire risk appliance represents, Whirlpool should be communicating far more proactively with consumers.

Guest

@ldeitz, thanks Lauren. We agree on all of that. It seems a case of how it should happen.

If Whirlpool don’t know who owns all of these defective driers I do not see how a full recall can be implemented. Despite all the publicity many owners have not responded. Sale of Goods Act gave consumers a legal redress for admitted unsafe products and I would have thought should have been advised at the outset as one of the options – claim on the selling retailer in what was a clear cut failure to meet the contract..

Where Whirlpool failed was in their treatment of many customers who did contact them. I’m not sure what effective “reasonable endeavours” they could have made, unless they did not give the problem adequate publicity. And as Peterborough Trading Standards appear to have taken control of the problem, they seem to have not done what was necessary to manage the Whirlpool response.

So I remain critical of all those involved. The outcome shows how the consumer was failed.

Do Which? support compulsory product registration to be implemented as soon as possible to deal with any future problems of this kind (hopefully very few)? If so, are they lobbying/campaigning/putting constructive suggestions to the government?

Guest
Corporal says:
9 February 2018

As stated products should be to the laid down standard and if problems are revealed Government should ensure that they are corrected by whatever means necessary. What are trading standards doing?

Guest
Patricia C says:
28 April 2018

My condenser dryer has recently died a death and l now don’t know which one to buy. Any suggestions would be very welcome.

Guest

I suggest you buy a heat-pump dryer, Patricia. It will cost more but be cheaper to run.

With a condenser dryer there is the possibility of fluff and lint being recirculated to the heater, which is hot enough to start a fire. A heat-pump dyer does not have a high temperature heater, so is safer.

Guest
Patrick Taylor says:
29 April 2018

Miele make quality products. I have had mine for over a decade with no problems whatsoever. And reasonably heavy usage.

I noted that ,though not guaranteed for commercial use, the Fred Olsen line had several in the onboard passenger laundry on the Black Watch a few years ago. Unfortunately they had not replaced the broken/torn filters which created a large “lint” covering to the walls of the air passages which considerably slowed down the drying time. Very silly. Filters were eventually fitted though whether the air passages were cleared out I do not know.

Guest

I’ve only had two dishwashers and a vacuum cleaner but have been delighted with their performance, durability and Miele’s helpful response when I’ve needed repair advice and parts – once for an elderly dishwasher and once for a broken handle on the old vacuum. some of the models are very expensive but others are not and I’d certainly look at those if we need to replace the washing machine or tumble dryer.

Guest

I regularly discuss reliability of products with friends, family and complete strangers. A few days ago, I was discussing lawnmowers with a chap who had a passion for lawnmowers and build quality. He then went on to say that he had bought an expensive Miele washing machine and soon after the ten year guarantee/warranty had expired it failed and the repair cost would be about £1200. After this and other experiences with expensive white goods he now buys cheaper (but not cheap) products. My limited research suggests that Miele products are often reliable but when repairs are needed they can be extremely expensive, so become beyond economical repair.

Guest
Celia says:
29 April 2018

How does home insurance work if God forbid it does go on fire will they pay out because off all the publicity the fires are getting

Guest

If you have taken sensible precautions and, for a defective dryer, unplugged it then there is no reason for a fire; if there is then your insurance should cover you. They may well seek recompense from the appliance manufacturer if the cost of damage warrants it..

Guest

I’ve not heard of insurance companies making claims against product manufacturers. Is there evidence that this happens?

Guest

It was a hope that if an extensive loss occurs that were directly attributable to negligence by someone else that a claim would be made by the insurer.

Guest

It would be good if it happened. 🙁 Car insurers have ‘knock for knock’ agreements under which companies pay claims for their own customers rather than investigate who was to blame in an accident.

I suspect that if you have a house fire due to a faulty appliance your insurer will push up your insurance premium and since you have to declare claims, moving to another company is unlikely to be the answer. It took me a great deal of effort to persuade my house insurer not to hike my premium for a subsidence claim on my previous home. Until I can say that I have not made a claim for the previous X years I am likely to face higher premiums, despite my claim having cost the company £1635 of which I had paid £1000 excess.

Guest
Jacky says:
26 October 2018

Hotpoint are lying they told me that following modification that home insurance would be valid
I challenged them they have absolutely nothing to evidence this statement because they have not contacted insurance companies

Guest
Simone says:
16 May 2018

I bought an Indesit tumble dryer 6 month ago which has been acknowledged as one that is at risk does that mean that it was made between 2004 and 2015? I am confused . It is the Indesit IDC8T3B (uk)Series

Guest

Have a look at this page, Simone: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2015/12/113-hotpoint-indesit-and-creda-tumble-dryer-models-pose-fire-risk-426557/

There is a link to the Indesit page that lets you check whether your dryer is affected by the fire risk issue. Hopefully it will have a green sticker that indicates that it is OK. If in doubt, please call the company for advice.

Guest
Stephen says:
4 September 2018

My Hotpoint tumble dryer caught fire, lots of smoke damage but thankfully I noticed it in time. The fire brigade were amazing. I’m furious with Hotpoint!

Guest

Wow! That’s so scary, Stephen. I hope everyone was ok and unharmed.

Have you spoken to Hotpoint since the incident?

Guest
Michael says:
2 October 2018

My son as an hotpoint tumble dryer, it is one of those at risk of catching fire. He notified hotpoint when this first came to light which was around 2015/2016 hot point said it will be repaired ASAP .To date no body as been round to repair this dryer.Can anyone advise me what he should do.

Guest
Jacky says:
26 October 2018

Hotpoint are providing false and misleading information
Modified driers are still catching fire and Hotpoint ate advising that this will not affect your home insurance
I have asked them for proof of which insurance companies they contacted prior to giving me this information they haven’t contacted any !!!
I then received an email telling me to plug in my faulty drier When challenged they advised it was another error on their part
I have zero faith in Hotpints service or modification
They will not guarantee the modification is 100 percent safe either so why would I risk it
I have asked for a replacement drier which they have refused
I would like to push for a total product recall onn these dangerous machines.