/ 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
John Staveley says:
17 January 2018

About time too whirlpool should have done somthing ages ago,and the Goverment should have enforced it

Alan Hyatt says:
17 January 2018

Class action legal measures backed by legal aid is all these companies understand, try lobbying for that & see ’em squeak!

Dominic says:
17 January 2018

The law needs some bite in cases involving safety and damage. Either criminal sanctions against the persons responsible for these kind of incidents, including relevant company directors; or massive compensation as awarded by the courts as in the USA is needed.

H. Abbott says:
17 January 2018

We called them after waiting for months and they agreed to let us have another, which was safe. We had to pay a sum just under £100 and after 3 months it broke down. I stripped t to find that the heater was broken and furthermore it had some scorched fluff trapped behind it. We have bought another from another company.
They have no conscience. I shall not buy another of their many products.

Thomas Turner says:
17 January 2018

The government no doubt will sort it out by 2050 in line with present policy of giving stupid undertakings so far in the future( car engines osolete by 2040 etc) no body will have a clue what the original question was.
The government think the electorate are stupid and treat them so

John Martin says:
17 January 2018

It is clear that both consumer action and amended laws are required: the consumer action of boycotting the products of any manufacturer who does not immediately recall any product with such serious fault; a law which holds manufacturers liable for adequate compensation for all who are affected by the inadequate safety of their appliances. This two pronged approach would see a very rapid response to such situations in the future.

The consumer Rights Act does provide, as I see it, decent provisions for the consumer. Not only a choice of redress (replace, repair, refund) but to be done without unreasonable inconvenience. The problem that arises is proof of the manufacturers culpability; was it defective from the outset or did it lack reasonable durability, for example? Not always easy to prove, and an independent report will not come cheap.

Mike Godfrey says:
17 January 2018

This government cannot sort out big issues so what chance them sorting out tumble dryers? I despair! The manufactures should have been given a FIRM completion date or a huge fine.

John Borrett says:
17 January 2018

Where are the HSE in this? The danger they are putting people in is a criminal act under Health and Safety Laws, the fact that fires have been caused and lives lost is a fact and those responsible should be pursued. They would prosecute an employer for having a faulty ladder that causes a sprained wrist!

HAZEL WILKINSON says:
17 January 2018

If. It isn’t in this governments interest they. won’t do a thing about it they are a government of “I’m alright jacks”

Mary Hurdle says:
17 January 2018

Why do people continue to buy a product made by Whirlpool when this problem has been known about for some time. Stop buying their goods and this will make them both improve and repair or make safety changes to existing goods and do it very quickly. If necessary these goods should be replaced. I would never buy anything made by them.

It is not just Whirlpool I`m afraid I bought a brand new fridge from Argos and six weeks later when opening the door, it came away in my hand!! nearly falling on top of me.
It took a mail to the various CEOs after many emails and phone calls and wonder of wonders I got a phone call the same day telling me that the fridge would be replaced. This is the only reply I have had so buyer beware!! The fridge is a Bush larder fridge so be careful if you have one!!

Frank Ashbourn says:
17 January 2018

Every British Government got lazy, Labour, Liberals (in a coalition) and Conservatives automatically adopt EU standards, which are often ill thought out, and often have no proper remedies. It is a symptom of the EU, that it rarely thinks things through properly, giving us fire-ball appliances, diesel engines killing tens of thousands of people, planning a switch to electric vehicles without building an electricity generation to supply them, switching from coal-fired electricity generation to wood-chip which causes more pollution, whilst stripping forestation. There is no end to their folly.

A Warrillow says:
17 January 2018

Regrettably the state is abdicating its responsibilities for many years bit by bit as it retreats and leaves its citizens more or less to fend for themselves. Also buck passing major national issues to councils where a company is situated, councils don’t have the resources or cash to take on through the courts in the pursuance of what should be in the interest of the public. As usual it is the state that is at fault, this highly irresponsible and not worthy of a first world country.

A new law making all owners or board members of companies personally libel for the costs of any damage caused by defective equipment + a separate offence of personal/corporate negligence would force them to invoke recalls. Trading standards must be in a position, both legally and practicably, to force manufacturers to invoke a recall/replacement. But I suppose the most we will get from government is some wishy washy, excuse the pun, poor response. Big companies in particular are happy to reap in large profits. They must be held legally responsible for any damage their products cause.

The people have spoken. Which? have reported. The government have commented and Whirlpool continue to procrastinate. Its time now for real action. Active government intervention is necessary lest they be declared guilty of accessory after the fact.

John Duggan says:
17 January 2018

I don’t think we should hold our breath and expect this Govt. to do anything soon. They are to busy trying to take Britain out the E.U and into the wildness.
They will appoint a committee that will report back in the year Dot.

Donne Buck says:
17 January 2018

As a Peterborough resident I am very aware of this problem, which I believe started with a failure by Peterborough City Council’s Trading Standard’s to pick up the problem and fail the product until the design faults had been corrected. This is partly due to a fundamental problem with the Trading Standards system nationwide, but chiefly due to the interpretation by Peterborough Council, who are known locally as Pottyborough because of their systemic inability to provide decent services in many areas of their responsibility despite demanding all the Council Tax they possibly can. I sincerely hope that any enquiry into the Whirlpool/Hotpoint scandal will spotlight this authority’s failures as well as the national ones..

The reason that Peterborough Trading Standards is involved is because it is acting as a ‘primary authority’. This means that there is a partnership with Whirlpool that is responsible for negotiations.

In addition to the local Trading Standards offices run by councils, we have National Trading Standards. I contacted NTS recently to ask which local TS was primary authority for Currys/PC World, but they said they said they were a company and declined to provide this simple information, saying that I must contact my local Citizens Advice office. I wanted to discuss a national problem with Currys, which can be found in a long-running Conversation about upselling and laptops.

I’m not aware that anyone who has contacted Peterborough TS over the Whirlpool issue has obtained useful answers to their questions.

Valerie Morris says:
17 January 2018

What about the many people who had to pay £100 for Whirlpool to provide a replacement appliance; because, like me, no date had been set for the drier to be modified and I was too worried to live with a possibility of fire any longer. Should we not receive a refund of this cost?

S Crosbie says:
17 January 2018

If a product hasn’t got a minimum 5 year guarantee without us paying extra for cover, they shouldn’t be sold full stop, as it proves they haven’t got faith in the items they’re making and selling at extortionate prices.

I agree with the view that products should last a reasonable length of time. However, some people seem to want to pay as little as possible for an appliance and the retailers/manufacturers pander to this. But you cannot expect the same quality of components in a “cheap” product; the consequence will likely be a life of only 2 or 3 years.

I would like to see more durable products generally – they not only save resources but are general better value or money – £ per year. However, they are unaffordable to some.Quite how we get round this without legislation I don’t know.

I have been suggesting that products costing £100 or more should come with a five year guarantee. Since the company would be responsible for repairs during that time, they could not afford to have many failures to deal with, and product quality should improve. Alternatively, for mechanical products like washing machines, the guarantee period could be a certain number of cycles and this could be declared on the label that shows energy rating etc.

6236alpbach says:
17 January 2018

I have long held the view that irrespective of political leanings and Country of origin, politicians may be described as a bunch of tulips, i.e. Totally Untrustworthy Lying Inept Prevaricating Shysters. Once elected they completely forget the promises to their electorates and muddle through as always, they are too often influenced by outside forces instead of those of their electorate. Instead of Government, Maladministration might be a better description, however I would acknowledge that our lot are a great deal better than most.