/ 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
Mrs DDP says:
17 January 2018

The Conservatives do not like any sort of regulation. That is why they want to leave the EU and have cut the funding to public bodies which inspect and regulate. This is in order to fund tax cuts. They do not believe the State should look after its people, but that it should support businesses and citizens will benefit as wealth trickles down from the top. On top of that Government is paralysed by Brexit and getting rid of rights such as human rights. Why would they care about us and our fire risk tumble driers?

Believe it or not the emasculation of our trading standards services and the bonfire of the regulations were instigated by Vince Cable [Lib Dem] as Business Minister during the Coalition government.

John Graham says:
17 January 2018

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Trading Standards has been severely curtailed to become a reactive rather than a proactive organisation. We get what we pay for and the government/local authorities do not seem to want to pay for decent consumer protection.

Keith Baker says:
17 January 2018

A Tory puppet at the time, sold out for power.

What a closely argued and finely detailed reply.

My comment was in reply to John Graham and yes there is a bit of sarcasm in it.

john rakowski says:
23 January 2018

I don’t think this is Political. all products should be made to conform with European safety standards.
I agree the Government should apply pressure on manufacturers, to sort this mess out.
Manufacturers have a duty of care to supply products that are safe.

Electrical products must comply with the relevant BSEN safety standards for them to be legally put on sale in the EU (and UK for now). There is no evidence I know of that reputable manufacturers are putting non-compliant products on the market. Even the Indesit dryers are, as far as we know, compliant with the relevant standards. There is not a mess with safety standards.

What does need sorting out is tracking down non-compliant products from dodgy manufacturers that come in through equally dodgy distributors, or direct to individuals from overseas. That requires a product policing system, that trading standards should be doing, if only we funded them adequately.

BRENDA PARDOE says:
5 February 2018

Trading standards are now part of C.A.B but they are underfunded and overwhelmed with other consumer problems and benefits especially new P.I.P people being denied even though all the evidence is there from consultants etc. Clts left with no money at all while they spend weeks checking. How much is all this going to cost with people going to tribunal.
I’m all for finding the fraudsters but they manage to get away with.

That’s not quite right, Brenda. What happens is that Citizens Advice (which is run by volunteers) handles enquiries, takes details of the problem and contact details and passes this on to Trading Standards or whichever organisation can best deal with the problem. It’s much like a company does when you call them, routing calls to whichever department is relevant. It’s efficient because many who call Citizens Advice don’t necessarily know who can help.

Each time I have called Citizens Advice they have been very efficient and put me in touch with Trading Standards. Unfortunately, TS have done nothing, presumably because they are underfunded and overwhelmed thanks to successive governments failing to act.

There are several problems, to my mind, with the Citizens Advice approach, not least of which, according to what they tell me, is they keep no database of complaints and make no follow-up to see if the complaint was ever actioned, least of all advise the complainant of the outcome.

I see no reason why, as some local tradings standards still do, we cannot go back to dealing directly with those who can help us. I believe most people are knowledgeable enough to know whether their complaint is likely to involve trading standards. We then have someone to follow up with to see if our problem has been dealt with.

I wonder how many people got any king of satisfaction whith their Indesit dryer problem when dealing with Citizens’ Advice, instead of being anble to talk to Peterborough trading Standards. I believe even Which? could not talk to them……. (perhaps they’ll correct me though).

My local Citizens Advice did log my calls on computer and pass them to Trading Standards. I know that because TS was informed about each of my problems when they called me to discuss them. I cannot speak for other branches.

Mike LIMITING POTENTIAL FIRE HAZARD says:
17 January 2018

Before we jump all over other people who have been elected to represent us, the above comment about personal reonsibilities and liabilities is important. Going back to basics, where these “flawed” machines being sited? Do they have the recommended level of ventilation space around theit appliances to prevent overheating?
It is important that the front (mostly door) vent and the rear outlet of electric driers are regularly cleaned out of fabric fluff and dust. The machine would also benefit from being unplugged, wheeled out, carefully tipped on its side and carefully vacuumed around the underside. If their is a venting pipe or hose, that needs to be kept clear too. In other words the machine operators need to observe regular maintenance, personnally, or by having it serviced regularly
ANY electrical appliance with a facia switch on device is LIVE unless, switched off at the wall socket! DON’T leave appliances connected to the power supply when not in use for lengthy periods. That compromises ones safety especially since most are delivered with the maximum plug fuse of 13 Amps, which allows a high level of current flow before burning out. A good measure would be to ensure that all homes have newer power distribution boxes installed with automatic trip fuses that react to any shorting problems, even when the residents are away from home!
Finally, remember the school science we all learnt. For combustion to take place we need three things, OXYGEN, , FLAMMAABLE MATERIAL (which invariably gives off a gas that is ignited) and HEAT. Remove any one of those three things to put a fire out, or to prevent one in the first place.
This comment is not meant to absolve manufacturers from producing inherently unsafe appliances and I support draconian penalties on directors who do not ensure a good standered of consumer safety.

I support your practical suggestions, Mike, and they are a good way of avoiding problems and helping avoid premature failure.

I would like to see appliances with all-metal cases, so if a fire does start it is soon deprived of oxygen and the worst scenario is that the appliance is not repairable. In the case of vented tumble-dryers, a metal rather than plastic vent hose is essential and is a requirement in the US. I don’t know what manufacturers provide as standard but I found three parts suppliers that sell plastic vent hoses.

Though I would like everyone to install and maintain their appliances correctly, not everyone will. I expect that your appliances have plastic fascias that would melt or burn in a fire, as mine do. I would be surprised if they would contain a fire.

Mike, I agree that if the instructions tell people to do maintenance in a specific way, then theose instructions should be observed. However, we also should be making products as safe as possible without requiring intervention from the owner, as many either fail to properly read the instructions (unless all else fails), forget what they say after a few weeks, or simply ignore them. We have to try to design products to recognise the human condition.

In response to the the 5 year warranty, I doubt anyone would design a major appliance that would last 5 years or more for £100 (bearing in mind all the on costs on the manufacturers costs). I think we should find a way of achieving a statutory minimum product life – whether it be in time or number of operations – but also recognise this will have a price consequence. Is that what consumers want? Should it be imposed on them? It is environmentally desirable.

It’s the principle of a five year guarantee that’s important, Malcolm. Small fridges are available for £100 but the figure could be adjusted. Having a minimum guarantee period of five years should mean less cheap tat on the market and that can only be of environmental benefit.

In order to make progress we might have to move forward in stages such as 2, 3 and 5 year guarantees. Longer guarantees has become an important driver in car sales.

I understand the wish for longer life products, and |I support it not only here, but what we buy. I’m simply suggesting that a 5 year warranty may not be as easy to achieve as it might seem.Some products are simply more expensive to manufacture than others so a base price is not, in my view, a useful criterion. Some people may not want to pay extra for more durability – a holiday home owner for example.

I’d like to see more information given to consumers at the point of sale, as well as in reviews such as Which?, and more testing to substantiate claims. If consumers were advised formally of the likely working life of a product – years (like a fridge freezer), cycles (like a washer or dryer), hours use (like a cooker perhaps) the purchaser could make a better value judgement. Axminster do this with workshop machinery so I see no reason not to do it for electrical appliances. The guarantee on my dishwasher is 10 years/10 000hours; I assume it has an hours use recorder fitted somewhere.

I’d also like to see declared which parts that might fail are economically repairable, so we can judge whether we could extend the life of a machine that suffers wear.

Consumer Associations could do a lot to progress down this route if they worked in collaboration.

I cannot see any justification for producing appliances that are not guaranteed for a minimum of five years or a declared number of hours, whichever comes first. It would be useful for consumers’ associations in Europe to debate the possible solutions with regard to both consumer protection and cutting down the amount of waste created by early failure and non-repairability of consumer goods.

Unfortunately, we have moved away from the topic of product safety.

I see the thinking on lengthy warranties and why it might look like a quick fix nirvana but, it isn’t.

I get it and why that, if you don’t think like producer you’d think that way.

So, put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Let’s imagine that the UK introduces a mandatory five year warranty on all goods into the UK that has a plug etc on it.

What’s a producer to do?

a. Spend millions retooling to appease UK legislators?

b. Fudge a solution?

Option a is unappealing unless there’s strong and robust requirements around improving quality through a defined set of standards that apply to all producers in the sector through the EU at least if not globally or, it’s not a level playing field and they won’t as it places them at a commercial disadvantage.

Meanwhile Joe Public will continue to buy cheap and bemoan the quality/durability/safety and so on as usual. Completely oblivious unless there’s any issue.

So, b it is then.

All that they’ll do is a calculation based on projected failures through the period, what it’s going to cost to repair or replace those products and hike the price by the percentage required to meet that cost.

That’s it.

That’s all they’ll do.

To work it out all you need to do is apply Occam’s Razor.

If you want real change, there is no simple solution.

K.

Glad to see you keeping a watch on this Convo, Ken, and for your contributions from another viewpoint. Much as I would like to see longer-lived products, we live and purchase in a world economy where there are a variety of consumer demands. Why do so many buy cheap appliances when many must know you get what you pay for?

Extending the life of products and their repairability is a good thing for the world as a whole – wasteful of energy, materials and labour otherwise. But is it achievable? Not without legislation I’d suggest and, as Ken says, that has to be at least Europe-wide.

A problem with warranties is the proof needed to make a claim; they are not going to be given away lightly. Engineering better appliances, using better components, making them economically repairable is what I, as a consumer would like to see. Simply built to last longer, not subject to early replacement or repair using a costly warranty. But I’d need to be prepared to pay the price.

I wonder, though, whether the world economy stand the loss of revenue if appliance sales then fell substantially? What would provide the jobs that were lost?

Mike, it is a simple job to clean the fluff filter, but the issue here is the fine fluff build up that passes this filter and collects around the electric heaters of these dryers. The user has no means of accessing the heater element for fluff removal, this is a very serious design flaw. The fix offered by Hotpoint for my dryer has no bearing on the fire issue, it is being used as an opportunity for Hotpoint to remove the fluff in the machine and hope it will not collect quickly and catch fire in the next couple of years.
Unplugging the machine after use will not extinguish any smouldering fluff. The fuse in the plug is not fitted to protect the machine, it is fitted to protect the flex supplying the machine, that is ALL.
It is clear that you have not fully understood the issues that are involved with these machines, being a qualified Electrical Engineer places me in a position to assess and comment. Regards.

Keith Baker says:
17 January 2018

If your suggestions were implemented, I bet it wouldn’t add more than £25 – £50 per machine, to me that would be money well spent for assurances of safety. I still think that this government will drag their feet on any new legislative requirements, as they do not like regulation and want to privatise everything, including our meat inspections! If they care little for food safety, they will continue to treat product safety as poorly as they already do. Most manufacturers have a bottom line beyond which they will not go unless forced to, little enforcement from HM Gov.com!

Keith Baker says:
17 January 2018

Actually I read recently that the Swedes have implemented a scheme to encourage repairing of electrical goods to aid employment, less waste and more recycling of parts etc. Not 100% sure how it works, but it is based on better environment. I agree something needs to be done to increase safety and product quality and guarantees. One solution – everyone stops buying any Whirlpool (or subsidiary company) products, save up for another couple of months and buy a Philips, Bosch etc. Whirlpool will certainly get in a spin when their sales and profits affected.

Kathy says:
17 January 2018

I agree,but they do not make things to last now.It’s a throw away society and of course money, money, money comes in.Things are not made to last,more expensive things last longer but it’s pot luck.As for product safety ,if you make a product you should be made liable for the safety (unless tampered with).It opens lots of floodgates.

ampox says:
17 January 2018

Clearly flammable plastic should not be used in white goods. The alternative is metal, but some manufacturers use poor quality metal. My fridge will fail structurally from panel corrosion before anything else fails. Poor quality.

Actually, legally as per international standards, plastics *MUST* be used to mitigate shock risk.

I completely understand that some design decisions may not make any sense to people, parts designed to fail to save more expensive failure or write-offs and so on but there are usually very good, sound reasons for things being the way that they are.

If they were in any way a safety concern don’t you think that one of the very clever people at the manufacturers, who don’t want sued or the cost of fixing it or, at any of the international standards bodies might just have given that some thought?

What seems “obvious” to those with no knowledge and outside the arena might just, maybe over the nigh 100 years or so of appliance product design been mulled before.

There are armies of people that have gone over this stuff with a fine tooth comb thousands of times over and, as usual, there’s balances to be struck and compromises to consider.

Obvious flaws, I’d challenge any to find real hard empirical evidence to support. And I mean solid evidence, not hyperbole media reports, opinion and so on, actual hard irrefutable evidence.

If that were easy people like myself would be all over it like a rash and be shouting from the rooftops about it.

The reality is, there is no evidence as there are no glaring flaws.

Safety wise.

Longevity, durability, repairability, performance and more, oh yeah, there’s lots of scope for criticism there. Which leads to quality and h**l yeah, there’s ground to have a right pop at many on that score also.

Same, user instruction and education is painfully inadequate on most. And, that in itself leads to the rise of many safety concerns, way more than any through design.

But the things that are actually problems, well they’re a lot harder to solve, will cost a lot more and will take a fair old bit of time.

It’s easier just to burn someone at the stake, let the news revolve a cycle or two and return to normal until the next time when we again simply hit, repeat, play and do the same old dance all over again.

All the while, nothing changes.

Aside the sating of the crowds demand for an effigy to burn but that’s okay, everyone’s been distracted long enough from the real issues that nobody wants to do much anything about.

K.

I have looked at washing machines and dryers in launderettes and the switches and indicator lights were mounted on the stainless steel case rather than plastic. How is there a problem if the case is earthed?

Undoubtedly, plastics will be used as electrical insulators but if they are within a metal case that can contain fire, that’s not a problem.

I well understand that some parts are designed to fail to avoid more serious problems. Thermal fuses and thermal circuit breakers are obvious examples.

I also appreciate that incorrect installation, use and maintenance are a real problem, though if I designed tumble dryers I would incorporate safety features such as an interlock to force the user to clean the filter before starting a drying cycle. Of course interlocks can be bypassed by the foolhardy but safety features can help those who might just be a little careless.

Obviously, anyone seeking to minimise their fire risks might choose to patronise a local laundrette instead of introducing these fire risks to their houses and flats.

Are the cast of Eastenders model citizens in this regard?

Commercial machines cost at least three to four times that of a domestic machine as well as being subject to recorded regular (professional) maintenance most often.

There are not the same pressures on cost, aesthetic nor capacity and so on, they are completely different beasts for a completely different purpose.

That, for me, is akin to asking why a normal family car isn’t like a 40 foot truck or a bus, it really is that absurd a comparison from an industry perspective.

Many machines do or have had filter clean lights et all, some if not many people simply ignore them and/or complain about them. Most we see think it’s a fault when one lights up and want someone out to fix it.. i.e, clean it for them, often for free where under any form of warranty.

So from a manufacturer perspective, that’s not a win as it only leads to conflict because, so many people *do not read the manuals*!

K.

ampox, the international safety standards with which household electrical appliances must comply in Europe require “non-metallic materials” to, among other things, be resistant to ignition and spread of fire. They are not to be flammable in the normal and abnormal conditions laid down in the standard.

The inference is sometimes that those who have put together international safety standards together over many years do not understand what they are doing and that others know better. As you rightly say Ken there is always a balance to be struck in producing anything, and this must take account of safety and risk of harm. International standards are put together and constantly reviewed by a large range of experts and others with different backgrounds, including manufacturers, fire experts, consumer groups and many others.

They improve standards as new technologies, materials, experiences emerge. We can all help that process by talking to, in our case, BSI with any criticisms or ideas. They are receptive to individuals. Or we can rely on people like Which? to do that for us.

The latest cold appliances international standard (fridges freezers et al.) includes, among other amendments, a more stringent test for assessing the flammability of the back; BSI is recommending other more stringent amendments before it becomes a European standard,

If we have concerns about, say, plastics in appliances and there evaluation in safety standards we could ask Which? to discuss these with the standards bodies concerned to ask them to justify their use. These would be BSI, CENELEC and the IEC. Knowing their side of the story might help these sorts of discussions.

Ken – You have implied here and in other Conversations that metal fascias are not permitted because of the risk of electric shock, but I have offered the example of a commercial machines that have metal cases. How can a metal case be a risk if it is earthed.

Malcolm – I have posted numerous photos in other Conversations showing how plastic fascias and other parts of appliances have melted and/or burned, which would allow an internal fire to spread rather than be contained. Since it is well established that electrical appliances occasionally go on fire, for a variety of reasons, it should be obvious that standards should test the ability to contain fire before introducing plastics.

As I said above, wavechange, we should ask those who put international standards together to explain why they permit what they do. We will go on for ever looking at examples of a failure, but i’d like to see the other side of the story, something Which? could explore.

I’m still waiting, Malcolm. I’m very glad we have standards, I am aware that fire containment has been considered in the US, so maybe it is just a matter of time before appropriate changes are made.

It would be good to have some input from someone from the relevant BSI committee.

Which? presumably have now taken up BSI’s offer to join this, and hopefully other, committees. They could report on what is being done; I have asked them in the past if they will do this.

Fire containment was explored by UL (Underwirters Laboratory) in the US (in 2012 if I remember rightly,) and links were given to their work in an earlier Convo. The work was among other measures being examined by the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) who are responsible for international electrical standards. UL is influential in the field of standards so I imagine the work is being looked at seriously. I’ll look at progress, if I can find any, when I have more time, but Which? could also look at what is going on. Safety standards should, I hope, be high on their list.

I well remember the discussions about UL and fire containment well, but unless things have changed we do not have access to full details. We follow the US in many ways but I don’t see why we cannot take a lead over fire safety.

Another thing that we discussed is the US requirement (maybe not all States) for metal exhaust hoses for vented dryers. As far as I know, it’s still OK to use a vinyl hose in the UK.

I would appreciate if you can find any updates, Malcolm.

It would be helpful to have Which? on appropriate BSI committees but I don’t see that this issue needs to wait for a meeting.

If Which? are on the appropriate committee(s) then they will have access to minutes of previous meetings, so can be up to date with what is being considered.

We can take the lead on any standards topic, as can any country, and feed the information into the standards system.It requires solid work to evaluate proposals and to then convert them into workable tests.

There are many types of plastics, working at different temperatures. Ffor example we used a lot of what was known as SMC (sheet moulding compound) and DMC (dough moulding compound) that were thermosets with filler and glass fibres. They were compression moulded (a slower process than injection moulding) and their structure did not allow for features such as strong integral clips, or fine detail, but they did not readily deform when very hot. I suspect the drive for ever-cheaper products means incorporating materials and techniques where they can incorporate integral fixings for example and reduce labour. Thermoplastics allow this. Perhaps we should ask whether these materials can be modified to give even better resistance to heat.

The Food Standards Agency provides videos of meetings so that anyone can view them. I very much support this sort of transparency.

I don’t see why we need plastics as case materials. Most of the case of a tumble dryer is steel, and it’s not so long ago that there were no plastic panels. Certain plastics may be adequate for fire containment, but I see steel as the gold standard to compare them with.

I’m not sure who in the public would sit through such meetings, particularly if it became a widespread activity – at Which? for example? I’d prefer to see written summaries of information that was not confidential. We must be careful to allow meetings to have “full and frank discussions” which could well be inhibited if all and sundry were watching. That, in my view, would not be helpful to progress as people would simply keep from discussing anything that might be misconstrued, or that might be commercially or politically confidential, for example.

Suppose every Brexit discussion were done in public, and all out negotiating ploys were therefore available to the EU?

“You have implied here and in other Conversations that metal fascias are not permitted because of the risk of electric shock, but I have offered the example of a commercial machines that have metal cases. How can a metal case be a risk if it is earthed.”

I believe as you can isolate enough through metal front, plastic back and other insulators on commercial as you’ve more space and critically more money to do that.

On domestic you do not.

Plus you need to keep in mind that many commercials are not installed into same sort of environment, for example, for most wet laundry is unlikely to be placed on top of them as they are in stacks or under metal racks and so forth.

Like I said, totally different beasts in virtually every way bar the basic principle of what they do.

K.

I have to agree with Kenneth here all the kitchen domestic equipment I buy is from a NE commercial selling company – plain 100 % SS -heavy gauge . This is earthed to a high standard . If anybody gets a shock from ordinary stuff the first thing to do is use a digital Earth Loop tester and if it is a very low reading then start worrying why your consumer unit hasn’t tripped .

I conclude that Ken’s assertion: “Actually, legally as per international standards, plastics *MUST* be used to mitigate shock risk.” is not true because metal cases can be used. My 1982 washing machine, still in storage, had a metal-faced fascia and detergent drawer with plastic backing, relying on double insulation. I suspect that it would have had more chance of containing fire than modern appliances with plastic fascias.

I accept Ken’s point about shortage of space in modern washing machines, but that is a consequence of increasing the diameter of the drum to allow larger wash loads. I don’t see why we should compromise the safety of a product to offer a greater capacity.

I can very much identify with Duncan’s point about the importance of earth loop impedance checks, nowadays done routinely as part of PAT testing.

The question that should be asked of all those who have the responsibility for the design and manufacture of all products no matter what field use of use they are in, is,
” would I be prepared to spend my own money on this product and would I be prepared to use it?” If the answer is no, then they should be held to account for any negative results in use.

There is absolutely no reason I can see why the appropriate plastics should not be used in the construction of household appliances. The design of the appliance should take care of issues such as preventing the spread of fire, and plastics are already required to be “resistant to ignition and spread of fire”. Plastics offer a great many advantages; just a question of how they are incorporated in the design.

Plastics are extremely valuable materials, I agree, but obviously they have their limitations, as do other materials.

Here’s a photo from the BBC website. I think I might have posted this one before:

Had the plastic that has melted or burned been steel like the rest of the case, the appliance would have been better able to contain fire.

As I said, wavechange, it is not plastics per se. but design. In 2015-6 the proportion of reported tumble dryer fires, of whatever cause and severity (or lack of) was 0.005% of those in use. Any fire is regrettable and should be avoided but we can never make everything risk free, otherwise we would never tolerate 2 way roads where we let cars with dubious drivers travel towards each other, feet apart, at closing speeds of 120 mph. Photos could illustrate the consequences.

Rather than continually condemning a material that is very useful we should be looking at the overall design to ensure that the material is used appropriately and is very unlikely to give rise to unsafe foreseeable consequences

I am not condemning plastics, Malcolm, just inappropriate use of them. I’m actually very interested in plastics and my name is on patents relating to manufacture of novel plastics.

This and other Conversations relate to a significant number of fires, some serious, associated with tumble dryers for which Whirlpool is responsible. Perhaps if the dryers had metal cases the fires could have been contained, avoiding property damage.

Your statistics will not comfort those who have lost their home in a fire.

I support all steel construction of appliances – I can see few advantages in plastic fascias or back-plates other than marginal economies in manufacture.

You would imagine that a machine that is full of moisture could have a mechanism for automatically extinguishing a fire.

In an earlier Conversation I mentioned that I had helped a friend fit a Firetrace fire suppression system to protect a generator and other machinery in event of fire. It had a long plastic tube connected to what looked like a fire extinguisher and if the tube was melted at any point, a gas such as carbon dioxide would be discharged into the fire. I believe that fire suppression has been used in some commercial dryers. A domestic tumble dryer may not have room to include a fire suppression system and there would be the not insignificant cost of installation and servicing.

I wonder how much it has saved the manufacturers by replacing metal with plastics.

They are not, of course, my statistics and are there to put fires in context, not to provide “comfort” as you put it.

Plastic moulding incorporate many features that, with metal, would require additional components and labour, apart from being self-finished. So they will save manufactures and the consumer money. They simply need to be used correctly, not dismissed.

I wonder how many plug-in appliance chargers have caught fire? Should these all be metal-encased? It comes down to proper design and appropriate safety monitoring.

We will not delete plastics from being part of appliances, so surely better to concentrate on their appropriate use?

Large appliances contain air that can provide oxygen to sustain a fire and in some cases air can be replenished via an open base and ventilation louvres, and in the case of a vented dryer via the air inlet.

In the case of small electrical products like phone chargers, there is insufficient air to sustain a fire and the problem is severe overheating due to a fault, coupled with inadequate protection. For example, counterfeit chargers may lack fuses or thermal fuses. The may work fine but under a fault condition there will be a massive current flow and that may lead to a fire. I’ve no problem with plastic-cased chargers, other than the existence of dangerous products on the market.

The cases of chargers are surrounded by oxygen.?imwidth=1400
This was a fire caused by a phone charger. A problem with chargers is that they get left on upholstery, bedding, and other flammable material. However I am not proposing getting rid of plastic cases, because the incidence is low, as with other applliances. The way to mitigate problems is in the design to resist overheating or internal fire.

I believe we should be working with those who put safety standards together to achieve sensible, workable and pragmatic outcomes. If that includes reducing risk to as near zero as possible, irrespective of cost, then that needs to be a collective decision. I do hope Which? takes a full part in BSI, and takes account of the many diverse and helpful suggestions made through Convos. Consumers are already represented on BSI committees but an extra voice, that has direct contact with individual and interested consumers, must be welcome.

Would Which? tell us what active role they now play in BSI and to which committees they both belong and regularly attend?

This is an example of what can happen due to lack of protective devices in counterfeit chargers. I use chargers away from flammable materials (and close to a smoke detector) to minimise the risk of damage caused by overheating or fire if something goes wrong. This Christmas the power supply for my tree lights was put on an old school slate that came from my grandparents’ house, and well away from the curtains.

Richard Collins says:
19 January 2018

I cannot believe that Whirlpool continues to make the firehazards

They do not, if you mean tumble dryers made by Indesit.

john rakowski says:
23 January 2018

All appliances should be manufactured to EU, safety standards. The length of the warranty period is irrelevant.
The cheap tat you mention should still conform to EU regs.

It is the greatest tragedy that manufacturers across the spectrum build their products, beit toys or vehicles, ‘down’ rather than to higher specifications – what might be referred to as a Victorian over specification which proved that their products not only worked but still do in today’s world. Regrettably without stringent regulation industry cheats until it gets caught. Money and profit speaks over quality

Chris W says:
17 January 2018

“Do you think the Government will finally take action?”, – of course they won’t. They start from the assumption that business is automatically good, and that the job of ordinary citizens is to consume what business wants to sell them and then to shut up. Government will never take action unless they can see some advantage for themselves in doing so.

Harry Davison says:
17 January 2018

Dont you think that after all this time that the concerns raised about these faulty appliances to date ! have not been addressed responsibly by the manufacturers and that the company ” Directors ” who make all the ultimate decisions should be warned that they may also be past their ” Sell By Date ” and get this “Sorted Immediately ! ” or face ” Long Term Incarceration “

Havilland Wilkins says:
17 January 2018

I fully agree with Mrs DDP. I am heading towards 70 years and I am trying to work out when our governments in power stopped caring for the people in the way they used too? It is easy to find others to blame, but in our case; capitalism offers the escape route to pass the buck so others carry the can. The buck stops with Whirlpool and its directors and the government should enforce this to happen.

They stopped in the late 80’s! I am 77.

lorraine williams says:
17 January 2018

Compensation for the resultant damage may force them to address the problem.

One thing these manufacturers forget. The ELDERLY cannot do the maintenance of these machines, age and infirmary prevents it. Also, these companies deliberately use cheap products to enhance PROFIT. Whirlpool have had this problem for a few years now, and like American owned companies ( speaking from experience since 1960), they will do nothing until a BIG ISSUE is made of the problem!

Carole says:
19 January 2018

It is not only the elderly who struggle to do the maintenance. It takes 2 people to move an appliance so anybody who lives alone has a problem. If one does not have family close by to help then it means employing someone. Call out charge plus hourly rate make it expensive.

Terence G Le Quesne says:
17 January 2018

Sadly feet will be dragged, loads of pontification will be heard and a scapegoat who can be implicated will be sought in the hope of covering the costs or the ignorance of doing nothing, which seems as per normal!

William Govan says:
17 January 2018

It must be legislated that manufacturers adhere to new safety codes and product recalls(including cars) and overseen by an independent adjudicator.

For many items, such as electrical appliances, it is a requirement that they can only be sold in the EU (including the UK currently) if they meet EN safety standards.

Peter Curtis says:
17 January 2018

It is about time they woke up. This has been going on for too long. It has taken the which campaign to get some action on this matter,when really the Producer should have be taken action to remove this danger some years ago,when it was originally first recognised. Noe despairs sometimes

JImbo says:
17 January 2018

We have a government dedicated to making “Britain a great place to do business”, an oft repeated mantra by Government ministers. In that culture the needs/rights of citizens are at best secondary. How it is, is how it’s meant to be. If it is not meant to be like that then the Government are incompetent. A Tory government gets its funding from business and will therefore favour the needs of business over the people.

These machines were made sub standard, other manufacturer’s machines clearly are not a fire risk. Whirlpool are dragging their feet to save money. If we had a rigourous body to enforce and fine them for this situation, they would cease producing substandard goods. It is that simple.

This debating forum is to be applauded with many thoughts and ideas – long may it continue. I see 3 major issues. 1). Product legislation must be strong enough and sufficiently resourced to capture challenges and identify responsibility. This is the job of Government, and I suspect that there is considerable weakness here. 2). The consumer has a duty of care to ensure they use the product correctly and in accordance with manufacturers instructions. 3). Manufacturers have duties to respond to points 1 and 2 through careful and cost effective design that are produced “fit for purpose”.

On this website, and entirely by accident, we have a collection of individuals who have the answer to almost all of this country’s problems. In SW1 0AA we have a debating forum where the tribunes of the people, carefully selected from a choice of potential alternatives, sit and ponder the great questions of the day, shout at each other, and eventually make laws. Perhaps we should swap places.

Yes, we have a rather special community here on Which? Conversation – welcome @rogerallingham-mills 🙂

P G Smith says:
18 January 2018

The product safety and recall system in the UK is not fit for purpose. This has been fully illustrated by the Whirlpool fiasco. Home Appliances are by no means the only applicable products. For example, there have been many cases of cars catching fire or suddenly losing power with manufacturers calling the tune and taking their time when it came to appropriate action. The applicable Government Departments seem to be frightened to force manufacturers to take urgent and no doubt costly action. I think the UK Government could learn a few lessons from the USA authorities which don’t appear to accept any nonsense from manufacturers as illustrated by large financial penalties and longer product warranties than those offered to UK customers. Also there have been cases of products recalled in the USA but the same product not recalled in the UK. How can that be acceptable to appropriate Government Departments?

H Martin says:
18 January 2018

Am sure Govt. will do nothing to rectify this dangerous situation. Of course they should insist on a product recall, but given their response to fire-risk external cladding etc. I very much doubt anything will be done. What we can all do is find out exactly which machines are made by Whirlpool, not using their own name but other brands, and firmly refuse to buy them, whatever kind of machine it may be. A consumer boycott might be effective.

Marion Garner-Patel says:
18 January 2018

It is my experience that nothing goes on the Statute Books without a good reason. So why make a bonfire out of needed, protecting laws. Grenfell Tower should remain there to remind us of the stupidity, loss of life and distress to Politicians who fail to protect those who were victims of incompetence, whose personal money was more important than lives.

Government will not do anything about the danger of Whirlpool dryers. Having had many warnings they still do nothing. That goes for Government and Whirlpool.
This cannot continue – Whirlpool should not be allowed to produce these dryers any more. End of!

Jay May says:
19 January 2018

It strikes me that Whirlpool et al are criminally negligent and should be dealt with accordingly; through the courts if necessary

When this Whirlpool dryer problem first became public knowledge – around October 2015 – I wonder why consumers were not given the full advice on what they could do. Once an appliance was declared as having a safety problem – as these were – then it immediately failed to meet the requirements of the Sale of Goods Act, and consumers had, in my view, clear legal redress from their retailer for a repair without unreasonable inconvenience – that is , quiter quickly – or a refund (maybe partial to account for use). Instead they seem to have been advised to wait upon Whirlpool’s remedy. So why, for example, did not Which? advise their members of the options – use SoGA or choose Whirlpool?