/ Home & Energy

Whirlpool announces washing machine recall

Half a million Hotpoint and Indesit washing machines are subject to a new recall, causing disruption for millions of people.

Update 17/12/2019

It’s been announced today that Whirlpool is preparing to recall up to 519,000 Indesit and Hotpoint washing machines.

If you’ve purchased one of its machines since 2014, contact Whirlpool immediately to check if yours is affected.

If it is, stop using it, unplug it and register with Whirlpool for a free replacement or repair.

⚠️ Absolutely everyone in the UK needs to see this ▶️ whi.ch/Whirlpool_RecallWhirlpool is recalling up to 519,000…

Posted by Which? on Tuesday, December 17, 2019

This safety alert will cause huge disruption for millions of people who will have no washing machine over Christmas, and following the tumble dryer scandal, leaves Whirlpool’s reputation as a company that can be trusted on product safety in tatters.

People will rightly be asking what Whirlpool knew about these fire-risk machines and when, so there must now be a thorough investigation into this public safety issue.

We know the company has a track record for appearing to put corporate reputation ahead of public safety in its disgraceful handling of the unsafe tumble dryer crisis.

Customers will be hugely frustrated that this recall is not set to start for weeks and that they are not being offered refunds for machines from a brand they may no longer want to have in their homes.

This ongoing saga with Whirlpool demonstrates once again that our product safety system is not fit for purpose and that the OPSS should be replaced with a new independent product safety regulator with real powers to finally hold companies to account over dangerous products.

04/07/2019 Which? gives evidence at BEIS select committee

As part of our End Dangerous Products campaign, our Sue Davies gave evidence this week to a Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee session.

Whirlpool has now finally agreed to name all its fire-risk tumble dryers.

Sue Davies, our Strategic Policy Adviser, said:

“Whirlpool executives came face to face with a brave mother who laid bare the devastating impact that tumble dryer fires are having on their customers – and yet still the company insists on putting corporate reputation ahead of public safety.

With Whirlpool admitting it has only managed to provide a modification or replacement for a tiny proportion of affected machines in the last two years, it’s clear that the company is failing to do enough to keep customers safe – and now it has acknowledged that modified machines are still catching fire.

If the safety of Whirlpool’s fire-risk tumble dryers cannot be assured, secretary of state Greg Clark must step in and ensure that all potentially dangerous machines are immediately removed from people’s homes”

Update 12/06/2019

Whirlpool is now facing a recall notice over its fire-risk tumble dryers. The move has been referred to as ‘unprecedented’ by Consumer Minister Kelly Tolhurst.

David Chaplin, Which? Head of Campaigns, said:

“For years we’ve been raising serious concerns about Whirlpool’s fire-risk tumble dryers as well as the cynical tactics – such as the reported use of non-disclosure agreements – that the company has used to put its corporate reputation ahead of public safety.

People’s lives have been put at risk for far too long, so it’s a hugely significant step that these machines are set to be recalled. But there will be serious questions if this recall only addresses the 500,000 unmodified machines that Whirlpool has already struggled to locate.

The Government must urgently explain what it is going to do about the millions of modified machines still in people’s homes, following serious concerns that have been raised by people who have experienced fires, smoke and burning despite the so-called fix.”

Update 01/05/2019

Consumer minister Kelly Tolhurst has said she will ‘take further action where necessary’ following the allegations that a Whirlpool customer was paid to keep quiet, as we’ve reported below.

David Chaplin, Head of Which? Campaigns said:

“No-one should be prevented from speaking out about such a vital matter of public safety – the Government must urgently investigate these disturbing allegations that suggest Whirlpool is putting its corporate reputation ahead of the welfare of its customers.

The credibility of the fundamentally flawed OPSS review into Whirlpool’s fire-risk tumble dryers is now in tatters. The Secretary of State Greg Clark must step in and ensure that all potentially dangerous machines are immediately removed from people’s homes”

Original Convo 25/04/2019

The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) has now published its review of Whirlpool’s tumble dryer modification programme, more than 10 months after it was launched.

At the time, we made it clear that we don’t think the review is good enough.

The OPSS was instructed by the Government to answer two questions about the company’s modification programme following concerns raised by Which? and BBC Watchdog in 2018 that modified Whirlpool machines were still catching fire:

  1. 1. Does Whirlpool’s modification effectively reduce the risk of fires caused by its tumble dryers?

2. Has Whirlpool’s response to consumers been adequate?

Despite the OPSS failing to speak with any affected Whirlpool customers about serious safety incidents involving fire, smoke and burning (possibly as a result of the failure of the modification) or to take into account the nearly 7,000 emails from Which? campaign supporters, the review found that ‘the risk to consumers who have had their Whirlpool tumble dryers modified is low’.

Alarming new evidence

Now, alarming evidence has emerged suggesting that Whirlpool may have been actively trying to prevent customers who have experienced issues with their modified machines from speaking publicly about these incidents.

If true, this raises serious questions about the accuracy of the evidence provided by Whirlpool to the OPSS and casts significant doubt on the review’s conclusions, potentially leaving people exposed to unacceptable risk.

These latest allegations follow a series of issues with Whirlpool’s indifferent response to such a serious national safety incident first announced in 2015.

Past problems have included customers facing unacceptably long wait-times to have their machines repaired or replaced and a 2017 Which? investigation that found Whirlpool was giving inadequate, inconsistent and potentially dangerous advice to its customers regarding use of these faulty, unmodified machines in their homes.

Whirlpool continues to claim that there have been “no reported incidents where the modification has proven to be ineffective” despite Which? publishing an incident report from a Whirlpool engineer suggesting otherwise.

If it is the case that incidents subject to non-disclosure agreements were missing from the evidence Whirlpool provided to the OPSS, then the OPSS may have been misled in its review. This must be met with strong action.

Put people’s safety first

We believe it really is time for the Secretary of State to step in and place people’s safety above business interests, and remove all potentially dangerous machines from people’s homes immediately.

Have you experienced problems with your modified dryer catching fire, producing smoke or burning smells? If so, I’d be hugely grateful if you would be willing to share your story in the comments below.

If your appliance has been modified and you see any signs of smoke, burning or fire when using it, you should report it to the manufacturer immediately.

Despite these concerns, we’d still recommend that you check if you own an unmodified machine. And if your dryer is unmodified, stop using it and contact the manufacturer. You can check to see if your tumble dryer is one of those affected by using our tool.

Comments

It seems to me this would have been a good project for a university design engineering department to take on. Give them an “unaffected” machine, a recall one, one that has been modified and one that has suffered heat damage but not been destroyed. What can you learn?

Well you can always design a better mouse trap… Long ago, I worked with an ex-Hoover engineer. He always stressed that they had to come up with reliable designs that would be simple and cheap to make. At our place, he could indulge himself with more sophisticated designs, because we were usually only hand building a few for our laboratory.

Since the problem with Whirlpool dryers was first announced, five brands were mentioned and this information is still on the Whirlpool website: “We have identified a potential safety issue with some of our tumble dryers concerning the build-up of lint. It affects certain models manufactured between April 2004 and September 2015 that were sold under the Indesit, Hotpoint, Creda, Swan and Proline brands.”

Whirlpool claimed that there was no need to provide a full list of affected tumble dryers because their website had a model checker, but after being instructed to produce a list at the BEIS select committee meeting the following list has been published: https://safety.hotpoint.eu/img/affected-dryers.pdf Note that this list includes a large number of models sold under the Ariston and Hotpoint Ariston brand names. I wonder how owners were expected to be aware that their dryer could be at risk.

Throughout the sorry Whirlpool saga it seems to me the fundamental issue has largely been ignored (at least, in public). What was the defect in the “affected” dryers that causes the risk of fire – lint reaching the heater – and is there a modification that is demonstrably effective and durable?

Instead we have seen nearly 4 years of accusations, blame, but leaving many affected customers without a remedy. So much for protecting the consumer.

This criticism is aimed at all parties involved. However, primarily at government. They are responsible for nominating an organisation to look after consumer safety – their Market Surveillance Authority – and this responsibility was given to Trading Standards. Instead of taking an immediate practical approach to the problem when it was going badly wrong with TS they shelter behind a couple of letters to Whirlpool and inquisitions in public – select committees – that really seem to achieve nothing.

We can all sit back and criticise what happened. We appear unwilling to put in the real effort and work that is involved in solving the basic problem.

Please could a member of the team ask Which? to investigate whether heat pump tumble dryers are safer than condenser or vented ones, on the basis that heat pump dryers do not have a high temperature heater than can ignite lint?

Hi @wavechange – I’ve passed your question on to a few people here. I have checked our buying guide and there is not info there. I’ll let you know what the product investigation team say.

Thanks Abby. It seems obvious that heat pump dryers are safer, but the only reference to safety I’ve found relates to the lower temperature being safer for clothes.

At least it’s encouraging that most of the ‘Best Buy’ dryers are now heat pump models.

I’m sure that, in theory, the lower heater temperature should mean that, all other factors being equal, condenser dryers would be less likely to ignite lint than a conventional dryer.

Last time I looked into this I came across the problem that, if conventional dryers are already “safe”, as in safe enough to be sold as normal electrical appliances, then most manufacturers and retailers aren’t going to want to stress the extra safety of a heat pump model.

In contrast, the lower lifetime energy consumptions and/or costs of condensers dryers are advantages that must be stressed as mitigation for their higher initial purchase prices.

Safety issues other than the heater could be a factor in any tumble dryer catching fire. Other components might fail, the more complex heat pump mechanism might become faulty, contaminated clothes might be an issue…….. heat pump, condenser or vented. If it is shown that all “conventional” dryers from all manufacturers have caught fire because of a lint/heater problem then there would be a case. Otherwise I’d suggest this is a problem that most manufacturers have successfully dealt with by design.

I suggested earlier that if we are to demand every available safety feature as a response to a problem, then all those as “extras” on cars – collision avoidance, distance maintaining, lane keeping etc would be required as standard.

Fires in domestic electrical appliances are currently being considered by an international working group. I’ve several times asked Which? if they can tell us what progress is being made…….

You could fit a lower temperature heater in a “conventional” dryer if it was demonstrated that all such dryers were at risk. It would avoid the complexity and cost of the heat pump. Recovering the cost by energy saving can take many years of course, depending on usage. I use mine rarely, having a clothes horse and a garden with a washing line.

I think it would be useful to establish that heat pump dryers are a safer option.

Like many people, I do not have or need a dryer, but those living in flats etc. find them useful.

Like beauty, is safety in the eye of the beholder?

I used to buy Creda tumble dryers, on the basis that there could be very little difference in performance between a cheap £150 and a premium brand £500 dryer. That was until one started smoking …

I opened the back to find a wad of accumulated lint had started burning. The source of the ignition was not the tumble dryer heater, but an exposed bi-metallic switch that controlled the heating of the drum by measuring the exhaust temperature. Over 4-5 years, this became worn and the contacts were sparking enough to set the “tinder” alight.

… Who could have imagined that putting an exposed, high current switch in a stream of dry, dusty air was a bad idea?

The fundamental problem seems to be that consumer product manufacturers are not regulated in terms of what then can design or use in the interests of cost over safety. I remember repairing a leaking brake cylinder on a 1960s MG, the piston of which was held in place by a circlip. My father (who was an aircraft engineer) was appalled at this design. Circlips being made of spring steel are prone to sudden, catastrophic failure; they would never be allowed in aircraft manufacture for a safety-critical component.

When your old dryer was designed, little thought may have been given to what happens in use or as a result of wear & tear. Common sense would suggest that safety tests for products would include well used examples, but I am not aware of any requirement to do this. From what I have read, lint often accumulates unseen within tumble dryers.

Maybe unsurprisingly the Whirlpool phone line and website are both over loaded and not accessible. They have tweeted a list of affected models which you can check here: https://twitter.com/WhirlpoolUK/status/1206937189940158469

I have been listening to Lynn Faulds Wood being interviewed on Radio 4 and she was critical both of Whirlpool and the government for lack of progress in improving safety and creating an effective recall system. It is nearly four years since she published her report on consumer product recalls: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/509125/ind-16-4-consumer-product-recall-review.pdf

This company should just get closed down. They leave people over Xmas with no washing machine. Based on the tumble dryer problem it could take at least 2 years to sort out the washing machine recall. In the meantime their recall website is not working so it’s not possible to find out if your washing machine is one of those recalled!

I am unfortunate enough to have one of these machines and I have failed to make any progress on the website either despite being in the vanguard at about 13.00hrs yesterday. I was greeted with a chap with no understanding or knowledge of how to enter data into a web page field let alone help with my machine. The final stage of registering my machine asked for a serial number and gave a choice of label designs to show where said number located. I chose the one like mine and it showed, outlined red, the serial number prefixed S/N and following twelve digit number. When I entered this in the field it refused to accept more than nine digits by greying out the response button beyond nine digits. Sonny Jim could not understand what the problem was and simply disappeared to speak to his manager (who was unavailable to actually speak to). I was told to call later. What, I asked, was the point of that when ‘later’ was when everyone else who missed the first news item would be calling. Now the numbers are unobtainable and the website returns 404.
Why a door lock should be implicated in carrying current to a heater element is beyond me but chummy said not to use the machine on any setting but a cold wash (<=20ºC). Our laundry is concrete floored and concrete ceilinged with Thermalite walls. We shall carry on using the machine but only under strict observation. More in hope than anger I have emailed Curry's (the vendor) quoting the Consumer Protection Act 2015 as my machine is 15 months old and obviously had a fault from new. Breath remains un-held!

The Office for Product Safety and Standards needs to be looked at more closely. It was set up under BEIS in January 2018, with a yearly budget of £13m. In essence it replaced the work done by a section in BEIS of about 20 people. By contrast, the OPSS has nearly 300 people on its books. Yet its results are questionable. It was strongly criticised by the BEIS select committee Chair for doing very little about Whirlpool machines; only reluctantly acting much later after a lot more criticism. The OPSS also commissioned Intertek (a large test company which gets a lot of work from Whirlpool) to look into the fridge-freezer that started the Grenfell fire (also owned by Whirlpool via Hotpoint). They tried to conceal this report, probably because while they claimed it concluded that the product concerned was no risk, a close inspection of Intertek’s report shows that in fact it was faulty in a key area – later confirmed by an expert witness to the Grenfell Inquiry, i.e. it was in fact dangerous and other models should be recalled.

Apologies if this is obvious to Which? members but I was present at an All Party Parliamentary Fire Safety Rescue Group meeting which heard from a Whirlpool official who passed on a useful tip. Which is to register any product you buy with the company. Not many people do this, probably because they believe their guarantee with the retailer covers them. But Whirlpool said that one of the big problems they were having was tracing owners to provide them with warnings, because the machines were not registered.

Many people do register washing machines, tumble dryers etc., but I wonder how many register the dodgy small electrical goods they buy online – such as the Christmas lights and phone chargers identified recently by Which? I hoped that the OPSS would devise a system that would enable people to be notified of recalled products, as DVSA does with vehicle problems.

I have repeatedly suggested that appropriate electrical products should be automatically registered at the point of sale, as a mandatory requirement. Then (most) owners could be contacted if a problem arose. How many would respond is open to question but it seems to me to be an obvious step forward.

Does anyone agree? Or shall we continue as we are?

It might help if, when a product investigation takes place after a serious incident, such as of Indesit dryers (and the Grenfell fr/freezer) that it is done by an accredited independent test laboratory (BSI for example) for the OPSS and the report is automatically made public. We seem too concerned to hide stuff from the public when their interests are involved – the HS2 report for example.

I’m afraid the OPSS is doing very little overall. Buried away on their website is a record of all their actions/outcomes over their first year. This amounts to just 13 actions, 12 of which involved the same piece of legislation to do with responsibly sourcing wood and involved them simply emailing 12 companies to remind them to comply. They have been commissioning reports from experts (e.g. at Trading Standards) but these tend to get lost in their internal processes. I used to work at BEIS and this does not surprise me at all. You’re right of course, that is exactly what they should be doing. Why don’t you write to the head at OPSS and ask him if they will instigate such a system: [edited] . He should be keen to help, going by what he said in a recent interview: “What motivates me is that this is about protecting people – particularly the most vulnerable people. I think that’s what drives a lot of people in this area.”

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As said, BEIS/OPSS tried to conceal the report they commissioned on the Grenfell fridge-freezer. They did not tender for it, either, which is against government procurement rules. BEIS/OPSS is also responsible for the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988. They were also given a hard time by the Environmental Audit Committee recently about these Regulations, mainly because they themselves proved 5 years ago that they don’t work! Which means every home in the country contains sofas and mattresses that are flammable when we’re led to believe they aren’t. They’re also stuffed full of flame retardant chemicals which are doing nothing for fire safety, damaging our health, but making huge profits for the chemical industry.

Much as I would be in favour of mandatory registration at point of sale (as malcolm r suggests), it is not an excuse that Whirlpool and others should be allowed to rely on.

Where do we draw the line? Would I have to register a purchase of hairspray at Boots in case the can exploded? Maybe a packet of ham at Waitrose, should contamination be found later on? (Other retailers are available.)

It seems that food manufacturers in particular operate to much higher standards of recall than appliance manufacturers, yet most of their products are very low margin and of no more danger to the public.

I have frequently suggested that problem of fires in white goods could be addressed by replacing plastic and glass in cases with metal, which could contain a fire.

At present the Food Standards Agency does a reasonable job of keeping an eye on food safety and anyone can sign up to receive notifications. Many of these are about undeclared allergens, which are irrelevant to most of us but important to those with severe allergies. Recent notifications of recalls and food alerts can be found here: https://www.tradingstandards.uk/consumers/product-recalls-and-safety-notices I’m not completely happy with the way that food safety is managed, and budgets have been cut, but I think you have a point when comparing the food and appliance safety, Em.

The Whirlpool recall featured on this website within a day of it being announced, but I have not seen anything about recalls of phone chargers, Christmas tree lights and power banks following the Which? reports of numerous dangerous items on online marketplaces.

You’re right about food standards. To give one example, the Food Standards Agency has the legal right to demand to see the client history of test houses. This is to expose companies who have a product they know is borderline so just keep going from test house to test house until they get a pass. However, this right does not exist for most product safety. I know for a fact that dodgy furniture makers produce sofas/mattresses that are borderline fire safe and simply hawk them round the test houses until they get a pass. Some fabric producers even have their own test houses!

Many manufacturers in many industries have their own test laboratories, essential for helping development and quality control. These are fine particularly when they are part of an official and audited scheme that tracks the quality of their output; ours was audited by BSI. Apart from the value to the company it would be impossible to provide such facilities for every manufacturer externally. It also has huge benefits to the staff in the company; one advantage I believe was lost by Which? when they contracted out their testing.

Malcolm: I agree. However, the fire tests for fabrics and fillings for upholstered furniture are very straightforward and many test houses around the country (and overseas) will run them. They too have to be monitored, in this case by UKAS. The problem is that the fire tests for furniture are not representative of finished products and are not accurate enough, leaving a pretty wide margin, or at least perceived margin, which allows all kinds of skullduggery to take place. Which was one of the reasons industry resisted so strongly the new furniture fire tests put together five years ago (but blocked ever since): because they contained no margin of error and were totally accurate to finished products.

I hope there is a way you can report your concerns, Brian.

I would be interested how the potential benefits and risks of flame retardant chemicals are evaluated. We spend about a third of our lives in bed, rather close to a mattress.

It’s somewhat frustrating. All the evidence that these regulations don’t work is on BEIS’s own website and remains unchallenged. They’ve also had a select committee tell them to get on with it yet they’re doing nothing (except covering their backs).

The benefits/risks of flame retardants is a very contentious area. The FR industry produces reports that are meant to show their effectiveness. But there are many, many papers that demonstrate their toxicity. They used to claim FRs give you 12-14 mins escape time in a fire but never provided any proof. In late 2017, tests at UCLAN showed it’s a minute at most and that’s with regulations that work. There are lots of videos on YouTube made by UK fire services which show for example a typical fire started in a mattress (full of FRs that are supposed to prevent/slow down fires) has the entire room ablaze in under 3 mins. Perhaps this is why the FR industry changed their tune when testifying to the EAC earlier this year – now claiming their products give you 4 mins escape time; also unproved, of course, i.e. they make it up as they go along.

Oh, and for nearly 30 years the FR industry claimed that their products are responsible for the 50 or so lives saved per year by the Furniture Regulations. Unfortunately for them these estimates (made by a FR funded university) were based on the assumption the Regulations work. We proved in 2014 that they don’t which means it’s not possible to say that ANY lives at all are saved from fires by FRs. But as you say we’re all spending a third of our lives breathing them in while sleeping; well, more than that since their in our sofas too. Well, I’m not any longer since I’ve bought sofa/mattresses that do not contain FRs.

I would have hoped a university would have given a competent and objective assessment.

Quite apart from the questions over effectiveness of fire retardants, the benefit/risk question is difficult to answer. Maybe smoke alarms in each room, preferably interlinked, might be a better option than treating furnishings with chemicals.

This Convo really has departed off topic – “Whirlpool announces washing machine recall”.
However, Brian has raised an important topic. Perhaps he, or someone, would introduce a Convo on furnishing regulations and the problems associated with them.

Furniture is not, as far as I can see, a topic tested or discussed by Which? except, for some reason, mattresses – unless I’ve overlooked something. Perhaps it should be, given the safety issues involved, both toxicity and fire – upholstered furniture, fabrics for curtains, for example.

@abbysempleskipper – what is Which?’s view, Abby?

Okay but those details are in the public domain.

Agreed. But the problem is that all universities now are funded by industry. They’ll tell you that doesn’t affect their research but my experience where flame retardants are concerned is that it very clearly does. Sometimes this is obvious; other times it’s subtle. For instance, one university wrote a damning report into the toxicity of FRs in furniture fires. And while this is almost certainly the case, they are at the same time promoting so-called “green” FRs. Why is that an issue? Well, in this case because the same researchers are supporting the current furniture regulations even though they don’t work – the suspicion being that they want to keep the market open for their green FRs, instead of doing the right thing which is promoting new regulations that won’t require the use of ANY FRs.

If you are around after Christmas I’d be happy to discuss this in The Lobby, rather than in a Convo about an important recall. Hopefully we will get a Convo on the topic because exposing people to potentially harmful chemicals is unwise, particularly if they are ineffective. It will be interesting to read published research on the subject. Any research that has been funded by industry should state this. A lot of university research is funded by industry, but certainly not all of it. Having worked in research I can claim some knowledge, even though it is a bit out of date.

I’m new here so will check out the Lobby; happy to discuss all this there. I take it Which? decides on new Convos? Hopefully you’re right, that not all university research is funded by industry (even if the university receives funding from industry overall). But where the chemical industry is concerned, there’s quite a bit of “owning the science” going on. This is where industry pays both sides of the argument over a particular chemical, ensuring that its side wins out. This happened recently with 3M in Minnesota. A well-respected toxicologist spoke out against the chemicals they were putting in Scotchgard (which also gets sprayed on many of our sofas as a stain-repellent, which just makes them more flammable and more toxic! – Something else that Which? should be advising consumers about). 3M came up with replacement chemicals that he approved of. Then the press did a raid on 3M and discovered that this guy had always been in their pay. He claimed he lived on just a professor’s salary but turned out he had $20m in his bank account.

Newsnight did a good article on all this a couple of years back (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovcu2GY_yrg and https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42343237) which showed how first in the States then here, Big Tobacco was facing pressure from the government to bring in self-extinguishing cigs because of all the home fires caused by them. They didn’t want to inconvenience their customers and Big Chem came up with the solution: douse everybody’s furniture with flame retardants instead! Win-win. A few years back and all US and EU cigs became self-extinguishing but guess what our furniture is still stuffed with flame retardants. Also, we now have far more and more effective smoke alarms, and a huge drop in home smoking yet flame retardant levels in our furniture are actually higher than they’ve ever been.

You can suggest a new Convo to Which? I’d suggest emailing them with a proposal and reasons. which@which.co.uk. One of the Convo managers has also, no doubt, seen the suggestion here.

I’d forgotten about this Convo – https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/toxic-chemicals-teflon-mary-creagh/

Mary is no longer an MP, so will this topic will figure in a new Environmental Audit Committee?

Let’s move over there. Here is a document worth reading: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmenvaud/1805/1805.pdf

I don’t have much time for politicians as a whole but it’s a real shame that Mary lost her seat. I can’t really go into the details but let’s just say she went way beyond the basics over the issue of toxic chemicals in our products. Emma Dent Coad also lost her seat; another huge shame. She was on the EAC too and worked closely with Mary on Grenfell-related issues. We’ll have to wait and see who’s on the new EAC.

The story of that inquiry is interesting. I was at a meeting of CHEM Trust that Mary Creagh was chairing. I said a few things about the Furniture Regulations and flame retardants, and after the meeting she came straight up to me wanting to know more. I happened to be standing next to an environmental journalist I’d worked with on the subject some time back and he said to Mary that this is the greatest-ever scandal in UK product history. She asked the two of us to write her a paper that could be considered for an Inquiry.

We did so and sent it to her. After reading it she was being interviewed by a colleague of my journalist friend and he asked her what she’d made of our paper. She said that it had turned her prematurely grey hair even greyer; was a “real shocker”, but she thought it might be “too big” for the EAC. This was disappointing of course but they did in fact launch an inquiry, just widening the scope to “toxic chemicals in everyday life”. However, most of the focus of the inquiry turned out to be on furniture and flame retardants.

It’s worth watching/reading some of the sessions, e.g. K Kannah from Lanxess, formerly Chemtura. Chemtura/Lanxess is one of the big 3 worldwide flame retardant producers. Mary hit him hard, pointing out that in the US, Chemtura had bribed burns specialists, set up phoney fire safety groups (to push their products) and spent over $20m on a lawsuit to prevent Califonia/US changing its furniture standards in such a way that would remove flame retardants in US furniture. “Are you doing the same sort of thing here?” she asked K (as he likes to be known). “Not to my knowledge,” was the reply, which raised a chuckle of two.

I know K pretty well from the days when he used to try and persuade me not to change the UK’s furniture regs (also depleting their market). I spoke to him before his EAC appearance and asked him what his company was doing about all that DecaBDE (a toxic flame retardant now banned) that is still in millions of UK sofas and mattresses. His reply was typical of the industry: “No hospital has ever ascribed a death to a flame retardant chemical.” Well, that’s okay then.

Perhaps Which? should launch a part of its website as SafetyWhich?. Publicise inadequate safety laws, list all unsafe products, suppliers of unsafe products, show reports on product safety problems…………. It seems to me to demand far more action and attention than it receives. Simply asking for unsafe products to be removed from listings is hardly an answer, when many will already have been distributed to unsuspecting consumers and many more will just remain unexposed.

If Which? cannot or will not do this, who can?

Sounds like a good idea.

We do have a product safety part of the site! I am just looking into who has ownership over it to pass on your suggestions to add to it. 🙂

https://www.which.co.uk/product-safety/

Abby – The EU publishes weekly reports about recalls etc that are added to its Rapex database: https://ec.europa.eu/consumers/consumers_safety/safety_products/rapex/alerts/?event=main.listNotifications&lng=en

Which? does report on some of the problems but it would be good to have a user-friendly list of problems. The CTSI/Trading Standards list is useful in this respect but the information is removed too soon, in my view.

As I mentioned above, I have not seen any recalls following the Which? discovery of dangerous products being sold via marketplaces and Amazon etc. seem to be doing nothing. Does Which? push for recalls?

Agree, if you look at the furniture flammability regulations, it should be an open and shut case. The proof that they do not work in up to 90% cases is actually on BEIS’s website! Yet BEIS gave in to industry pressure and blocked its own safety changes (if they’d come in, then the chemical industry would have lost millions per year and the furniture industry its much-treasured trade barrier that the UK regs create). A select committee has reprimanded BEIS and told them to fix things. They’ve essentially refused. And that’s pretty much the end of the story unless the public get involved.

Well, the fire services, too. A new contaminants group has just formed up within the London Fire Brigade, run by firefighters who are angry that their management has been keeping from them the full truth about the toxicity of UK home fires. One of their aims is to get flame retardants out of furniture. And one way do that is put pressure on BEIS officials who, believe me, do not have any excuse for not acting other than they’re protecting industry profits and themselves for failing to put things right 5 years ago.

I agree with Which?’s recommendation in your “Strengthening the consumer product safety regime” report, that there needs to be an independent consumer product safety body. The fact that we don’t already have one in the UK says much. What’s happened is that in fairly recent times what were organisations more connected to the government and less to industry have all been privatised and commercialisted, wholly or mostly: the British Standards Institute, the Building Research Establishment, the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, the Furniture Industry Research Association and so on. What’s worse is that all of these give consumers the impression that they are still independent when in fact their primary motive now is making cash. BSI is a good example: if say you are a small company and you want to know what standards you need to apply to your product, phone BSI and they will do their utmost to sell you a bunch of standards, at a few hundred quid a time. What they won’t tell you is to phone a test house who will tell you the same thing for nothing, since they are the people who actually use the standards.

Their reputation for “independence” and the government’s failure to establish anything that actually is, means you get the situation for example where BRE is given the contract (a very expensive one) to test cladding following the Grenfell Tower fire, when BRE board members were sitting on other boards of companies contracted to refurbish Grenfell Tower and in one case also while being fire safety advisor to the government, signed off the same cladding as being safe before the fire!

Also, what is consumer product safety doing in the Department for Business/Office of Product Safety and Standards? It’s already bad enough that many BSI standards-making committees are dominated by business. But I’ve seen first hand how business also works on officials at BEIS/OPSS to make legislative decisions in the interests of business, not consumers.

Whirlpool have just responded on their website registration page (now up and working) to the effect that my machine is NOT affected after I succeeded with my 12 character serial number. This, despite the model number being one that is said to be part of the cohort, is confusing. Perhaps as it is near the end of the date range of production the fault had been found and rectified. This implies prior knowledge…

It may be that a specific supplier’s component in the door mechanism has been found to be the cause of the problem and it’s use traced to a specific range of serial numbers. If the implication is that Whirlpool knowingly continued to use a faulty or under-specified component that could cause a fire then I doubt (in hope) that is the case. However, when Indesit possibly concealed the fault in their dryers for so many years………

I suggest we need a proper enquiry into the circumstances surrounding these faults, independently carried out but funded by the manufacturer, to establish whether or not negligence, incompetence, prior knowledge was involved. Not just for Whirlpool but for any similar incident.

Manufacturers don’t always use the same parts when assembling their products. For example, two computers with the same model number may contain different makes of RAM, hard disk and power supply module. If there was a problem with a power supply, the manufacturer could recall only the affected computers. Keeping a record of what goes into each computer means that they just have to recall affected ones rather than all of them.

There may well be prior knowledge because a decision to issue a voluntary recall will be based on the number of incidents and their severity.

Congratulations and spare a thought for those running out of clean socks.

Let’s hope Santa will be lenient to those whose stockings have a little more aroma than usual.

Maybe Santa will be delivering an unusually high number of new washing machines…

Ironically, the spokesperson chosen to break the news about the recall and delay in action is Jeff Noel. I remember when Hotpoint was regarded as a decent brand.

“Manufacturers don’t always use the same parts when assembling their products. For example, two computers with the same model number may contain different makes of RAM, hard disk and power supply module. If there was a problem with a power supply, the manufacturer could recall only the affected computers. Keeping a record of what goes into each computer means that they just have to recall affected ones rather than all of them.”

Absolutely. Any production line worth its salt has Batch Travellers to record such nuances – and a glance at their Quality Control Policy (and referred documents) would reveal whether Whirlpool and subsidiaries abide by this. I am sure they would have something of this ilk in place to enable them to do a “card sort” and identify every serial number that has rogue switches.

The report by a customer where the technician identified a blackened door switch in another model should alert the powers that be to their issue possibly being wider spread.

I am amazed that any input transducer on the door needs to have more than logic levels – or that the lock itself more than a low power bidirectional pair of coils on a solenoid.

My first job was with Hoover in Perivale in 1961 as an apprentice. I began as a craft apprentice but shifted over to engineering in company’s the labs in materials sciences. Anyway, at that time Hoover made almost every part of their products and bought in only certain basic items such as screws, or complex specialist units such as a Holtzer time for the early Keymatic automatic washing machines. Everything else was made in-house. All bought in components and materials were subjected to a rigorous goods-inwards inspection regime and every finished product was tested before packing and despatch. However a Hoover Twin-Tub washing machine in 1968 (the year I married) cost about £65 to an employee which represents around £1,100 in today’s money. It’s unsurprising that quality control is inferior when a fully automatic washing machine such as mine costs £250 delivered.

It’s amazing how we have ‘progressed’.

Sadly it’s not just cheap products that can have problems. Recall the major recall of Bosch/Neff/Siemens dishwashers because a component could set light to the plastic fascia. Had the machines had metal fascias a fire could have been contained, making a recall unnecessary.

Ann110988 says:
29 December 2019

Hi I did not know about this, I reported a crack appearing in my focus of my dishwasher some 5+ years ago. I had no response from Bosch whatsoever. It seems to me all manufacturers are probably hiding their responsibilities. It really is time that punishment was so steep to fit the misdemeanour.

Hi Ann – The recall I mentioned was an old one, but you will still find a link to the recall on the home page of the Bosch website: https://www.bosch-home.co.uk There is a link to the same information on the Neff and Siemens websites. Some manufacturers may hide their responsibilities but – as you can see – others behave responsibly.

At present the Hotpoint website has a link to the problem with washing machines but the one relating to fire risk dryers has been removed, even though many unmodified machines may still be in use. I don’t have much confidence in Whirlpool, the owners of the Hotpoint brand.

There has been a total recall of Indesit et al dryers so clearly there will be no more out there needing to be replaced or modified…………. At least, that seems to be what the demand of government and consumer groups require and expect. Except you cannot recall all products if you do not know who owns them, and if those who do are not informed or don’t bother to check on line or read Which?.

Until we set up a system of compulsory registration for appropriate products we will keep facing this situation and burying our heads in the sand. Something must be done…….

Seemingly ignored in the above is the fact that many faulty appliances are not manufactured in Europe and that production scrutiny is less frequent. A catalogue of import design problems from stainless steel teapots and jugs that always drip to BC lamp holders that use steel instead of phosphor bronze springs so stop working after once getting hot points to enhanced obsolescence. CE logos is a sham. Bring back BS Specs for the British market; it had weight and traceability.

david hargreaves says:
11 June 2020

I HAVE JUST SPENT 3 HOURS TRYING TO CONTACT YOU ABOUT MY MACHINE MODELWMFUG842 VIA YOUR 08003161442 WHICH IS ON YOUR ON YOUR LIST FILLED IN ALL INFO ON LINE ONLY TO GET A REPLY YOU HAVE ALREADY REGISTERED ON 18/12/2019 NOTHING TO SAY IT SAFE OR NOT TO USE IT IS IT SAFE OR NOT?