/ Home & Energy

Which? gives evidence on Whirlpool at BEIS select committee

We gave evidence this week to a BEIS Select Committee session. We believe the OPSS review is fundamentally flawed, meaning people are still potentially at risk.

Update 04/07/2019

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.

DerekP says:
30 July 2019

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.

DerekP says:
30 July 2019

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