/ 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

“Which? response to Whirlpool facing recall notice for unsafe tumble dryers 11 June 2019“. The government is displeased with Whirlpool, and about 3 years too late. It is proposing placing a recall notice on them to get to those owners who have not yet engaged with the remedial programme.

I’ll be interested to see how such contact can be made to make a general recall effective. Nothing has worked so far. I did ask above whether records of people’s on-line, credit and debit card purchases could be use to track them down.

I’ve heard nothing more about how recalls of vulnerable products could be handled in future. It is now several years since this was raised. My view remains that all such products should be compulsorily registered at the time of purchase. We’d then have the means to contact most of those affected by a suspect product.

@abbysempleskipper, Hello Abby, do you know what Which? doing to promote an effective recall system?

Well, the Government has now issued the recall notice. Only four years after the flaws were discovered, but bet7ter late than never, I suppose.

Whirlpool does not use the term recall, just safety notice: https://www.whirlpoolservice.co.uk/safety-notice

If companies fail to act promptly the government – via the Office of Public Safety and Standards – should take charge, so that the recall is dealt with promptly.

The government placed this in the hands of Peterborough Trading Standards. They then wrote a couple of letters to Whirlpool. No other organisation did anything constructive when it was clear the remedy was far too slow. Failure all round. What chances of the government ever acting “promptly” and “taking charge”. They cannot even organise a recall policy to cover vulnerable products. This is where Which?, supported dare I say it by interested Members, could make constructive proposals.

A “recall” cannot be effective unless you know who has the item being recalled as we have seen over the last 3½ years. Am I the only one frustrated by the talk with no action?

No, Malcolm, you are not alone and it is extremely disappointing that all the consideration given and recommendations made in these Conversations failed to produce any meaningful action. Plenty of suggestions were made on how to organise a recall and repair programme, using all sectors of the trade, but totally ignored. Setting up the OPSS was just a sop and in my opinion that body has been given undue credit for today’s announcement. Peterborough TS appears to have evaded any criticism as well. I also feel Which could have done more using its close links with government, but to its credit it did initiate a judicial review which precipitated a more purposeful approach eventually.

It’s not all over yet, of course, as the remedial work still has to be done on hundreds of thousands of machines at unknown addresses. People living in flats have to continue to be worried that there might be a fire-prone appliance just a few feet away from their home, and we know from experience that the emergency escape and fire containment or suppression arrangements in many multi-storey blocks are not satisfactory.

Hi all, a brilliant long read from the BBC here, complete with multiple Which? mentions:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/extra/D1qVRFeHpC/the_danger_in_our_homes

I was going to post a link to this and see that you have beaten me to it. It’s a bit confusing that some of the photos show Whirlpool-branded products because although the company is responsible (maybe a poor choice of word), none sold under that brand name have been identified as having a problem. The majority of the affected machines were sold under the Hotpoint and Indesit brand names.

I’ve not seen any action on the recall actually happening and the company still refers to a safety notice.

A useful commentary. As it explains, fires can occur from a number of sources. We can sensationalise them and, as it does, suggest for example the Grenfell Tower fire was down to a fridge-freezer. This ignores the true reason for the disaster – the cladding and lack of fire protection within the building that should have contained it. Any fire – from cooking, smoking, faulty appliance – would have had the same effect. A disaster waiting to happen.

As the BBC say, Whirlpool initially acted responsibly: “In 2014, the US-based firm bought its Italian rival Indesit, and reviewed the products now under its ownership. The company’s managers found something worrying with some models of dryers……..This design problem seemed to have existed for years.

In November 2015, Whirlpool issued a notice revealing there were risks with 5.3 million dryers sold across the UK between April 2004 and September 2015.

A question never answered is how this “existed for years” without anyone waking up to it – and whether Indesit concealed the problem. Had we had a Trading Standards that took in these problems from the public and collated them we might have saved a lot of lives. That is the Trading Standards who agreed to a doomed very protracted and dubious repair programme – and this is also where Whirlpool failed.

All this has been said before.

What we should now be doing is restoring Trading Standards to a strength that can properly police the market, that will take in individual problems from consumers, that will collate and take action when there is a problem emerging – in other words, protect consumers.

What we should also do with urgency (a concept seemingly unknown in government) is establish a compulsory registration system for potentially at risk products. To demand a “full recall” when we don’t know who owns the affected appliances seems like the usual talk with no action.

The BBC commentary includes this statement:”There is a general requirement for manufacturers, importers and distributors to ensure products are safe. But the safety standards across the board are still in effect voluntary, although some are referenced in EU law.“. A pity to include an untrue statement. The products in question are, by regulation, required to meet the requirements of the relevant safety standards – in this case the BS EN 60335 series, to be legally put on the EU market. Such facts should be checked before going public.

Hi all, you may be interested to read this thread and watch Sue Davies giving evidence today at the BEIS Select Committee:

https://twitter.com/WhichUK/status/1145982503553064960

“The OPSS needs to get a grip on this issue and get a proper understanding of the scale of the problem and make sure unsafe machines are taken out of people’s homes”

@Gmartin, George, I did watch almost all of this. Much of the problem revolves around dealing with potentially unsafe products and rectifying or replacing them, for the safety not only of the owners but of their neighbours. So where was any discussion about establishing a proper recall system? It seems to me the way to protect consumers is to be able to contact them directly when a product they have is subject to a problem that needs attention. That, to my mind, needs compulsory registration at the time of purchase – or is there another solution that Which? should have proposed?

My Whirlpool built-in oven stopped working a couple of weeks ago with a bang and a puff of smoke. A bit worrying. I will never buy a Whirlpool product. I replaced it with a Which best buy Samsung NV75K3340RS for £369 instead of the latest price of £430.

It is likely that the heater has failed. With freestanding cookers, replacing the heater can be an easy DIY task but with built-in ovens it will depend on design. Whirlpool/Hotpoint/Indesit products are on my ‘Don’t Buy’ list too.

Yes, Hotpoint is also on my “Dont Buy” list, after I had a Hotpoint washing machine whose heating element repeatedly broke. Surprisingly that was a Which best buy, as is the replacement AEG washing machine. Of course, they’re all part of the same group.

Hotpoint is a brand now used by Whirlpool, but I believe the AEG brand now belongs to Electrolux.

Swedish multinational home appliance manufacturer Electrolux also owns a number of other brands, including AEG, Chef, Dishlex, Kelvinator, Simpson, Westinghouse and Zanussi. You’ll find some of the company’s products, including fridges, washers and dryers made in Thailand

I think when Which? publish reports they should show the owner of the brand and where the product being reviewed is manufactured. Whether it has an independent national test laboratory approval mark – like ENEC (for Europe, Kitemark for BSI). The more information we have the better.

I’d also like them to dismantle tested products to see the quality of design, build and components towards helping give us an idea on likely durability and real value for money.

Ken says:
5 July 2019

At last the government have decided to act bit late

I don’t know what action the government is taking. A “full recall”, for example, seems impossible if you don’t know who owns potentially defective machines. These committees often seem rather like show trials.

Parliamentary select committees are independent of the government and, unless it suits them politically, the government does not necessarily endorse – let alone implement – any recommendations they make. The government will usually report back on specific points if requested but that can often be an anodyne response.

Ian Gorse says:
5 July 2019

I identified our tumble drier as being one of the recalled driers after reading about it on your site, I filled out the online form about a month ago and gave them my details but still haven’t heard back from them.
It’s sat in the corner of the kitchen unplugged.

William says:
5 July 2019

Scrap all whirlpool products for safety reason and buy miele far superior maybe not cheap but don t catch fire it only takes one fire eg grenfell whirlpool have thumbed their nose at consumers refuse to purchase in future

E Perry says:
5 July 2019

I find it interesting that I registered with Whirlpool prior to two of my relatives living in the same are. They have both had their machines ‘modified’. Yet I am still awaiting the pleasure of Whirlpool contacting me. I wonder what criteria they use when deciding priorities.

Terry says:
5 July 2019

I am a retired fire brigade officer and I have seen at 1st hand the damage domestic appliances can cause, and the effects on the families unfortunate enough to have had fires in the home. They should be reminded about Grenfell, enough said I think

In fairness, Grenfell was a failure to have proper fire protection in the building to contain a fire to a single premises, and a failure to use appropriate cladding. There are far more fires caused by cooking appliances then by all other domestic appliances. We should be thinking of mandatory sprinkler/spray systems in, at least, the kitchens of multi-occupant buildings to help deal with the whole problem of domestic fires, whatever the cause.

DerekP says:
5 July 2019

Like it or not, more lives might have been saved at Grenfell if more residents had evacuated as soon as the fire was first discovered.

We have, out of respect for the victims and for the inquiry, generally avoided discussing the Grenfell Tower tragedy. However, my concern is we are now 2 years on and has it, for example, yet

– decided on the legality or otherwise of the cladding?

– decided on whether local authority building control departments – that should ensure building regulations are complied with – operate correctly?

– decided whether building regulations are adequate and, if not, how they should be changed?

To protect others, it seems these were the urgent matters that should have been decided relatively quickly, and changes recommended for immediate implementation.

I feel such inquiries are often far too wide ranging and simply take far too long, instead of prioritising and taking a pragmatic approach.

Does anyone know exactly what has been brought to a conclusion?

William says:
5 July 2019

Read about electrolux stuff being made in thailand this is very true we had a fire with friers and trouble with tumble driers offshore on inspection made in thailand electrolux

We need to bear in mind that domestic appliances and equipment for the home market were not that wonderful when they were mostly made in the UK. How they are used is as critical as how well they are made.

That is very true, John. The saving grace was that they were simpler and much easier to repair.

B.Clarke says:
5 July 2019

It is dangerous to brush the concerns of the dryers under the carpet, deal with the problem.

Richard says:
6 July 2019

Why does the Government do so little about this? Could it be that most top tories are either directors or major shareholders of this company? If that’s the case safety will never be put before profit, greed will always win out. Certainly worth looking into.

DerekP says:
6 July 2019

Richard, I doubt that this is the problem.

Right now Brexit is the main problem that is directing the attention of our Government away from almost everything else.

Then, for example, relative to other sources of accidental death, how many lives are being lost to these dryer fires?

Rob says:
6 July 2019

I used to work for Radio Rentals on the delivery side which was Thorn home serve now Boxclever since 2000 I was a drivers assistant installer we went in to customers homes and install all wight goods the vented dryers from my personal view was dangerous as I had one and after it was serviced it caught fire 24 hours later after its second use. ( Hoover ) replaced it for a new condenser one. Now back in 2004 I think it was Hotpoint factory was hit by fire and after short time when there new line was back on track boxclever took a large consignment of dryers and washer/dryers after 1st week we were going back to replace the one which had overheated and damaged there cloths 3 of which had caught fire. we had known then there was a problem. but nothing was done. Even our bosses were sending data back to manufactures.

I want to say thank you and well done to Which? for it’s valuable campaign about these appallingly dangerous products. Whirlpool should be brought to justice for the lives it had endangered and ruined, and the government should hang its head in shame for failing to take appropriate action for so long.

Topee says:
8 July 2019

My drier takes twice the time to dry clothes since modification. I only use it if I’m home because I don’t trust the modification.

@abbysempleskipper, Abby, when Which? gave evidence at the BEIS select committee they talked about the 30 or so modified dryers that had caught fire in some way (my words). Whirlpool, in their evidence, said they had only investigated 3 and had asked Which? for details of the others but that Which? had not provided the information to them.

I asked Which? a couple of weeks ago whether or not they had given Whirlpool the information needed for these incidents to be followed up, but have still not had a response. It seems a very serious matter if 30 modified machines were still unsafe but not being investigated thoroughly. What is the situation? Who is examining the reported still-unsafe dryers?