/ Home & Energy

Whirlpool: Which? will push for this issue to be resolved

burnt tumble dryer

As Which? approaches its 60th anniversary I wouldn’t have expected to be writing about the issue I write about today. This last year, I’ve been left shocked and angry at the behaviour of one particular manufacturer regarding its appalling response to potentially dangerous products – that manufacturer is Whirlpool.

For those unfamiliar with this story, certain lines of Whirlpool tumble dryers sold under the Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Proline and Swan brands are at risk of catching fire.

And this is not just a theoretical possibility, it’s happened in several cases over the past year – notably in a blaze at a flat block in Shepherd’s Bush in London.

Whirlpool Failings

Good design and manufacturing processes are essential to ensuring safe products. If a product could cause a risk to life or serious injury then we think a customer ought to be able to expect a prompt recall or fix from manufacturers. We don’t believe this is happening with Whirlpool.

Whirlpool’s advice to consumers is simply not to leave the tumble dryers unattended.

To date, Whirlpool has refused to list the affected products (Which? had to do this instead), and in most cases it’s merely offering to repair the affected models – which many of you have told us is taking many months – or give a discounted price on a different model.

Don’t Buy

We want anyone coming to Which? for information and advice to know that we have very serious concerns about how Whirlpool has handled this issue.

In our view, Whirlpool has failed to act adequately, so we’ve labelled all affected fire-risk dryers Don’t Buys – this is to clearly tell people to avoid unmodified versions of these products at all costs. This affects versions of the machines manufactured before October 2015, not those on sale now through Whirlpool or their official trading partners. So if you’re thinking of buying one of these machines second hand, our advice is not to. These affected fire-risk dryers will be marked as Don’t Buy products until we can be confident the problem has been rectified.

We will also be making our concerns about Whirlpool clearly visible on the product review pages on our website. The public should know that we think Whirlpool is failing to appropriately sort out this very serious product safety issue.

Until this is resolved we cannot have faith that consumers will be treated well in the event of any problems with their products.

Product safety

We’ll also be looking across all the brands we review and making the behaviour of brands regarding product safety a key feature of our product research and campaigning activities.

This is a warning to all manufacturers – if we consider you to be failing to act and adequately dealing with a product safety issue, you will be called out by Which?.

Which? and the London Fire Brigade have been pressing for action, but, as far as we can see, little progress has been made by Whirlpool.

We’ve been highlighting the case in the media over the past year, met with the trading standards officers in Peterborough, to try to get them to be tougher, and raised the matter with the Consumer Minister.

And we will continue to push hard for this to be resolved.

Comments
Member

I am pleased to see CEO Peter Vicary-Smith taking a firm stance on this subject, making “no bones ” about it . It needs to be given maximum publicity if only to save life and property . I hope the government realises how strong the feeling is nationwide and ,at least, intervenes in some fashion , in this terrible situation.

Member

Which? appears to have had no real influence in dealing with this issue. It has been going on now for over a year, with affected consumers no better off. Which? have not advised consumers to my knowledge that under consumer law (SoGA and CRA) when an item is unsafe the remedy should be made without unreasonable inconvenience. The implication is there should be compensation. Nor have they reported on any examination and testing of unsafe tumble dryers to see whether they might fail the International safety standards requirements on fire. Nor have I seen any indication that suggestions made in these Whirlpool Convos to possibly improve safety in dryer design has been considered by Which? and taken up with the BSI Committee that is responsible for the UK’s input into amending international standards.

Moaning about the situation – well we can all do that (and do). But constructive action is also needed.

Member

I would have preferred a more prompt response but it is very encouraging that Which is taking the action outlined by Peter V-S. It had not occurred to me that unmodified tumble dryers might still be on sale.

This could be a good time to look at the the safety of tumble dryers and other appliances. It has long been recognised that failure to clean the lint filter of a tumble dryer presents a risk of fire, yet I am not aware of any domestic tumble dryers with any form of interlock that prevents use until the lint filter has been cleaned. In contrast, for many years, washing machines have interlocks to prevent the door being opened while they are in use.

In the previous Convo I have posted photos and links to pages showing that move towards plastics in the casings of tumble dryers and washing machines means that if a fire does start it may it may spread, whereas a metal case could have contained the fire. It’s not just Whirlpool machines that are a danger in our homes.

Member

It is a good thing we are here to provide the ideas though of course we tend to the more practical end of the action spectrum.

What I am curious about is what is the situation in the rest of Europe. Are the affected ones solely sold in the UK? What is happening in Eire, Germany and Holland ?

Member

“Whirlpool: Which? will push for this issue to be resolved.”

Very encouraging.

Member

“This is a warning to all manufacturers – if we consider you to be failing to act and adequately dealing with a product safety issue, you will be called out by Which?”
Which? have known about this for over a year. What exactly does this assertion mean, and how long to action it?

Member
Brian Clifford says:
18 November 2016

Just about the worst experience I have ever had as a consumer. Essentially I was blackmailed into buying a new tumble dryer because Hotpoint were happy to let me live indefinitely with a very serious fire risk. An absolutely impossible company to deal with with a cavalier attitude towards its customers. As long as I walk this earth I will never buy a Hotpoint product again.
As for the company continuing to claim these fire risks are okay to carry on using providing they are not left unattended, I am way beyond belief. The advice shouts out that there is a very real risk of fire and you should be ready to extinguish it when it happens. Perhaps they should send out a loan fire extinguisher until such time they get around to repairing their products. In my case I would have been on standby for over 21 months had I not taken action.
Terrible company who frankly deserve to be abandoned by any customers it still has left.

Member
Robert C says:
20 November 2016

I don’t know how old the purchase is, but if you felt it was not fit for for purpose (and I’d agree) so that you need a replacement, then did you buy the original with a credit card? If so what does the credit card company say when you ask for a full refund ? They are jointly and severally liable, I believe.

Member
Jennie says:
19 November 2016

My parents, who are in their late 80s, have an affected model. A reasonably close neighbour was out of her home for six months following a tumble dryer fire where the flames went to paint stored in the garage adjoining the utility room. My parents do not have the internet. I tried to get this problem dealt with as a matter of urgency but failed. I was given a time scale of ten weeks for an initial response, not a repair or replacement. I found the CEO’s email and contacted him. The machine was fixed a week later! He has probably changed his email by now.

Member
Dave W says:
19 November 2016

Shouldn’t all Whirlpool products be labelled ‘don’t buys’ since he company can’t be trusted to rectify problems and not put customers at risk? Perhaps all their products should be banned until they can prove that their design, quality, testing and customer care are up to scratch.

Member
Jo Jarman says:
20 November 2016

I telephoned Which a year ago, asking them to find a telephone number for Whirlpool which I could call to get my mother’s repair prioritised as she is disabled with a heart condition. This was after 1½ hours being passed from one number to another within Hotpoint, where nobody I spoke to was interested.

I am sorry to say that the which advisor I spoke to was singularly unhelpful. He said that they had published the telephone number given so had “done their bit”. This was the first number I had called and got nowhere.

The advisor was not interested in anything further I had to say.

Rather late in the for Which to say they are championing the cause now!

I was particularly disappointed as I have been a Which member (paying their subscription) for many years.

The first time I asked for help it was not forthcoming.

Member

I share your anguish Jo. This organisation has become flaccid.

Which? has become too engrossed in making money and pushing the brand. For generating column inches and statements I think it has no rival but actually being proactive it has failed miserably.

Member

Hi Jo, I’m really sorry to hear this, I’ll share this feedback with the team. Did Which? Member Services manage to find the number you needed in the end? Has your mother’s machine now been fixed?

Member
Jo Jarman says:
10 December 2016

As I said, the Which advisor was no help at all. He stated that Which had done all that was required of them by publishing the telephone number. He certainly was not prepared to contact Hotpoint/Whirlpool to ask for another number.

My mother paid £99 for a replacement dryer in February 2016. As she is disabled, we could not take the unacceptable risk of her dryer catching fire.

Member

In March 2012 I posted this in my Cost of Behaviour Blog
“Two weeks ago, I read a Product Warning advertisement in the weekend paper asking if I had a Bosch Dishwasher made between 1998 and 2006, and if so to check the serial and batch numbers, and then log into a web site. The web site informed me our machine needed an engineer visit and asked me to select a date from this calendar; I booked the soonest which was within 1 week and received an email confirming the engineer call. The day before I received a text message to confirm the booking and again the next morning before the engineer arrived. The smartly uniformed Bosch engineer replaced the main computer control unit in our machine, tested it thoroughly and re-installed it, all within one hour. Every step of his process had been thoroughly planned and prepared with check lists, van stock etc. His workmanship was meticulous and precise at every step. He cheerfully and openly explained that this was due to a problem that had, in only two cases, caused a domestic fire. Bosch had found that the cause was down to UK domestic supply voltage variations that exceeded their original design specification and that, as a precaution, they were replacing all units they could trace for the whole 8 or 9 year production run. Our machine is 10 years old. Now that is Living Quality, a demonstration by an engineer who believed totally in his Company, his Products and his Service. Here was Bosch’s Service Hero.
Oh yes, and here is the killer line for all you folk that worry about customers’ recognition of excellent service value, a few days later I received the Bosch Invoice that stated what had been replaced at no charge and, in very small print (that is the really clever bit, think about it), stated “The invoice amount of £176.68 plus VAT is covered internally out of goodwill”.
So, everybody, next time you are thinking about any form of household electrical product, my case is clear, go Buy a Bosch. ”
Note today – ONLY TWO CASES!

Member
Robert C says:
20 November 2016

To quote the article above “Whirlpool’s advice to consumers is simply not to leave the tumble dryers unattended.”
Simple questions:
a) did it say this in the publicity material or in the manual?
b) if you had known this before you bought it, would you have changed your mind and bought a different make ?

I really do not know why Which supports the idea of a recall any longer – as soon as Whirlpool’s comment lack of action was known why did we not declare the products not fit for purpose and request a refund? There is a 6 year rule (forget the 2 year warranty) if the product is faulty by design, which it clearly is.

Can someone tell me why we (Which and the membership) are allowing Whirlpool to continue with advice to sit watching our tumble dryers go round ?

Member
Roy Metcalfe says:
20 November 2016

What is the problem? I used the recall procedure and had a Hoover TVFS 83C for £59 which is better than the one replaced. It has 15 programmes, although I only use the ready to wear. It is fast, much quicker than the 140 minutes quoted and the sensor is near enough accurate. In my view a best buy!

Member

I’m curious to know if Whirlpool’s attitude stems from them believing that if dryers are operated according to their instructions they cannot catch fire? In other words, do they believe (rightly or wrongly I don’t know) that the fires are always caused ultimately by user misuse albeit facilitated by a design “fault”?

Also, if there is a design fault why aren’t consumers being advised to get refunds from the retailer under the sale of goods act? If there is a design fault allowing fluff to touch the element isn’t that an inherent fault?

Finally, shouldn’t Whirlpools advice be to ensure you have a suitable fire extinguisher close by? Being present when an appliance goes up in flames is little use without one as the lady from the recent fire in the block of flats found. She was in the kitchen at the time but all she could do is flee and the house just burned.

Member

A washing machine has an interlock to prevent the door being opened when in use but a tumble dryer does not have an interlock to ensure that the filter is cleaned before starting a cycle. I don’t know if that can be classified as a design fault but it’s certainly very poor design in my view.

Member

I am given to understand that loose fluff on Indesit machines was drawn onto the heater. Not, from what I understood, directly due to a blocked filter. I do wish someone would find out (unless I’ve missed it) exactly what the problem is with these dryers.

I have asked Which? what direct involvement they have with BSI. That is where suggestions should be discussed if they are to get anywhere.

Member

My understanding is that lint builds up on the filter of tumble dryer, reducing the airflow and causing a build up back to the heater, where it can ignite. This is a general problem with condenser and vented dryers, which is why the instructions point out the importance of cleaning the filter. Depending on the design, there is the possibility that fluff can be drawn into the heater.

Here is an example of the need to be able to make Freedom of Information requests to companies. We could have learned why the Whirlpool dryers are at greater risk of catching fire.

Member

Two naive questions :

1. Why hasn’t the Fire Service Research and Training Trust been asked to investigate the causes of all these tumble dryer fires?

2. Why can’t the airflow drive lint away from the heater elements?

Member

To answer your second question, the airflow decreases as lint builds up on the filter. Think of a vacuum cleaner, where the airflow is greatest when a new bag is fitted but declines significantly as the paper or cloth becomes blocked with dust. The result is that lint can build up elsewhere until it comes in contact with the heater.

Member

I don’t think these are naive John. If we don’t investigate causes then we can’t make improvements. We can speculate as much as we like but without the facts we are doing no more than that. I would have hoped Which? might have got to grips with this with one of their independent labs – they would have done consumers a service. I still ask whether these defective machines would pass the BS EN safety standard test but no one seems at all interested.

If the blower directs air away from the heater element then it seems difficult, to me, in a decent design for lint to then find its way back onto the element. However there may well be an explanation and it may be a peculiarity of the Indesit-made machine design that allows this to happen. I’d hope there might be an expert out there who can shed light on this. I assume Whirlpool can because they seem to have designed a fix.

Member

Malcolm – Since you have access to the relevant standards, can you please tell us if the fire-related tests are carried out on used tumble dryers that may have accumulated lint inside? If only new dryers are tested then I suggest that they are inadequate.

About 40 years ago I became aware of the danger of lint accumulating in tumble dryers and dryers were going on fire long before the current problems.

Member

The interlock on a washing machine of course prevents water being let out and inadvertent contact with a spinning drum and contents for example. An interlock on a dryer filter might only be useful if a blocked filter was the certain cause of a fire. We don’t know that this is the primary cause on dryers in general, as far as I know. It would presumably need quite a sensitive pressure differential switch to reliably detect when a filter is blocked, and that would require the drier to be initially started to check the pressure differential.

I am all for safety precautions, and am not discounting some form of interlock, but would like to know first whether it would get to the root cause of the problem. Adding unnecessary items just in case leads to more malfunctions and cost. So let’s pass on good ideas to BSI – hopefully through Which? – where experts in the field can give them proper consideration.

Member

A simple interlock that requires the filter to be dismantled for servicing would probably be cheaper and more reliable than a pressure differential switch, but the problem is that domestic tumble dryers have neither.

Regarding the problem of lint accumulation in dryers, here is an explanation of the problem by a service engineer: http://www.ukwhitegoods.co.uk/help/fix-it-yourself/tumble-dryer-self-help/3272-tumble-dryer-fire-risks Similar information can be found on other websites.

I have expressed concerns to our Consumer Minister and learned that she recently set up a Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety under the Chair of Neil Gibbins, the CEO of the Institution of Fire Engineers and former Deputy Chief Fire Officer for Somerset and Devon. Hopefully Which? will have an input.

I am more concerned about the general problem of fire in appliances. I presume that the Whirlpool problems have triggered investigation of the issue.

Member

I think I reported this earlier. Tests are carried out with the lint filter 50% blocked, and for condenser driers with the air outlet 75% then fully blocked.

Which? is shown as being represented on a consumer representative group that is part of the BSI committee that includes the safety of domestic appliances. I would presume this committee is likely to be looking at the Whirlpool issue to see if it demands any amendment to the relevant standards. I hope Which? are both raising this, and passing on comments that have been made on this and related Convos. I have asked Which? about this but have not had a reply yet.

Member

Thanks Malcolm. You did indeed give this information before: https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/whirlpool-fire-risk-rip-off-britain-pete-moorey/#comment-1462578

Unless specified otherwise, I would assume that 50% blockage would relate to covering half the filter rather than testing a machine that has been allowed to accumulate lint, the former option being far easier to reproduce under standard conditions. In the absence of other information, I assume that no tests are carried out on used machines that have accumulated lint. In fact I would have difficulty in designing lab tests that could test fire resistance in machines that had accumulated lint under anything like standard conditions.

If I was a tumble dryer designer I would specify an all-steel case (including the door) to contain any fire that might start. For a vented dryer, a metal vent duct would be needed. Simple, practical measures that could, I believe, put an end to tumble dryer fires. Is there any reason why that would not work?

Member

Best ask the experts wavechange, as I have said before. Which? presumably represent the consumer interest in this and should pass on all our good ideas.

Member

I don’t have easy access to the standards and am not permitted to print more than 10% of a document, so cannot properly study the text. I can also claim no expertise in working with tumble dryers and don’t even own one. My suggestions are recorded here for anyone who wants to use them.

Member

Let’s hope Which? use the suggestions, wavechange. I would have taken an Indesit dryer apart to see why they were a problem, and checked the materials used if I had the opportunity. When Which? had its own labs this might have been done. Then we might make progress based on evidence.

I have asked before about Which?’s involvement with BSI ( who are the guardians of standards, including the crucial safety standards). I recently had occasion to discuss this with one of the Which? staff and was told they didn’t think they had had any contact for around 4 years. I do hope this was not the case.

Member

When I started to use Which? Convo I thought that there could be a real chance that serious comment might be listened to, but I now see it more as a useful form of social networking. I don’t believe that it is within the current remit of Which? to carry out the detailed investigations frequently suggested by Convo regulars. We are not informed of their remit or priorities, other than made obvious from campaigns, surveys and topics that come up for discussion frequently.

I appreciate the value of standards but the number of appliance fires clearly demonstrates that there is a problem with the standards or compliance, or both.

Member

Wavechange-Thats a serious comment on the whole basis of Which,s public philosophy or should I say in modern language – “downloaded update of firmware ” as in “changing the system as per Windows ” to a process . What Which are doing is adjusting to the modern British political system as it stands now . Whether you agree with that or disagree with that is a bit of a mute point as that is obviously the board feel is the “way to go ” in this modern society -IE- conforming to the latest trends and directions of this government.

Member

Which? is a consumers’ association primarily funded by subscriptions from its members. Those members should expect to see their consumer rights – and by implication those of consumers in general – promoted and protected. This extends from products to services. Somewhere some think the balance and to some extent some impartiality and objectivity has been lost. More engagement between its Members and Which? might help redress the balance. One good move might be to look at the composition of Council to see, for example, just how many have experience in the product or manufacturing sector.

Member
Wavechange says:
22 November 2016

In order to improve impartiality and objectivity then experience in regulation would be be useful on Council, for example experience with Trading Standards, Food Standards Agency, etc.

Member

wavechange. Unfortunately the idea of the Council as a haven for ex-quango members has not been a success. I have devoted considerable thought to this and investigated the backgrounds of candidates and how things work.

As I know JW and yourself do not like to discuss these matters on this forum I will be very brief.
We have co-opteds appointed as elected, we have had pairs of Trustees from HMRC, Unilever, and Defra and Ofcom. This may seem just lucky or alternatively we are being provided with a narrow range of experience.

Former staff of Capital One the card issuer has provided two non-executive Directors to the loss-making Which? Financial Services.

Anyway you are about to vote possibly, and IMO as an Associate Member if you do not get the Minutes and you do not get the Accounts you have no business voting for the Trustees. To do so disenfranchises those who are Ordinary Members and do take a part in Governance.

Member

Duncan – You are crediting Which? with making a rational and ideological transition in its approach to consumer issues. It might appear like that but I doubt that such evolution has been so deliberate.

Wavechange was commenting on how Which? Conversation serves both Which? and its members/subscribers. I see it as a fluid relationship which has its ups and downs but does not necessarily characterise Which?’s position in the world of consumer representation. There is no doubting that a number of us feel some disappointment with Which? Conversation, and have expressed those thoughts, and Malcolm has suggested that better engagement might close the gap, which I endorse.

So far as I can see, having been a subscriber for over fifty years, there is no fundamental difference in the British political system today to how it was all those years ago. I also see no evidence that Which? is conforming to “the latest trends and direction of the [current] government”; one thing I do think still casts Which? in a favourable light is that it does not take orders from government and is still clearly independent. Which? has always had to operate in the prevailing political environment.

Perhaps I am missing something, but I do not see where “downloaded update of firmware ” as in “changing the system as per Windows” fits in.

Member

Patrick – As I have explained before, the reason I don’t want to criticise Which? governance here is because I want Which? Convo to thrive and be seen as valuable rather than a bit of an embarrassment to Which? I suggest that it would be useful to have minutes etc. available online.

Member

Convos should be a valuable source of fact and opinion for Which? to develop. I consider this would be greatly improved if we had more response in these Convos from Which?, from the Convo authors, and from experts to put us right. I know Patrick has tried to do this and supports it, but it has still to happen. I also believe articles in Which? on Convo topics should wait until the Convo has developed – comments and information may well hopefully contribute to the subsequent article rather than, as often, run in parallel.

I do not think Which? would expect to be above comment in these Convos, particularly when it makes statements that are subject to criticism. If it, for example, keeps raising criticisms of Whirlpool (quite rightly) but has not apparently looked at causes of faults, compensating inconvenienced owners, tackled safety standards, tested a faulty dryer, for example then I would think it fair to question their approach. If they promote unarranged overdrafts as a right that should cost no more than arranged overdrafts I think it fair to question that philosophy. If we do not think sufficient resources are devoted to product testing, and looking at issues such as durability and repairability, I think it is fair to say so. But they are personal views that others can take issue with. Why should Which? be above (constructive) criticism in a public debate any more than any other organisation or business?

Member

John-Far be it from me to “interfere” with the workings of Which in which I have no legal say , but to say nothing has changed in British society thats a sweeping statement I dont agree with and neither does millions of Brits. All I am saying is that Which , how shall I put it is ? “Flowing with the Times ” , is that neutral enough ? I am not condemning Which , as I have said many times I am a realist and will live with existing values although I might not agree with them , you work with what you have got , I learned that long ago in engineering , if you are called out to a farm and dont have all the tools to repair something you improvise . Life changes , as does the Windows system which isnt what was envisaged by those that bought into the system as it is now in the throes of becoming a paid for process with continual payments in the future if you want it to continue . I see Which as “evolving ” i am sure many dont want to see that happen but its a fundamental “fight ” you have , its just recognizing it and using strategy.

Member

I have put eleven years worth up. The organisation refused to let me have older copies but fortunately I have begged them from other members and apart from 2001, 2002 & 1999 have complete sets back to 1991.

As suspected some matters re-occur

Member

Duncan – I have not said that there have been no changes in British society. I was remarking on your comment that Which? has been having to adapt to the British political system as it is today. My point was that the political system has hardly changed in fifty years and would be recognisable to Harold Macmillan and every prime minister since.

British society, on the other hand, has never stopped changing and Which? has continually moved with the times to reflect the changes in products, in services, in lifestyles, and in every aspect of life that is relevant to consumers. I am pleased that it has continuously evolved, for if it hadn’t it would have become extinct. However, after further consideration of the question, I still cannot agree with you that Which? is having to conform to “the latest trends and direction of this government”. Which? owes nothing to the government and doesn’t have to trim its sails to suit the mood of the present occupants of the ministerial offices and I jolly well hope it won’t. In fact I would go so far as to say that I don’t associate Which? with a “public philosophy” as you suggest; our differences with Which? seem to me to be largely temporary and topical, not fundamental. I certainly don’t have any quibble with its mission but I reserve the right to goad it into action sometimes.

There was a time when I first subscribed that there was virtually no feedback, nor indeed any opportunity for feedback, to the magazine; the writers were anonymous; the tests were reported in an anodyne manner; and we got what we were given. Things are so much different now but not above healthy criticism in certain respects, and it is a learning organisation, even though the process tries our patience at times.

Member

I find it very difficult to believe that the failure of Which? to openly consider pushing for an outright ban on unsolicited calls is not influenced by government, industry or both. Maybe we should get back to tumble dryers.

Member

John I lived through the Harold Macmillan era and I actually didnt have much to complain about it and if you look to Scotland there were even Tory majorities there -1955 Scotland voted Tory -THAT is the type of Conservatism I find acceptable. But by no stretch of the imagination has the benign type of Toryism prevalent now it hasnt just lurched to the right it has went there in full battle cry and isnt the type of Conservationism I recognise . I am just as much nationalistic as the next person but a lot of the thinking is pro BB now and anti-poor . likewise advertising is BB they go together , I know all about the advertising business and its methods and IMO its gone too far but I understand it from Which,s position and dont feel so antagonistic to the way it is going. That may sound schizophrenic but to me its just evolution.

Member

Wavechange – I certainly find Which?’s position on cold-calling heavily compromised and always assumed that it was due to a conflict of interest within the organisation between the ‘consumer champions’ and the ‘market researchers’. I am not suspicious of government influence in that case but would not be surprised if chums in the market research industry were pulling some strings. It’s always worth remembering that Which? is just as much a parasite of the consumer society as many of the other bodies that feed off it. One hopes they are more decent than most parasites though.

Member

Yes, Duncan – I agree: everything is different now; it’s déja vu all over again, and even nostalgia is not what it used to be.

Member

The big question for me is, are Whirlpool insisting that these dryers cannot catch fire due to this issue if filters are and have been cleaned out regularly? Or are they conceding that it could happen even to someone who follows the instructions properly?

If the former, then their position is yes we made them with a design fault but nothing can happen if you read and follow the instruction manual properly. If the latter, surely they should be recalled immediately? I suspect it’s the former but they don’t want to come out and say it’s your own fault if it catches fire.

Member

I’d like to know why, if the filter is blocked with lint, the dryer can then catch fire when the constructional materials near the heater should be resistant to burning. And why this is essentially an Indesit design that does this. We should know what causes the problem if we are to protect against it in the future – something that safety standards could address. Has anyone examined a dryer to see what the design fault actually is and why it causes a problem?

Member

Inappropriate constructional materials near the heater are one factor, but it is essential to think about other flammable materials, including lint and dry clothing. Some dryer manuals explicitly warn of the danger of fire if filters are not cleaned or if the dryer is stopped mid-cycle. The dangers exist with all brands of dryers.

Member

The instructions tell you not to stop mid cycle (because of the danger of clothes overheating). Users have to read instructions and the required content of instructions is clearly set down in the safety standard.

Member

“Inappropriate constructional materials near the heater are one factor” would cause a dryer to fail the safety tests given in BS EN 60335-2-11 and prohibit the use of a CE Mark and its sale within the EU. It is far from a trivial factor. I hope Indesit have not made this error but it would be very helpful to have this confirmed.

Member

I don’t believe that this is adequate, Malcolm. There should be some form of interlock that prevents dryers being stopped mid-cycle, other than by unplugging them. Washing machines have devices that stop the door being opened for a period after the power has been shut off. It’s not difficult to think of reasons where instructions might not be to hand. For example, they might not be provided in a rented property, be passed on when a house is sold or be provided with a secondhand appliance is purchased. Common sense suggests that manufacturers should aim to make products as safe as reasonably practical. Why put safety interlocks on washing machines but not on tumble dryers?

Member

I agree. If laundry could catch fire if a dryer is stopped mid-cycle then they should be designed so a user can’t stop one mid-cycle. It’s well known most people don’t read instruction manuals although arguably you could be harsh and say if they don’t they can’t complain about consequences. I’m not sure that’s a legitimate stance to adopt by a manufacturer though. Unfortunately there’s not much that could be done in the event of a failure in electricity supply or a fault on the dryer. However, opening a door straight after stopping could in theory introduce fresh oxygen and aid combustion so a time lock might help there.

Dryers have always just had a simple micro-switch that stops the dryer if the door is opened. This could be replaced by a proper interlock. Historically interlocks have been unnecessary on dryers because the slow revolving drum stops instantly unlike a fast spinning washing machine drum.

If susceptible dryers aren’t going to have proper interlocks there should be a warning sticker/label on the actual dryer warning not to stop it mid-cycle (if doing so could potentially cause ignition of laundry).

Member

My main reason for wanting an interlock on tumble dryers is to prevent use until the filter has been removed for cleaning, but preventing the door from being opened mid-cycle is another good reason. There must be a great temptation to open the door mid-cycle to check if the load is dry.

I have not had a tumble dryer for years but remember that mine had the door microswitch you mention. Opening the door would stop the machine and closing it would restart it. There was a recent report of a disabled child climbing into a dryer, which started when the door was closed: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/15/family-dog-rescues-boy-spinning-in-tumble-dryer/

You have experience with working with appliances and I appreciate your input.

Member

I think some users like to open the door mid-cycle, to see if their clothes are dry enough to allow the cycle to be terminated.

Provided you can see that the clothes are not already smouldering, then opening the door is unlikely to cause an ignition event.

I’m not sure if it would be easy to have an interlock based on the detection of a blocked filter. An interlock based on a timer (e.g. an hour-meter) would be easier to design, and if it required users to at least remove any filter housings before it reset, they would be a good chance of them removing an lint build-up while they were at it.

Member

Some dryer instructions warn that opening the door can be a fire risk. With some dryers, opening the door mid-cycle can cause a non-resettable thermal fuse to blow, requiring dismantling and replacement by a service engineer.

What I had in mind as an interlock could be as simple and cheap as a reset button that could only be accessed by removing the filter. That would not prevent a user pressing the button and putting back the blocked filter. As you say, there are alternatives.

Member

“mid-cycle” sounds rather grand. The old drier I used to maintain just had a clockwork timer and a thermostat – so either opening the door or the timer reaching its end just cut the power.

Mind you, that machine used all metal construction and its lint filter was on the door, because that was where the hot air exit was. With that design the filter was easy to access & clean.

Member

The standard requires that when the door is closed another operation is required to start the dryer.

Member

The safety standard requires the instructions to include “WARNING never stop a tumble dryer before the end of the drying cycle unless all items are quickly removed and spread out so that their heat is dissipated”.

Member

For years, automatic cars have had to be in ‘park’ or ‘neutral’ before they can be started and more recently, the clutch of manual cars has had to be depressed before starting – something I first encountered in Canada. If the instructions for tumble dryers just to have safety instructions then I suggest that urgent action is needed to provide some form of interlock to prevent the machine being stopped mid-cycle and operated without cleaning the filter.

Thanks for the information, Malcolm, but I hope that you agree that there are some serious problems with the relevant standards.

Member

I don’t agree about your comment on safety standards. Standards have played a hugely important part in ensuring that products reach a certain level of safety and largely prevent inferior products being placed in our hands; in their absence we would have had a plethora of cheap dangerous products swilling around Europe, as we have had a taste of when illegal and counterfeit items creep in through the back door from unscrupulous manufacturers and vendors.

Whilst we both (and others) think we have have “good ideas” we are not sufficiently expert to determine that there are “serious problems”. An international group of people with expertise in the areas necessary to construct standards have, over very many years, developed standards as technologies have evolved and will continue to do so. What we can do is to contribute views to those who deal with standards, ideally through an organisation that can act on behalf of we as individuals, and allow them to discuss with the relevant committees properly collated and examined concerns. I’d remind you that the London Fire Brigade are listed as being on the BSI committee; I would have thought we could rely upon them to handle fire safety issues. Nothing to stop anyone writing to them with their personal concerns and suggestions.

I have a number of workshop tools that are extremely dangerous if not properly used. A portable circular saw can quickly remove body parts and even with all the guards and interlocks in place it requires common sense and a read of the instructions to allow it to be used safely. Even a chisel can inflict serious injury.

Driving cars depends upon common sense. I could argue that to increase car safety we should abolish 2 way roads – having vehicles travelling in opposite directions only a few feet apart, by drivers with a range of experience, skills and health seems crazy. However it continues because experience shows that it works, and accident rates are very low. I believe the same can be said of household appliances. Nothing will ever be perfect and there is a final balance to be struck between the sensible and the unachievable ideal. But keep trying.

Member

I generally agree with your comments, and the first paragraph in particular, Malcolm, but Standards themselves are not perfect or infallible and can only ever be described as ‘work in progress’. Even if there were no relevant Standards a tumble dryer that caught fire would still be a major concern and a hazardous product requiring a remedy. Luckily we now have Standards for most appliances and I presume they have to start with a risk assessment. That should be a continuously evolving process as more information is fed into the mechanism of developing and improving Standards taking advantage or real-life experiences. Unfortunately the public does not know to what extent the development of Standards is a pro-active or a reactive process [it should be both in my view], ‘reactive’ meaning that nothing happens until a Coroner issues a report and then the wheels of Standards-making are set in motion. I would have hoped that the relevant BSI committee and its global counterparts were already giving proper consideration to this problem and that Which? is feeding in data and reports gained from its own research and testing and from members’ experiences and public comments arriving via Conversation.

Member

I fully recognise the value of standards, Malcolm, but it is vital to look for practical solutions that can improve safety. I believe that there are plenty of opportunities for improvement in the case of tumble dryers and other appliances. Why not make it a requirement to have cases that will contain a fire should one start? I have posted photos and links that give ample evidence that use of plastics is failing to contain fires. Let’s move forward.

Edit: Having read John’s post, I agree with the need for ongoing review and improvement. I am aware that this already happens as a formal process, but wonder why the need for interlocks has not been identified and the dangers of increased use of plastics in appliance casings has not been recognised as a safety issue.

Member

Current standards are all work in progress that take account of changes, developments, experience for example. You can view all available standards (by title and status) on the BSI website and will see that the safety standard for tumble driers – BS EN 60335-2-11 +A1 2015 – is current with the last amendment incorporated in 2015. The standard is described as “work in hand”. Even standards that are unlikely to change have to be reviewed every 5 years. The site lists the responsible commitees and their members (these are generally by organisation who nominate experts to contribute and attend meetings, plus sometimes expert individuals).

You can look on BSI’s website for relevant committees (CPL/61 in this case) and for a list of member organisations. This committee includes CPIN (the Consumer and Public Interest Network) that consists of a mix of ordinary consumers with some relevant experience and experts from organizations like Which?, Citizens Advice and the National Consumer Federation. CPIN also includes environmental groups e.g. the UK Sustainability Network for Standardisation (UK SNS), as well as non-industry groups with a societal focus, e.g. charities, academic research groups, and relevant professional associations such as the Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors. Hence my repeated suggestion to put “good ideas” to Which? if they are in fact active. As I said earlier London Fire Brigade are also listed.

Member

I will carry on posting my suggestions here in the hope that Which? will read them.

Member

wavechange, you have strong ideas and then say “but it is vital to look for practical solutions that can improve safety” as if the international bodies responsible for safety standards do not. I don’t know whether you have had any experience of contributing to standards committees but I have, and those I sat on were very aware of practical solutions where problems need to be dealt with. As I keep repeating, “good ideas” can be put to the relevant bodies; I have given these earlier. If you believe you can improve dryer safety then make that step rather than just giving your ideas here. Or do as I suggested and lobby Which? to contribute. turn talk into action is what I propose. Maybe P V-S will tell us what Which? is doing in this regard.

You “wonder why the need for interlocks has not been identified and the dangers of increased use of plastics in appliance casings has not been recognised as a safety issue”.
Do you know this has not been considered? In deference to the experts involved it may have been, may well being, and it may be they agree or disagree with what you feel. Without asking them we will not know. Perhaps you could ask them (or again do it through Which?).

We must also consider that, in the real world, possibility and probability need to be considered. The “ideal” is not always achievable in anything. Would you ban 2 way high speed roads because of their risks?

Member

Why don’t you send them in a letter or email direct to Which?
Or the BSI Committee CPL/61XX secretary at BSI 389 Chiswick High Road London W4 4AL
Or the London Fire Brigade email: info@london-fire.gov.uk
London Fire Brigade, 169 Union Street, London, SE1 0LL
for example.

Member

I have already contacted various organisations including the LFB and Which?. In view of the fact that you have access to the standards and have experience working with these documents, may I suggest (again) that you raise the issues with BSI?

Member

We do not all hold exactly the same views and that is why I am pressing Which? to collate and assess them and submit them in its role as a consumer champion. However it may not believe it has that role (which would disappoint me enormously) so I would like it to be explicit on this point. I hope @pvicarysmith or a member of his staff will respond, If Which? have opted out of this route to consumer protection then perhaps they can tell us of a consumer organisation that we can approach who are prepared to deal with standards and consumer protection.

If necessary I will pass my own ideas on to BSI, but I think others are best advised to make there own case. Knowledge of the relevant standards is desirable as some comments made have already been shown to be incorporated. Whilst I am happy to pass on information from standards whenever I can, and verbatim rather than simply an interpretation, I will. However when I last asked Which? whether they had access to all standards they told me they had. Presumably therefore they have staff to look at them and also answer questions.

It is important to remember that standards are not self-contained but are part of a network of other standards. For example, tumble driers have a specific standard that also draws on one for domestic electrical appliances in general; individual components also have there own standards and test procedures have specific separate standards. Just looking at one document does not necessarily give the full picture. Our standards are also based on, or more usually, repeats of international standards where each country has an equivalent input to BSI. Lots of experts with lots of contributors feed in to their development who also consider practical solutions that will improve safety, among other things..

Member

I’m very well aware that standards are not self-contained, which is just one reason why we need online access in order for the public to be able to make informed comment.

Member

@patrick, in reply to wavechange It requires quite a good knowledge of standards, their structure, interpretation, understanding of testing for example and where to find necessary information for informed comment to be made. There is nothing wrong with “uninformed” comments – by which I mean comments without knowledge of what standards contain.

Online access is not on the cards for everyone in the foreseeable, and I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of people have no interest or wish to look at them. The cost of online access (such as provided to libraries) would, I imagine, depend upon the number of potential users, so giving everyone unlimited access seems pointless if most are not going to use them.

If Which? have online access – as I hope – then I have suggested that they could make access also available to nominated Members who wish to consult them. No doubt a limit on numbers would be needed to make this viable. I wonder if Which? have done anything to explore this possibility since I raised it? They could have an arrangement similar to a public library. Perhaps Patrick S could help us with this?

Member

malcolm-Its electrostatic magnetism of the clothing in individual fibres that “glue ” themselves together when very dry hot air is applied , it a scientific fact. Therefore blowing it away just helps to concentrate the lint in one area .

Member

I waited –and waited but nobody brought it up as to why lint a collection of fibres from clothing turn into lint and therefore a “cure ” for the condition— static electricity all you need to do is fit a electrical neutralizer . Fibres bond due to static , no static /no bonding.

Member

Fabric conditioners are used to prevent build-up of static electricity in synthetic fabrics. I have read that they can help lint to stick to the the insides of tumble dryers and vent hoses, which seems plausible, though I am not aware of any scientific investigation.

I have no idea of whether static electricity affects lint accumulation inside a dryer. If the circulation system was metal rather than plastic there would be no build up of static.

Member

Its the dry air that does it Wavechange it builds up static electricity.

Member

Static electricity has been responsible for fires in flour mills, so maybe it could set light to dust from dry fabrics.

Member

Here is a leaflet produced by the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service. It is intended for commercial users but is equally relevant to users of domestic dryers: http://www.cheshirefire.gov.uk/Assets/1/Tumble-Dryer-leaflet.pdf

The leaflet includes another example of a burned out dryer where the plastic lid and control panel have been destroyed, allowing the fire to spread. A steel case could have contained the fire and avoided property damage.

Member

The safety standard BS EN 60335-2-11 covers door interlocks. It also says drying programmes must conclude with a cool down period, and that protective devices should not disable this. A cool down period is not required when drying air temperature does not exceed 55C.

As so many comments seem to be being repeated I suggest again that they are addressed to Which? to take up with the responsible committee CPL/61XX at BSI otherwise we just keep going round the houses. We all have good ideas; those directly involved and with expertise in appliances need to evaluate them to decide whether they have sufficient merit to be further developed.

Member

What I am trying to do is to raise awareness of the fact that we should be concerned about the fire risks associated with tumble dryers in general, rather than just considering the Whirlpool brands.

Posting on this Convo makes information available to Which? and to anyone who cares to read it.

Member

@pvicarysmith, Indeed, but to make any progress this needs to go beyond a Convo. I have repeatedly asked Which? whether they will do this (take further comments, concerns and ideas for possible improvements) and whether they have any active involvement with BSI (for example) to discuss issues with the safety standards . It is my view that this should be one of the roles of a Consumers’ Association. Perhaps you would also like to press them for a statement of their intent, or otherwise.

Member

Thanks Malcolm.