It is “astonishing” that as many as 800,000 defective tumble dryers could still remain in people's homes four years after Whirlpool revealed they are a fire risk, MPs have said.
The domestic appliance-maker's response to handling the safety flaws too often “owed more to PR management” than to making the machines safe for customers, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee chairwoman Rachel Reeves said.
The committee's investigation into Whirlpool criticises the company for its slow response in modifying or replacing faulty machines while also condemning the firm's use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to “silence customers”.
It said Whirlpool had tried to deflect the concerns of safety organisations and customers rather than focus on practical steps to address the safety problems.
The company finally launched a full recall involving 500,000 dryers in July following a lengthy “safety campaign” that saw 1.7 million products modified.
The recall relates to certain models of Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline dryers built between 2004 and 2015.
However Whirlpool admitted to MPs earlier this year that the true number of faulty tumble dryers in homes across the country could be 800,000 and it was working hard to modify those affected.
Whirlpool also revealed that, in recent years, it had logged 54 fires in its tumble dryers and admitted that three of those were models which had already been updated.
The BEIS Committee report welcomed the recall, but said it took “far too long” for the Government to force the move.
It also expressed concerns, shared by safety organisations, about the safety of Whirlpool's modification.
The report calls on the Government to press ahead with a new review of the safety of Whirlpool's modification and to investigate other possible sources of fires in Whirlpool's tumble dryers.
Ms Reeves said: “Whirlpool's response to fixing safety flaws in its tumble dryers has too often owed more to PR management than to taking the practical steps to make its machines safe for customers.
“The Whirlpool tumble dryer saga has dragged on for far too long, leaving customers, now four years on, still fearing they may have potentially unsafe tumble dryers in their homes. Whirlpool has failed to live up to the duties it owes to its customers.
“Whirlpool's prime obligation was to fix the safety issues with its tumble dryers rather than in engage in disgraceful tactics such as using NDAs to silence customers who have been the victim of fires involving its products.”
She added: “The major product safety issues raised by Whirlpool have also highlighted the need for a tough and independent national safety body with the teeth to stand up for consumers.
“The Government's Office of Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) is not fit for purpose and should be scrapped.
“It should be replaced by a truly independent body, equipped with the full array of powers necessary to ensure that people have confidence in the safety of electrical goods in their homes.”
Whirlpool vice president Jeff Noel said: “People's safety is our top priority, which is why Whirlpool welcomes the report by the BEIS Select Committee to raise awareness of ongoing safety improvements in the UK.
“Through our ongoing campaign we have resolved this potential safety issue - which concerns tumble dryers produced by the previous owner of the company - for more than 1.75 million people. This is up to five times the average success rate for a product recall in the UK.
“We applaud any efforts that create uniform standards that are applied across all industries. We pledge to continue to work with the OPSS and members of the BEIS Select Committee and Government to help advance product safety in the UK.”
The report comes two days after Grenfell Tower inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick said he had “no doubt” that the fire was started by an electrical fault in a Hotpoint fridge-freezer, and dismissed a “fanciful” claim by Whirlpool that the fire could have been sparked by a discarded lit cigarette.
The MP for the constituency including Grenfell Tower, Labour's Emma Dent Coad, later named the company as among “those at the top of the pyramid of responsibility” for the fire.
Speaking in the House of Commons, she said: “The chief executive of Whirlpool, now Marc Bitzer, who manufactured the now banned plastic fridge-freezers that burst into flames and lit the bonfire, was on record as earning $11.8m - 300 times as much as firefighters.”
The London Fire Brigade, which has long raised concerns about the company's defective appliances and around its modification programme, launched its Total Recalls campaign to call for white goods to be made safer and improved information and transparency for consumers.
Martyn Allen, technical director of the charity Electrical Safety First, said: “Today's report is a damning indictment of Whirlpool's handling of their recall, and echoes many of our own concerns.
“A recall should have been implemented when the faults were first discovered with the machines back in 2015 and, had Whirlpool done this, we may have seen fewer fires attributed to affected tumble dryers.
“A centralised recall database would form part of the solution in ensuring people are not left in the dark as to whether a dangerous product is in their home.
“We hope all manufacturers, meanwhile, take the action necessary to ensure faulty products are removed from people's homes at the earliest stage and that this report serves as a stark warning of the consequences of not doing so.”
Which? director of advocacy Caroline Normand said: “Whirlpool's handling of its fire-risk tumble dryers is a national scandal that has gone on for far too long. Despite consumers, safety campaigners and now the BEIS Committee all expressing serious concerns about the 'fix' for these machines, there is still no end in sight to the crisis.
“It is unforgivable that, because of our broken product safety system, it took four years to force Whirlpool into a recall, so we need to see swift changes to stop corporations getting away with putting their reputations ahead of public safety. The Government must also urgently establish whether the modification programme for the affected machines is safe.
“The UK needs a new independent product safety regulator that is properly equipped to hold companies to account over dangerous products and ensure people's lives are not put at risk. The next government must act.”
Whirlpool urged those who own an affected tumble dryer and have not already had it replaced or modified to contact the company immediately on 0800 151 0905 or go to http://www.whirlpool.co.uk/dryerrecall.
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