The safety of Electrical Goods in the UK Contents

3Whirlpool Tumble Dryers

20.The problems with Whirlpool’s tumble dryers clearly demonstrated the challenges posed by a defect in a mass manufactured product under the present product safety system. These included the logistical difficulties for companies in dealing with millions of large electrical products and contacting their owners. The episode highlighted the actions of manufacturers in terms of their assessment of risk, decision-making, advice to consumers and attitude to scrutiny. It highlighted concerns about the relationship between manufacturer and regulator when dealing with a national product safety problem. It also exposed a central weakness in the UK’s product safety system—that consumers could not access from a well-publicised central point details of the Whirlpool appliance defect and the agreed corrective actions.

Defects with Whirlpool Tumble Dryers

21.In 2014, the world’s biggest appliance manufacturer, US-based Whirlpool, bought the Italian company Indesit. After reviewing its products, Whirlpool found safety issues with several of its dryers under the Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda and Proline brands.68 Whirlpool alerted authorities in the UK and Europe about these defective appliances sold between April 2004 and September 2015 and launched a campaign to address this issue in November 2015.69 The problem identified was that excess fluff could catch the heating element in the machine and cause a fire.70 Since 2004 there have been at least 750 fires caused by this problem.71 Whirlpool confirmed to us that 5.3 million affected machines had been manufactured for the UK market.72

The Modification/Repair Programme

22.Whirlpool reported its concern to Peterborough Trading Standards (PTS) under the Primary Authority arrangements,73 as the defective appliances posed a serious or moderate risk to health and safety, in line with the standard procedure.74 Whirlpool and PTS agreed on a repair campaign to modify the defective machines, rather than the alternative option of a full product recall.75 If a full recall had been agreed, customers would have been given a refund, a replacement or a partial refund for older models and would have been told to not use affected dryers.76 In evidence, Whirlpool told us that the modification programme was the most effective way of addressing a defect with a large white goods product and one that was environmentally sustainable.77 Whirlpool also did not have the capacity to replace all affected machines if a full recall had been initiated.78 In April 2017 the Government, whilst acknowledging some problems, praised the steps Whirlpool had taken. The responsible Minister, Margot James MP, stated that though statutory recall was one option, making modifications in a consumer’s home could be more proportionate, appropriate and effective in some cases.79

23.The decision not to recall was criticised by Which? and others on the grounds that a full recall might have ensured more defective machines were removed from people’s homes.80 Witnesses told us that the modification programme was too slow, leaving dangerous defective machines in people’s homes.81 According to Charlie Pugsley of the National Fire Chiefs Council, this was “clearly an issue for people in flats with limited space, particularly if they have young children”.82 This risk was exacerbated because customers were, surprisingly, advised they could continue using a defective machine. As Charlie Pugsley, noted: “if you know there is a risk of fire … tell people not to use it”.83

Problems with the Whirlpool modification/repair programme

24.The modification programme began in November 2015. But it soon became clear that it was struggling to meet demand. By February 2017, there were reports that there was a 12 month wait for some consumers.84 There are still issues being reported,85 and in correspondence with us Whirlpool did eventually admit to the long waiting times.86 In correspondence with the Committee, Maurizio Pettorino, Managing Director, Whirlpool UK, noted that despite its best efforts it had not managed to contact all of those affected and that some 86,000 customers who had registered their appliance with Whirlpool as needing modification had not booked an engineer visit, though Whirlpool had attempted subsequent communication.87 Despite the modification and repair programme, Whirlpool have conceded that only about 50% of the 5.3 million tumble dryers have been modified.88 Whirlpool confirmed that, taking the lifecycle of such machines into account, there are probably one million defective machines still in people’s homes.89 The decision to not initiate a full product recall of defective tumble dryers is open to question. We note environmental concerns, Whirlpool’s lack of capacity to replace defective machines, the steps that it took to deliver the modification programme and the logistical challenges it faced. However, the modification programme was far too slow. Given the number of fires caused by tumble dryers, we consider it unacceptable that there are still a million defective machines in people’s homes, with no timetable for ensuring their safety. Whirlpool should explain how it will deal with these remaining defective and potentially dangerous machines and devote the necessary resources to achieving this. Customers who contact Whirlpool who have a defective machine should expect resolution with two weeks of contacting the company.

Advice that owners could continue using defective machines while awaiting repairs

25.Whirlpool and Peterborough Trading Standards (PTS) agreed on advice that owners who had defective tumble dryers could continue using these machines if they cleaned the fluff from the machine’s filter and did not leave the machine unattended. In evidence to us, this advice was criticised by Which?, Electrical Safety First and the London Fire Brigade.90 We were surprised to discover that different advice was given in other countries regarding the continued use of tumble dryers with this same defect. For example, Australian authorities told owners to stop using tumble dryers with this defect in January 2016. This was a whole year before UK advice was similarly changed to tell consumers not to use their defective machines.91 Consumers in other countries were still using machines with this defect months after the advice was changed in the UK to stop using them.92

26.In August 2016, the London Fire Brigade had put pressure upon Whirlpool and PTS to change its advice after a fire at Shepherd’s Bush Green, a block of flats, caused by an Indesit tumble dryer, where the owner had been in attendance.93 In December 2016, Which? launched a judicial review against the advice, as it thought PTS should have enforced a change in advice earlier. Following the filing of the judicial review, PTS issued two enforcement notices in January 2017 requiring Whirlpool to change its advice. After initially lodging an appeal against the wording of the new advice, Whirlpool complied and advised that until repaired, tumble dryers should not be used.94 Which? then withdrew its application for judicial review. We repeatedly asked Mr Moverley, Whirlpool’s UK Brand and Communications Director, what actions Whirlpool had taken in relation to the advice. When asked whose initiative, it was to change it he told us: “There was a review from independent experts conducted by trading standards. At the conclusion of that [PTS] asked us to update the advice”.95 In our view, Whirlpool should have been much more proactive, especially when it knew that different advice was being given in Australia. While the change of advice was welcomed,96 Which? maintained its calls for a full product recall.97 It underlined its view that the Primary Authority arrangement between manufacturer and regulator was broken: it blurred the roles of local Trading Standards in acting as both advisor and enforcer and made it difficult to challenge decisions, leaving judicial review as an expensive remedy.98 We were shocked to hear that Whirlpool and Peterborough Trading Standards continued to advise consumers they could use defective appliances, even after a major fire and in the face of criticism from consumer safety organisations. The advice to consumers to attend appliances while in operation was unrealistic and—given that a fire occurred when this advice was followed—patently inadequate. We find it deeply concerning that consumers in Australia were given different advice in respect of the same products for a full year before advice to UK consumers was updated. This episode raises questions about the efficacy of Primary Authority relationships, the ability of local Trading Standards to deal alone with nationwide problems and strengthens the case for a national product safety agency.

Continuing concerns about Whirlpool

27.When invited to give evidence in person, we were disappointed that Whirlpool decided to send its UK Brand and Communications Director, Ian Moverley, rather than a Managing Director or Head of Global Safety. A number of questions we asked were not answered, for example relating to faulty door mechanisms,99 its use of third party experts,100 the issuing of Regulation 28 Notices,101 and risk assessments.102 There was also a reluctance to answer questions on UK product safety generally. Mr Moverley, when asked a question on this answered: “It is not for me to make a judgement on the product safety system itself”.103 This was surprising as Whirlpool is part of a Primary Authority relationship and contributes to the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety and to standards organisations.

28.Several of Mr Moverley’s answers had to be clarified subsequently in writing. Although he did not acknowledge under questioning, Mr Moverley admitted in correspondence that Whirlpool had felt it “necessary to lodge an appeal in respect of the notice” issued by PTS in January 2017.104 This was surprising, as under questioning he stated: “there was not an appeal or review of a decision about changing advice after the Shepherd’s Bush fire”.105 The fire occurred in August 2016 and prompted the London Fire Brigade and Which? amongst others to press for a change. Mr Moverley should have mentioned the appeal in January 2017 because it was clearly relevant.

29.We asked Whirlpool whether different advice was given in Australia. Mr Moverley told us: “Whirlpool gave the same advice in all markets including Australia, that consumers could continue to use their appliances”.106 We asked Whirlpool to clarify this as we found evidence that different advice was given in Australia in January 2016.107 Whirlpool then acknowledged that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued its own advice to stop use.108 It also stated that after the advice was changed in the UK in January 2017, advice “was updated to consumers in Ireland, France and Australia through March and April 2017 and the rest of the world followed from June 2017”. This indicates that advice was not consistent. Mr Moverley should have told us this when he gave evidence.

30.In 2016 Whirlpool, because of long waiting times for repairs, had offered consumers a new appliance at a reduced cost. However, the day after we took evidence, it was reported Whirlpool was ending the scheme, despite there still being a million defective machines in people’s homes.109 Whirlpool later told us that this was because significant waiting times no longer occurred. They have assured us that affected consumers will still be able to purchase a new appliance at the same reduced cost.110 A coroner in a recent inquiry described the attitude of Whirlpool as “defensive and dismissive”. This mirrored our experience. Whirlpool failed to provide an appropriate representative to give evidence, gave incomplete answers to questions and were required to provide subsequent clarifications and reassurance regarding its actions. This does not strike us as the actions of a company seeking to repair consumer trust after serious safety failures with its products.

31.Another defect in the door mechanism of some Whirlpool models was identified as the cause of a fatal fire in Llanwrst, North Wales in 2014.111 This was a completely different defect from the one identified as being responsible for the Shepherd’s Bush Green fire, which was related to excess fluff being exposed to machine parts. The Inquest confirmed that the door mechanism defect had been responsible for other fires too. However, Mr Moverley stated: “we are not doing a modification programme in relation to the door switch”.112 He elaborated on the company’s reasoning: “… it is understanding the proportional number of incidents against the manufacturing”.113 The Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances (AMDEA) agreed that Whirlpool should have acted in this case.114 Whirlpool was heavily criticised by the Llanwrst Assistant Coroner in the Regulation 28 Report he issued as a result of the Inquiry.115 He required Whirlpool take corrective action.116 He articulated his “considerable concern” around whether Whirlpool was able to learn from the incident and take necessary steps. In addition, he questioned its risk assessment processes,117 criticised its “defensive and dismissive” attitude, and characterisation of reported fires involving its products as “soft data”.118 Whirlpool is preparing its response to this verdict.119 We share the Llanwrst Coroner’s deep unease at Whirlpool’s approach to risk and its inaction when confronted with evidence that another product defect, different from the one which had caused the Shepherd’s Bush Green fire, was responsible for other fires and several deaths. We are not clear why Whirlpool did not act on the defect which caused the Llanwrst fire but did on the defect which caused the Shepherd’s Bush Green fire. Nor do we understand how more generally risk analysis informs its response to the identification of defects. Whirlpool and other manufacturers should make available such risk assessments as soon as a defect is apparent. We call upon Whirlpool to publish full details of the fault highlighted in the Llanwrst case and the risk assessment they carried out in relation to it. We also share the Coroner’s concerns as to whether Whirlpool can learn lessons, given the quality of the evidence it gave us. Subject to its response to recent criticisms, we may seek further evidence from senior Whirlpool representatives as part of a wider inquiry on product safety.

68 Letter from Whirlpool to BEIS Committee Chair, (20 December 2017).

69 BBC News Online, Fire risks prompt tumble dryer recall, (23 November 2015). See Whirlpool’s site:

70 As above

71 Which?, 113 Hotpoint, Indesit and Creda tumble dryer models pose fire risk, (December 2015). See also: HC Hansard, Col 875. In 2015–16, 676 fires were caused by tumble dryers in England alone, resulting in 46 injuries and fatalities (Electrical Safety First, Electrical Safety First Core Data Set – England, (accessed 16 October 2017)).

72 Letter from Whirlpool to BIS Committee Chair, (February 2016).

73 A Primary Authority enables businesses to form a legal partnership with one local authority, which then provides assured and tailored advice on complying with environmental health, trading standards or fire safety regulations that other local regulators must respect. For more information see guidance on Local Regulation: Primary Authority.

74 See also Q69 [Sian Lewis].

75 In terms of the modification programme, it has noted in letters to the BEIS Committee that it cost Whirlpool over $250mn and that it employed 1,500 engineers to modify defective machines and nearly 1,000 call centre agents to handle customer queries and to book engineer visits. It also stated that it sent over 4 million letters, emails and text messages and used various media to reach consumers. By December 2017, it had modified over 1.65 million tumble dryers some 50% of the defective tumble dryers that were estimated to still be in circulation. See letter to BEIS Committee (October 2017) and BEIS Committee Chair (December 2017) and Q68 to Q82 [Ian Moverley].

77 Q69 [Ian Moverely] and [Q69 [Sian Lewis]. It was suggested that this was a standard routine for large white goods, with recall used more for smaller items which typically could be posted.

78 Letter from Whirlpool to BEIS Committee Chair.

79 HC Deb, 26 April 2017, Col 558WH.

80 Q13 [Peter Moorey].

81 Q13 [Peter Moorey] and Q22 [Martyn Allen].

82 Q17 [Charlie Pugsley].

83 As above.

85 Q13 [Peter Moorey].

86 Letter from Whirlpool to BEIS Committee Chair, (20 December 2017).

87 Letter from Whirlpool to BEIS Committee (16 October 2017). See also Q103 [Ian Moverley].

88 Q131 [Ian Moverely]; Which? put the figure at 40%—Q12 [Peter Moorey].

89 Q102 [Ian Moverley]

90 Q22 [Martyn Allen]; Q16 [Charlie Pugsley];

91 Letter from Whirlpool to BEIS Committee Chair (December 2017).

92 As above.

93 London Fire Brigade, We want Whirlpool to change advice on faulty white goods after tower block blaze, 26 August 2016. BBC, Shepherd’s Bush tower block fire caused by faulty tumble dryer, (27 August 2017). See also Q16 [Charlie Pugsley].

94 The Guardian, Hotpoint tells tumble dryer owners: unplug faulty machines due to fire risk, (22 February 2017). Whirlpool admitted in a letter to the BEIS Chair (24 November 2017), that it was “necessary to lodge an appeal” with PTS to change the wording of the new advice.

95 Q185 [Ian Moverley].

96 Electrical Safety First, Electrical Safety First responds to Whirlpool’s updated advice, (February 2017); Local Government Association, LGA responds to new safety advice for fire-risk tumble dryers, (22 February 2017).

97 Q11 and Q21 [Peter Moorey]. This was also the position of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute—Q69 [Leon Livermore].

99 Q74 [Ian Moverely]. Another defect in the door mechanism of certain tumble dryer models was found to have been involved in several fires, including one in Llanwrst, North Wales, which killed 2 men. The Whirlpool witness said he would need to come back to the Committee on this.

100 Q94 [Ian Moverely]. Whirlpool were asked about statements made by Whirlpool’s former Head of Global Safety at the Llanwrst Inquest regarding its use of external experts to look at the risk posed by defects. In a letter to the BEIS Committee Chair (24 November 2017), Whirlpool confirmed it routinely uses third party experts and that its former Head of Global Safety might have been “misinterpreted”.

101 Q78 [Ian Moverely]. Regulation 28 Notices provide coroners with the duty to make reports to a person, organisation, local authority or government department or agency where the coroner believes that action should be taken to prevent future deaths. See: In a letter to the BEIS Committee Chair (24 November 2017), Whirlpool confirmed that they have been served two Regulation 28 Notices, in 2014 and 2017.

102 Q114 [Ian Moverely]. In a letter to the BEIS Committee Chair (24 November 2017), Whirlpool said that it had carried risk assessments in relation to defective door mechanisms and found no evidence of an issue. This is discussed below.

103 Q65 and Q165 [Ian Moverley].

104 See letter from Whirlpool to BEIS Chair (24 November 2017).

105 Q176 [Ian Moverley]

106 Q129 [Ian Moverley].

107 The Australian advice was that use of defective machines should stop immediately.

108 See letter from Whirlpool to BEIS Committee Chair, (24 November 2017). The ACCC is the Australian national consumer safety organisation, see the ACCC website for more information on their role.

109 Kate Morley, Whirlpool cancels replacement scheme despite 1m faulty dryers still in homes, Daily Telegraph, (1 December 2017). This was reported the day after Whirlpool appeared before the Committee.

110 Letter from Whirlpool to BEIS Committee Chair, (20 December 2017).

111 See: BBC News Online, Tumble dryer action call after fatal Llanrwst fire, (28 November 2017).

112 Q124 [Ian Moverley]

113 Q112 [Ian Moverley]

114 Q119 and Q120 [Sian Lewis]

115 Regulation 28 Notices provide coroners with the duty to make reports to a person, organisation, local authority or government department or agency where the coroner believes that action should be taken to prevent future deaths

116 The Coroner issued a Regulation 28 Report.

117 The London Fire Brigade have campaigned for manufacturers to make available their risk assessments of defects as soon as they become apparent. See: London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Parliamentary Briefing: White Goods Safety, (updated 2017).

119 Letter from Whirlpool to BEIS Committee Chair, (20 December 2017).

11 January 2018