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Dangerous tumble dryers expose defects in the UK’s product safety system

Whirlpool recently disclosed that around 1m faulty tumble dryers are at risk of bursting into flames in British homes, but yet no recall has been issued. Is the UK product safety system failing us?

Since November 2015, Whirlpool has been replacing or repairing an estimated 3.8m potentially faulty tumble dryers across the UK. This followed after a fire safety risk defect was identified. Whirlpool initially told users that they could continue to use their appliance, given that it was not left unattended. Further action was only taken after the company received two enforcement notices from the Peterborough Trading Standards, where users were instructed to unplug their appliance until they could be repaired.

When the waiting list for the repairs started to grow, the company told users that they could purchase a replacement dryer for the reduced price of £50. This month the company announced that it has ended this scheme but is still offering free repairs.

Whirlpool stated that “[a]fter two years of extensive measures to raise awareness, the number of consumers coming forward has fallen sharply.” The company said that this “suggests that few affected appliances remain in service.”

This announcement has been met with strong criticism. Committee Chairwoman Rachel Reeves accused Whirlpool of “falling significantly short of their responsibilities to consumer safety.” Alex Neill of Which?, a consumer group, said: “It is irresponsible that despite one million households potentially still using an affected machine, Whirlpool seems unwilling to do everything possible to deal with this issue.”

This makes me question, why hasn’t the government intervened and forced Whirlpool to order a full recall for the remaining tumble dryers?

Leon Livermore, Chief Executive of the Trading Standards Institute, claims that council funding cuts have affected the work of the local trading standard services, which has then impacted how much “market surveillance” they are able to carry out.

Livermore has further said that the “current product safety system is already under pressure and won’t survive Brexit - which will make trading standards officers’ work more complex - or further austerity cuts.”

On 31 October 2017, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee explored the safety of electrical goods in the UK and considered the current state of the UK’s product safety and recall systems.

Pete Moorey of Which? stated: “For us, the crux of the issue is not really the cuts; it is the fact that the system is highly fragmented. Local trading standards should not be expected to enforce product safety law and undertake market surveillance, in addition to all its other responsibilities. We have to remember that trading standards is responsible for around 200 to 250 pieces of law, and product safety simply is not a priority among them. You cannot have a local solution to a national problem. That is why we are pressing for a new national body to be established to have oversight on this issue.”

He further stated that a new national body should be “responsible for consumer product safety that identifies the problems and robustly assesses and manages the risk.”

The committee members also acknowledged that consumers also have a responsibility to protect themselves and their families. They hoped that if a simple system was introduced, it would encourage consumers to take action.

The tumble dryer debacle has shown that the UK’s product safety system is not fit for purpose and must be reformed. There is still hope in all of this, as a coroner last month called on Whirlpool to take action to prevent future death after an electrical fault in a door switch of Hotpoint tumble dryer caused the fire that led to the deaths of two men in Llanrwst, Wales. The company has until 26 December to respond to the coroner’s report.

To find out if your Whirlpool tumble dryer is affected, please check: https://safety.hotpoint.eu/, https://safety.indesit.eu/, and https://safety-swan.eu, or call a dedicated freephone helpline on 0800 151 0905 for the UK, or 1800 804320 for Ireland.

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