Whirlpool faces difficult questions in House of Commons
Executives from the company told the BEIS Committee there may be up to 800,000 unmodified dryers in UK homes
Whirlpool Corporation has outlined its plans for the ongoing issue of its fire-risk tumble dryers in a meeting at the House of Commons with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – BEIS – Committee, which questioned the company on how many unmodified dryers are still in UK homes, how many incidents of fire involving its tumble dryers it has on record, and whether the alleged use of non-disclosure agreements – NDAs – by the company is indeed true.
Telling the committee that “we know we need to do more”, Whirlpool Corporation corporate vice president for communications and public affairs Jeff Noel said Whirlpool has now modified 1.7 million dryers and added that since Whirlpool last met with the BEIS Committee in 2017, it resolved a further 45,000 cases. He noted that the company believes there are around 500,000 unmodified appliances still in UK homes.
However, BEIS Committee chair Rachel Reeves noted that when Whirlpool Corporation UK public affairs director Ian Moverley gave evidence to the committee for its 2017 review, he said there were 1 million unmodified dryers still in people’s homes. She questioned the discrepancy in the figures, and Noel said that the company had taken into account the number of machines that were likely to have been replaced or removed from homes due to age, adding that Whirlpool had noticed a “spike” in tumble dryer sales over the last year or so. He said that some estimates place the number of unmodified dryers still in UK homes as high as 800,000.
The BEIS Committee questioned Noel and Michael Farrington, Whirlpool Corporation verification and validation leader for dryers, vertical axis washers and commercial laundry, on what Whirlpool is planning to do regarding the ongoing tumble dryer issue after the Government recently announced its intention to enforce a recall of the affected products.
Noel said that Whirlpool is pledging £1m on advertising to reach consumers who are still in possession of unmodified tumble dryers that pose a fire risk. He said that Whirlpool will offer customers a free replacement of an affected tumble dryer, as well as offering “enhanced opportunities” for consumers to “upgrade” to newer machines at a “heavily discounted” rate. He added that Whirlpool will “dramatically enhance” its in-house modification programme to make it more flexible for consumers.
When asked how many of Whirlpool’s tumble dryers have “caused a fire”, Farrington said the company knows of 54 incidents of fires for both modified and unmodified dryers. However, prior to Noel and Farrington’s meeting with the committee, the BEIS Committee held a panel with Electrical Safety First technical director Martyn Allen, London Fire Brigade deputy assistant commissioner Charlie Pugsley, Which? strategic policy adviser Sue Davies and Whirlpool customer Jemma Spurr, whose modified tumble dryer caught fire in September last year.
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Spurr told the committee that after realising she had an at-risk dryer, she contacted Whirlpool but had to wait 12 months to have her machine modified. It subsequently caught fire while she was at home with three of her children, and she then claimed she was made to sign a NDA to receive settlement from Whirlpool.
Conservative MP Antoinette Sandbach asked Noel why Whirlpool was “trying to shut people up by asking them to sign NDAs”, adding: “In the case of product safety where you’ve described yourself the need to get information out into the public domain, why would you not want your customers to inform other customers of their experiences if you’re trying to get out the message of product safety?”
Noel responded: “Under no situation has Whirlpool ever used legal or other enforcement mechanisms to try and prevent both discussions about defects, investigations into incidents [and] working with public authorities.”
During the panel, Which? strategic policy adviser Davies said: “It’s absolutely incredible if Whirlpool are asking people to sign NDAs. We had reports that was happening, and we reported that to the Office for Product Safety and Standards – OPSS – while they were conducting their review, because obviously while you’re doing a review, it’s absolutely crucial that you have a full understanding of whether or not these machines are causing fires in people’s homes, and if the company is trying to silence people so they’re not coming forward, then that has huge implications for public safety.”
Still at risk
She added that 35 people have contacted Which? with reports of incidents from their modified tumble dryers. “Six people said they’d had fires linked to them, seven people said there was smoke coming from the machines, and the rest said they could smell a burning smell,” she told the BEIS Committee.
When asked by Conservative MP Mark Pawsey if Whirlpool “still maintains that the modification was effective” despite reports of modified machines catching fire, Farrington said: “Absolutely. The modification has been thoroughly tested inside of Whirlpool and then there have been two different regulatory bodies that have confirmed with experts that the modification is effective.”
Noel said: “There are others who are selling products every day – tumble dryers – and we know that when we bought our company [Indesit] that we had independent data that we looked into and we have identified the fact that the Hotpoint and Indesit tumble dryers were consistent from a safety performance with all others in the market place.”
“We were pleased to have the opportunity to update the committee on our tumble dryer campaign," Whirlpool said in a statement to KBBDaily.com after the meeting. "The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) recently concluded a comprehensive year-long review of the dryer programme which confirmed that the modification is effective in resolving the issue.
“Safety is always our number one priority and we remain committed to resolving all unmodified dryers affected by this issue. As we updated the committee, we are expanding our recall campaign to include further options to encourage remaining consumers to come forward and remedy their unmodified appliances.
The crucial message to anyone who still owns an affected dryer and has not already had it modified by Whirlpool is to contact us immediately on 0800 151 0905, or visit https://safety.hotpoint.eu/, https://safety.indesit.eu/ or https://safety-swan.eu.
“As advised by OPSS, consumers whose tumble dryers have been modified can continue to use them safely and there is no need to contact Whirlpool at this time.”