The findings of a government report into Whirlpool fire-dryers have been described as ‘astounding and worrying’, ‘misleading’ and ‘ignoring the problem’ by owners whose lives have been blighted by the fires.
11 months after beginning its review into the potential fire risk posed by repaired Whirlpool tumble dryers, the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) concluded that the risk to those who own modified machines is low.
Customers who own these machines have been queuing up to express their shock at the government’s conclusion as reports of yet more Whirlpool tumble dryer fires emerge.
Richard Smith from Pembrokeshire, is the victim of a recent house fire involving a repaired and supposedly made-safe tumble dryer.
Richard had his IDV75UK tumble dryer from Indesit – a brand owned by Whirlpool – modified in 2017 to make it safe as part of the manufacturer’s repair programme.
Despite the modification, the ‘made-safe’ dryer caught fire in March 2019, causing significant damage to his home.
Read more about the devastation repaired Whirlpool fire-risk tumble dryers continue to cause.
‘Flames shooting out of modified dryer’
Richard’s partner and her two children were in the house when his repaired Indesit tumble dryer caught fire.
His partner was alerted to a problem when the electricity cut out.
Then she smelled burning and saw smoke billowing out of the back of the tumble dryer.
As she tried to pull the machine away from the wall, she saw flames shooting out of the back of it.
Just a few seconds later the whole dryer was engulfed in flames.
Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service were called to deal with the blaze, which caused windows to smash, the floor to melt and the walls to bubble. Its incident report states that tumble dryer was the cause of the fire. Whirlpool’s own investigation has not yet been completed.
The family had to abandon their home and stay with friends with three days before commencing the clean-up operation.
Following the fire, Whirlpool sent a technician to take photos of the machine.
After Whirlpool’s loss adjuster visited the home to assess the fire damage, an engineer removed the dryer so that the manufacturer could inspect it.
Richard and his partner were told that the investigation could take around four to six weeks.
Richard told us: ‘I find the OPSS conclusion both astounding and worrying.
‘They say that there’s a low risk of harm or injury from fires in modified tumble dryers. But I’ve seen one of these modified dryers catch fire, severely damage our home and put the lives of my family in danger.
If Whirlpool hadn’t assured us that the modifications their engineers completed had made the product safe for continued use, we would have removed it and bought another one.’
‘My tumble dryer caught light after the modification’
In October 2018, Rebecca Robinson’s repaired Hotpoint dryer started to produce smoke and smelled of electrical burning.
After reading the government’s report, Rebecca told us: ‘This basically makes out that the modification is effective, but I know this isn’t the case.
‘My tumble dryer caught light after the modification had taken place.
This report makes out that the risk to the consumer is low. How can they make this assumption in such a short space of time?’
‘I find the report misleading’
Which? member Craig (who has asked us not to reveal his surname) had an Indesit IDV75 tumble dryer that caught fire just 12 months after it was repaired by Whirlpool in 2017.
He told us: ‘I find the report misleading.
‘The way I see it, repaired tumble dryers are still catching fire, but no action has been taken because nobody has been killed or injured yet.
‘I’d like to see the statistics for how many repaired dryers have actually caught fire.’
‘The report is putting consumers in danger’
Nigel Day’s Hotpoint dryer was manufactured after Whirlpool issued its 2015 safety alert and should have been safe from the moment it left the factory.
But in September 2018, fluff ignited on the heater and the seal at the back of the dryer caught fire.
After reading the government fire-dryer report, Nigel told us: ‘The problem is that the government has failed to speak to people like myself, so the report is ignoring the problem and is putting consumers and their families in danger.
‘Now it appears that someone will need to die before this matter is taken seriously.’
Minister responds to silencing allegations
Meanwhile, consumer minister Kelly Tolhurst is to speak to the OPSS about allegations that Whirlpool made a customer agree not to speak out after her modified tumble dryer caught fire. She has promised to take further action where necessary.
Flawed government tumble dryer fires report
The fundamentally flawed government report – which appears to favour Whirlpool’s interest over people’s safety – was carried out by the OPSS.
While concluding that the risk to consumers who own a repaired Whirlpool dryer is low, the OPSS confirmed that Whirlpool must improve the way it manages risk and the way it communicates with its customers.
In February 2019, Whirlpool admitted that there could still be between 300,000 and 500,000 unmodified fire-risk dryers in the homes of UK consumers.
The affected dryers are all branded Creda, Hotpoint, Indesit, Proline or Swan. Tumble dryers carrying the Whirlpool branding aren’t affected by the safety alert.
If you own a full-sized vented or condenser tumble dryer branded Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan or Proline and you bought it between April 2004 and October 2015, you will need to have it modified.
Despite our research showing that Whirlpool’s tumble dryer repair might not be effective every time, we think that if you own an affected machine, you should still get the fix done. But stop using your machine until you’ve had it modified.
Whirlpool told us it’s investigating Richard’s case, the cause hasn’t been ascertained and it’s assisting in every way it can.
It said that safety is its number one priority, it’s 100% committed to repairing unmodified machines, has total confidence in the proven effectiveness of the modification and that this is supported by UK regulatory bodies, including the OPSS.
It told us that it doesn’t use standalone non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to resolve consumer compensation claims, but it may include confidentiality provisions in standard settlement documents. Whirlpool went on to say that it has not sought to enforce those provisions against consumers in this context.