MPs on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee have declared it ‘astonishing’ that four years on from Whirlpool revealing defects in its tumble-dryers that as many as 800,000 defective machines could still be present in people’s homes. The defective tumble-dryers were sold under brand names including Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline.
The BEIS Committee’s report on the safety of electrical goods in the UK, published today, criticises Whirlpool for its slow response in modifying or replacing faulty machines. The report slams the company’s use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and criticises Whirlpool’s efforts to deflect the concerns of safety organisations and customers rather than focussing on practical steps to address the safety problems.
The report welcomes the recall of Whirlpool’s defective machines, announced in July, but regrets that it took “far too long” for the Government to force this decision. The report also expresses 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.
Rachel Reeves, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee 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 driers 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.
“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.”
The report calls for the establishment of an independent arms-length body, like the Food Standards Agency, equipped with a wide range of civil and criminal sanctions. The report calls for this beefed-up organisation to take the lead on tackling dangerous second-hand and illegal online electrical goods and to push forward with safety initiatives such as a national injury database, a comprehensive registration and recall hub, and indelible marking for electrical goods.
The report also recognises the funding issues facing Local Trading Standards (LTS), “the eyes and ears” of the OPSS and the local product safety enforcer. The report notes that they are struggling due to cuts in funding and calls on the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to “stop hiding behind cuts elsewhere” and take responsibility for LTS and work with others across Government to ensure it is fully funded.