Safety must come first trade: comment

In 2015, leading UK charity, Electrical Safety First lobbied for Whirlpool to issue an official recall for a number of its tumble dryers; but the company issued a more ‘subdued’ safety notice instead. It wasn’t until this year that – in an unprecedented move – a recall of the affected machines was issued by the Government. Here, Martyn Allen, Technical Director of Electrical Safety First, gives an update on the recall, which has led to product safety rising up the media – and political – agenda.


lectrical Safety First is generally known as a consumer-facing charity,

dedicated to reducing fires, accidents and deaths caused by electricity. But because our work rests on a foundation of technical expertise, we sit on a range of standards development committees and have also been used as experts in product liability cases. Most recently however, we were called to provide testimony in the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee investigation into Whirlpool’s recall of its malfunctioning tumble-dryers. An estimated 5.3 million affected dryers

were sold in the UK under Whirlpool’s Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline brands, between April 2004 and September 2015. Whirlpool themselves have put the figure of affected machines still in UK homes at anywhere between 250,000 to 800,000, though they suggest the figure is around 500,000. No accurate data can be provided as low registration rates mean it’s not possible to give a definitive figure – or location – for these machines. The affected dryers are claimed to have been responsible for at least 750 fires over an 11 year period. Last April, the Office for Product Safety and

Standards (OPSS) issued its review into the safety of modified Whirlpool tumble dryers and the company’s response to consumers. The review criticised Whirlpool’s consumer engagement process but concluded that the modified machines were safe to use. However, this was followed by an ‘unprecedented’ Government recall of the affected dryers - nearly four years after the modification programme began. Then last June, the BEIS Select Committee held a meeting to investigate the Whirlpool recall. Questions arose around the fact the company had not yet publically released a full list of the recalled models. To determine if they had an affected machine, concerned consumers had to use the model checker on Whirlpool’s website and input their machine’s details. The Charity had already asked Whirlpool to

release the entire list of affected model numbers, as we had been swamped with calls from people asking us to ‘double-check’ if their machine had been recalled. So we argued that publishing these details reduced customer concerns, by allowing them to confirm their tumble-dryer status for themselves. And it was essential for those without easy access to the internet. At the meeting, Whirlpool agreed to publish the list, make the recall part of their website more prominent and offer customers with affected machines some choices. They are now offering: a free replacement; a refund based on the age of the product; modification of the existing machine; or a choice of upgrading to a higher specification. Recall rates generally are infamously low (just 10 - 20%) and it’s an issue we have continuously raised with industry, stakeholders and Government. As recall effectiveness relies heavily on being able to trace products to consumers, we were pleased to hear Whirlpool also calling for mandatory registration. But for this to work, consumers need reassurance that it will not lead to their data being used for marketing purposes. And we are still lobbying for a central recall database, to make accessing information easier for consumers – and more transparent. Following the Select Committee, our

12 |

continued investigation highlighted two other concerns. We found recalled dryers being sold online, by private sellers, on various marketplaces. And there were reports of NDAs, or non-disclosure agreements being used. Unfortunately, model numbers and serial numbers are not a mandatory field when listing an electrical appliance for sale via online platforms. A consumer may be unaware that they are buying a recalled product - and some sellers are unknowingly selling one. This situation highlights the need for more to be done to increase public awareness of recalls, particularly for online retailers. We want these fields to be made compulsory, ensuring online marketplaces can prevent recalled items being sold by third party sellers. I am pleased to say that, when we contacted

eBay, the listings were rapidly removed. The company also told us that it will use a broader search to identify recalled items and explain to sellers how to check if their item is subject to a recall. We can only praise their swift action in ‘delisting’ the affected machines which we discovered. But much more is needed to prevent such items being listed in the future and the Minister for Consumers, Kelly Tolhurst MP has written to sites such as Amazon Marketplace, Facebook Marketplace and eBay, to ask how they are addressing this subject. The news of Whirlpool using NDAs arose out of a national newspaper investigation which said the company was facing demands to “reveal how many people it had paid to keep silent about blazes in machines it had apparently ‘fixed’.” Whirlpool’s position was that compensation payments to consumers, often dealt with by insurers, sometimes use template documents containing common confidentiality provisions. They added that they had not sought to enforce these provisions in this context. We believe that the use of an NDA in relation

to a product safety issue should be banned. And we have asked the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), to ban NDAs – or any equivalent instrument designed for the same purpose.

September 2019

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28