Up to one million defective tumble dryers are potential fire hazards in British homes due to manufacturer Whirlpool’s “inadequate” response to the discovery of a defect, a parliamentary report has found.
The House of Commons Business Committee demanded “urgent action” from the company to resolve a problem that has led to at least 750 fires since 2004.
And the cross-party committee called on the Government to consider establishing a single National Product Safety Agency, amid fears that cuts have undermined the effectiveness of local trading standards agencies.
It accused ministers of “watering down” recommendations for an overhaul of the product recall system put forward in 2016 by an independent review led by Lynn Faulds Wood.
And it called on manufacturers to use safer materials in plastic-backed fridge-freezers, which were linked to 214 fires with 27 serious injuries or fatalities in England in 2015/16 alone.
The committee’s inquiry into risks from faulty electrical goods was triggered by last year’s Grenfell Tower tragedy, when 71 people died in a fire thought to have been started by a faulty Hotpoint fridge-freezer.
It found that the number of fires involving faulty electrical appliances in England has remained constant at between 4,300 and 5,000 a year.
In 2015/16 alone, 676 fires in England were caused by tumble dryers, leading to a total of 46 injuries and fatalities.
The company began a programme of modifying machines in customers’ homes, initially advising them that they could continue using the tumble dryers while awaiting action.
This advice was withdrawn following a fire in a west London flat caused by an Indesit dryer in 2016.
And a second defect in the door mechanism of some Whirlpool products was blamed for a fire in Llanwrst, north Wales, which killed two men in 2014.
The Commons committee branded Whirlpool’s response to the defect “inadequate”, after hearing that only around 50% of an estimated 5.3 million affected dryers have received the necessary modification.
Committee chair Rachel Reeves said: “Whirlpool’s woeful response to the defect in its tumble dryers has caused huge worry to people with these appliances in their homes.
“Their delayed and dismissive response to correcting these defects has been inadequate and we call on Whirlpool to resolve issues urgently.”
But the company insisted that its ongoing campaign had achieved a resolution rate more than three times the industry average for a product recall, with 1.7 million machines modified and 99.9% of registered customers’ issues resolved.
“After two years of extensive measures to raise awareness to this campaign – including directly contacting four million owners of these appliances – the number of consumers coming forward has fallen sharply,” said the company in a statement.
“We continue to urge consumers to contact us immediately if they believe they still own an affected appliance. We can assure consumers that they if they contact us now, they can receive a resolution within one week.”
Ms Reeves said there was a “strong case” to replace the “fragmented and poorly resourced” product safety regime with a single national agency of the kind recommended by Ms Faulds Wood.
“The Government must now implement the recommendations of (her) independent review on product safety, which they have been sitting on for nearly two years,” she said.
Reductions in funding for local and national trading standards were impacting on effectiveness and “making it difficult for consumers to have confidence” in the system, said the committee.
The “vast majority” of councils have cut spending on trading standards, with 20 slashing it by more than 60% and one by 73% between 2010/11 and 2015/16.
The overall trading standards workforce has been reduced by 56% between 2009 and 2016.
Alex Neill, of consumer campaign group Which? said: “Despite hundreds of reported fires and numerous reviews, the UK’s product safety system is still broken and potentially threatening the lives of millions of consumers.
“We have already seen the tragic consequences of companies behaving badly and delays to improving the system. The Government must no longer allow these dangerous products to remain in people’s homes and must bring in immediate reforms.”
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “The Government’s top priority is to keep people safe and Britain’s product safety requirements are among the highest in the world, which is why we established the Working Group on Product Safety and Recalls to examine the evidence of Lynn Faulds Wood’s independent review.
“We are considering their recommendations, including the creation of a new national oversight body, and will respond shortly.
“We have already taken a number of steps to improve our product safety regime, including upgrading the Government’s recalls website to make it clear to the public which white goods are safe to use.”