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Published on November 1st, 2019 | by The GC Team

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Whirlpool attacked for using NDAs to “silence customers”

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, and criticised the company’s use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) to “silence customers”.

The safety issue concerns tumble dryers manufactured under the Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline brands between 2004 and 2015, which were subject to a fire safety warning first issued by Whirlpool some four years ago and a subsequent product recall in July this year after pressure from the Government.

The 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 and its efforts to deflect the concerns of safety organisations and customers rather than focusing on practical steps to address the safety problems.

“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,” said Rachel Reeves, Chair of the BEIS Committee.

Accusing the Peterborough-based company of failing to live up to the duties it owes to its customers, Reeves said: “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 report welcomed the recall of Whirlpool’s defective machines announced in July, but expressed regret that it took “far too long” for the Government to force the decision. It also called on the Government to press ahead with a new review of the safety of the modification and to investigate other possible sources of fires in Whirlpool’s tumble dryers after expressing concerns also shared by safety organisations.

Martyn Allen, Technical Director of Electrical Safety First, said: “Today’s report from the Select Committee is a damning indictment of Whirlpool’s handling of their recall and echoes many of our own concerns.

“We welcome these strong words and hope they ensure some vital lessons are learnt. A recall should have been implemented when the faults were first discovered with the machines back in 2015 and had Whirlpool done this, we may have seen fewer fires attributed to affected tumble dryers.

“Furthermore, NDAs should not be used for a safety issue such as this and the Select Committee is right to criticise Whirlpool’s use of them.”

Whirlpool vice president Jeff Noel had this to say: “People’s safety is our top priority, which is why Whirlpool welcomes the report by the BEIS Select Committee to raise awareness of ongoing safety improvements in the UK.

“Through our ongoing campaign we have resolved this potential safety issue – which concerns tumble dryers produced by the previous owner of the company – for more than 1.75 million people. This is up to five times the average success rate for a product recall in the UK.

“We applaud any efforts that create uniform standards that are applied across all industries. We pledge to continue to work with the OPSS and members of the BEIS Select Committee and Government to help advance product safety in the UK.”

The report also criticised the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), set up in January 2018, stating that the “Whirlpool saga” provided the organisation with an ideal opportunity to stamp its authority on product safety and address a serious a major product safety issue. “Sadly, OPSS have not delivered,” it said. 

Rachel Reeves said this 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,” she commented.

“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.”

“While we would stop short of suggesting the body should be scrapped, the OPSS must show more proactivity in intervening to protect the public from dangerous products,” said Electrical Safety First’s Allen.

“Boosting its power by moving it away from BEIS may be a way to ensure it can do this. We hope all manufacturers meanwhile take the action necessary to ensure faulty products are removed from people’s homes at the earliest stage and that this report serves as a stark warning of the consequences of not doing so.”

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