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Whirlpool named ‘worst offender’ for white goods fires in London

Tumble dryers and other white goods made by Whirlpool caused more than three times as many fires in London over the last eight years as the next worst offending manufacturer, according to new data obtained by the Guardian.

Official records of emergencies attended by the London Fire Brigade are dominated by a high number of incidents involving machines in Whirlpool Corporation ownership.

The company is still mired in controversy in the UK over its decision not to recall faulty items at risk of bursting into flames. The Grenfell Tower fire was also sparked by a fridge freezer under Whirlpool’s Hotpoint brand.

The data has highlighted the potential dangers of household white goods two years after a fire-risk safety defect in Whirlpool tumble dryers was first identified, and as domestic appliances are routinely included in cut-price “deals” for the Black Friday sales bonanzas.

The London Fire Brigade responded to a Freedom of Information request by the solicitors Leigh Day for details of all manufacturers whose appliances had triggered more than 50 fires apiece from January 2009 to September this year. The total figure of 2,891 fires in houses and flats and public settings, such as care homes and nurseries, led to 10 deaths and 348 injuries.

Brands under the Whirlpool umbrella accounted for a total of 895 fires (69 under the Whirlpool brand, 502 Hotpoint, 257 Indesit, 12 ProLine, 51 Creda and four Swan).

The second highest number of fires involved Bosch with 276 incidents (203 Bosch, 55 Neff and 18 Siemens), followed by Hoover/Candy with 209, Beko with 191 and AEG/Electrolux/Zanussi with 157.

Whirlpool questioned the reliability of the figures and said that they should be seen in the context of their strong market share in all the appliance categories.

The tragedy at Grenfell Tower – where police confirmed a Hotpoint (Whirlpool) fridge-freezer sparked the inferno that left 71 people dead – have raised further concerns about electrical product safety, and pushed the issue up the political agenda.

Fires in refrigerators and freezers have become a huge worry for firefighters. The appliances’ highly flammable, foam-filled plastic backing ignites easily, producing intense heat and toxic smoke. The London Fire Brigade wants manufacturers to switch to fire-resistant backings as standard, and, in the meantime, is urging consumers tempted by Black Friday deals to check specifications and only buy machines with fire-resistant backing material.

Washer-dryers caused 192 fires, according to the data. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Whirlpool had been replacing or repairing an estimated 3.8m potentially faulty dryers across the UK after identifying the fault in November 2015, caused when fluff touched the heating element. The risk applies to some older dryers sold under the Hotpoint, Creda, Indesit, ProLine and Swan brands.

Whirlpool did not issue a product recall, telling customers they could continue to use their dryer while waiting for modification, provided it was not left on and unattended. In February this year Whirlpool finally changed its advice and warned customers that they should unplug and stop using the machines.

But in October the company told MPs that an estimated 1m machines at risk of bursting into flames were still in UK homes. A senior manager sought to justify the company’s decision not to change its advice to consumers, until six months after an Indesit model caused a serious fire in Shepherd’s Bush, west London.

The new data also reveals that the largest number of fires – across all the brands named – involved washing machines (908), followed by tumble dryers (608), refrigerators (600), dishwashers (426), washer-dryers (192) and spin dryers (69). The data relates to the 33 London boroughs and a population of approximately 8.4 million people.

“The deaths and injuries caused by fires in white goods is unacceptable and yet the devastating psychological effects are often not acknowledged, considered or understood,” said Jill Paterson, a solicitor in Leigh Day’s product safety and consumer law team, who represents a number of people affected by the Shepherd’s Bush fire and the families of two men who died in an appliance fire in north Wales in 2014.

Paterson added: “The most dangerous white goods in our homes are washing machines, tumble dryers and refrigerators. No one expects them to catch fire, let alone kill or injure them. Consumers should be wary of very cheap deals for Black Friday and check out what they are buying.”

In 668 fires the make or model of the appliance could not be recorded, in some cases because the blaze was so severe the manufacturer’s plastic label had been burned off.

A coalition of the LFB, National Fire Chiefs, the consumer group Which? and safety organisations, is stepping up calls for a government-backed single register for UK product recalls, which would be readily accessible online to consumers.

The LFB’s assistant commissioner for fire safety, Dan Daly, said: “How many more devastating fires do there have to be before it is made easier for consumers to check whether their fridges, freezers or tumble dryers are on a recall list? We also want business to step up and change how some fridges and freezers are manufactured.”

Whirlpool said that this kind of raw data should not be relied upon and that it could be misleading and unreliable. It added: “Whirlpool is unable to verify this data and therefore is unable to speculate.”

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