Fires of electrical origin stubbornly continue to feature high in UK fire statistics with some estimated 25,000 annual incidents caused by electrical component malfunction, poor installation or the misuse of equipment. A number of such fires continue to involve white goods, especially tumble dryers, sadly some leading to fatalities. Tumble dryers are a useful addition to any household – but, of course, only when they are used safely.
The Whirlpool company who produce Hotpoint, Indesit, Swan, Proline and Creda tumble dryers previously issued a safety notice for their tumble dryers manufactured between April 2004 and September 2015. This was due to a risk of fire caused by fluff coming into contact with the dryer’s heating elements. In recent years, Whirlpool’s machines have been blamed for at least 750 serious fires.
Whirlpool has also admitted that in 54 recorded fires in its tumble dryers, three of those involved machines that had already been modified by engineers and were supposed to be safe to use.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Charlie Pugsley, of London Fire Brigade, says his operational firefighting teams have seen a wide range of faults causing fires in tumble dryers that have already been modified.
It appears that Whirlpool made customers sign non-disclosure agreements over faulty tumble dryers as it admitted that the number of defective models is almost twice as high as previously feared.
With this dangerous public fire-safety scandal escalating, and under growing pressure from consumer groups, in July 2019 Whirlpool told the government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee that the true number of defective machines in the UK could be as high as 800,000, and that the company was working hard to modify those affected. Current advice for owners of unmodified dryers is to unplug them and contact Whirlpool.
Non-affected tumble dryers have a green sticker on the inside of the dryer door or reverse of the machine. If a machine does not have a green sticker, the owner needs to check if it is amongst those that are faulty. This can be done by locating the serial code and model number (found on the back of the dryer or on the back of the dryer door) and entering it onto the online checkers at safety.hotpoint.eu or safety.indesit.eu or safety-swan.eu.
A spokesman from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the government took product fire safety very seriously and it was ‘monitoring the situation closely’. He said its product recall website makes it clear to the public which white goods are safe to use.
However, fires caused by fluff igniting in contact with Whirlpool tumble-dryer heating elements is bad enough. Other fires are also being caused by faulty electrical components.
Such a classic case was a fatal kitchen fire in a flat at Llanrwst in North Wales that killed Bernard Hender, 19, and Doug McTavish, 39. An inquest into their deaths opened in April 2017 at Ruthin County Hall.
The inquest heard conflicting evidence about whether the Whirlpool tumble dryer was to blame. Garry Lloyd Jones, who owned the flat and lived with the two men survived the fire. He was woken up by the smell of smoke and described seeing flames coming from the drum of the tumble dryer.
Fire investigation experts John Loud and Dr Delmar Morrison, representing Whirlpool, told the inquest the cause of the fire was unknown. Their possible explanations included electrical faults in a light fitting or an iron, or the spontaneous combustion of towels which had vegetable oil on them. However, evidence from North Wales Fire and Rescue Service said the fire had started ‘in or around the tumble dryer’ and ruled out the other possible causes.
Assistant Coroner David Lewis said he found it ‘highly improbable that an iron or light fitting were the cause. On the balance of probabilities, the fire was caused by an electrical fault in the tumble dryer in the laundry room of the flat’. He recorded a narrative conclusion.
A statement from Whirlpool extended its ‘profound condolences’ to the families and friends of Mr Hender and Mr McTavish. ‘Safety is always our number one priority. We treat all incidents extremely seriously and we have a robust process that continuously reviews the safety of all our products. We will carefully review and consider the coroner’s findings in this case,’ a spokesman said.
Paul Jenkinson of North Wales Fire and Rescue Service said the inquest drew attention to ‘compelling’ forensic evidence that suggested the cause of the fire was an electrical fault in the tumble dryer’s door switch. There were no smoke alarms fitted in this Llanrwst property.
And it is pertinent to recall that the horrific Grenfell Tower fire disaster started when a fridge freezer caught fire in a 4th floor kitchen on that fateful night.
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