Ian Moverley, communications director for Whirlpool, which makes Hotpoint and Indesit tumble dryers, said on Tuesday it had been difficult to get the message out to owners of the remaining faulty machines that they needed to be replaced or modified to make them safe.
This was said as Moverley sought to justify the company’s decision to wait six months after an Indesit model caused a serous fire in Shepherd’s Bush, London, before changing advice to consumers.
Luckily nobody was killed in the blaze but more than 100 families were evacuated.
Whirlpool later told tumble dryer users they must unplug and not use the faulty machines.
Speaking about Whirlpool’s decision to modify existing models rather than order a full recall, Moverley said: “We took our response very seriously and very diligently. We doubled the number of call centres and increased the number of engineers by 70 per cent.”
Conservative MP Antoinette Sandbach then questioned him on how many faulty tumble dryers were still in British homes, and he responded: “What we have seen is that the number of registrations [for modification] has fallen, but we estimate one million.”
Whirlpool had been replacing or repairing an estimated 3.8m potentially faulty dryers across the UK after identifying a fire-risk safety defect in November 2015.
This was caused when excess fluff touches the heating element. Whirlpool did not issue a product recall, instead telling customers they could continue to use their tumble dryer while waiting for the modification, as long as the dryer was not left unattended.
Whirlpool came under fire from the committee’s chair, the Labour MP Rachel Reeves, for failing to send a more senior representative from the company who could have been able to answer technical questions Moverley struggled with.
MPs then heard from Leon Livermore, chief executive of the Trading Standards Institute, who warned the current product safety system was close to breaking point.
He explained council funding cuts had affected the work of local trading standards services, cutting the amount of “market surveillance” they were able to do.
He said: “The current product safety system is already under pressure and won’t survive Brexit – which will make trading standards officers’ work more complex – or further austerity cuts.”
Describing the Shepherd’s Bush fire, Charlie Pugsley of the National Fire Chiefs Council warned it might have led to deaths if it had taken place at night, rather than 4.30pm.
After the hearing, Alex Neill of Which?, who also spoke at the hearing, said: “It is shocking that despite admitting that there are 1m potentially dangerous tumble dryers in people’s homes, Whirlpool is still failing to recall these machines voluntarily.
“Whirlpool must no longer ignore its responsibility for the safety of its customers and must conduct a full product recall. If it does not, the government must intervene.”
Express.co.uk has contacted Whirlpool for further comment.