At least tens of thousands of Samsung washing machines are a fire risk with some even burning down homes, according to consumer groups and fire safety experts.
Samsung has recalled six washing machine models. Data from Samsung indicate that 248 washers showed fire related issues including 82 cases where the machines caught fire and caused damage to houses.
“NSW Fair Trading recognised the safety concerns in relation to six models of Samsung top-loader washing machines, and on 23 July 2015, Victor Dominello, Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, issued a recall for the washing machines,” a Fair Trading spokesperson said.
Under the terms of the Government recall, Samsung will repair and re-work machines on-site in customers’ homes.
“The reworked machines meet the safety requirements of Australian Standards and are independently certified following repair,” Fair Trading said.
Since that recall 27 of the re-worked and fixed washing machines in Australia have shown fire related issues with at least two houses burning down.
This is despite Samsung’s technicians handing affected customers a leaflet, after re-working their machines, stating they had now repaired the machine.
“Your machine has also been tested to ensure that it works correctly and is completely safe to use,” Samsung’s fact sheet states.
Fire fighters in New Zealand estimate one Samsung washing machine catch ablaze every month.
No one has died in these fires, yet.
While experts state that washing machines pose a slightly higher fire risk than white goods that do not contain water, expert testimony infer Samsung’s re-work fix of machines is deficient.
“Samsung have attempted to improve the protection of the connectors by putting plastic bags over and using [tape],” Electrical forensic expert Dr Peter Hart said.
“The problem with that is there is still a gap where the wires go into the plastic bag and so it is an ineffective way of keeping water out of the connector, as there is no seal around the wire. It is not rated to keep water out at all.”
Hart said that he guesses the seals IP rating would be a low number like 2 or 3 rather than 6, which should keep water out of components.
“There is washing water getting onto the wires, running along them and getting into the connection point. This washing water is causing electrical leakage and that causes heating at that point. The heating, overtime, can be such that the plastic can catch fire,” Hart added.
Another electrical fire expert Marty Denham, who has been an electrical fire investigator since 1991 and inspected several recalled machines as part of insurance claims, conducted a report commissioned by a Facebook customer support group.
Denham suggests in the report that putting a bag over wires that contain moisture will not prevent the machine catching alight.
“In particular, no tests to demonstrate the effectiveness of the bag and tape assembly to prevent moisture ingress were performed,” he writes in the report.
Statistical research also implies that these standards may be insufficient.
In South Korea, a country containing 53 million people, there were 27 washing machines that showed signs of fire last year – this figure includes all washing machine brands, not just Samsung.
In Australia, a country with 23 million people, there have been 27 fire related issues after Samsung’s re-work fix that was meant to make the machine safe.
Consumer groups are dissatisfied with Samsung’s handling of the recall and the post re-work fires.
The recall affected 144,000 Samsung washing machines from 2010 to 2013.
Samsung offered only a repair of the defect and not a refund or a product exchange option until August 2015, according to Tarna Allen, co-founder of the Samsung Washing Machine Recall – Customer Support (Not Samsung Affiliate), which now has over 3,000 members on Facebook.
“Samsung was forcing people to accept the dodgy plastic bag repair,” Allen said. “Under Australian Consumer Law, a manufacturer must also offer a replacement or refund.”
Hundreds of concerned customers are sharing their stories on the Facebook group.
“In many cases consumers have been waiting 6,12, 18 months for a repair, replacement or refund of their machine,” Allen said.
“One of the other issues that our members have faced has been the reluctance of Samsung to offer a refund or replacement of their machines.”
In particular, one customer says she made contact with Samsung after the media attention her re-worked machine model was getting.
“I called them to see if they could do anything more, i.e. refund etc. I was told ‘No,’ they had repaired it and it was ok,” Kerryn Russ said.
“Out of the blue, and well and truly a year after I had spoken to them re[garding] my uncertainty of using it even though it was repaired, someone from Samsung called me to offer a refund or replacement for the old one.”
Russ was refused a refund as she had already disposed of her re-worked Samsung machine in fear that it may burn her house down.
“They expected me to hang on to a washing machine over a year after being told that they couldn’t do anything more for me. They expected me to continue using the faulty one even though I was concerned for our safety so [I] made the decision to purchase another.”
This is just one of the several hundred stories shared by those affected by the Samsung washing machine debacle.
Consumer groups, including Allen’s and Choice, are calling for improved outreach efforts from Samsung and Fair Trading to inform the unaware of the recall.
Around 25 percent or 35,610 customers have not made contact with Samsung and are probably unaware that their washing machine is a fire risk.
In one example, childcare workers in Sydney were unaware of the recall and were surprised when their Samsung washing machine caught on fire forcing 78 children and 22 of its staff members to evacuate.
This could have been a tragic accident involving multiple fatalities.
Allen says this example highlights the importance of Samsung reaching all customers who have the recalled washing machines.
“Our concern is that if something is not done about this someone will die,” Allen said.
“We believe that there needs to be an independent and transparent investigation into the Samsung recall so that lessons can be learned and lives saved,” Allen said.
Consumer groups strongly urge customers of reworked machines to seek refunds from Samsung as they believe the evidence suggests these machines are still a fire risk.
Samsung has not yet replied to any of our inquiries.
To make matters worse, an email has been circulating requesting customers of faulty Samsung machines send their bank account details for an immediate refund.
This email did not come from Samsung and is a scam to harvest bank account details.
Co-admin of the Samsung non-affiliate consumer support group Di Fisher, said that she come across other washing machine issues (not associated with the recall), which she has seen in the U.S, Australia, NZ and a case in the U.K.
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