I still receive emails from people whose washing machine door glass has shattered, or “exploded”. I’ve included two photos recently supplied to me in this article. It’s hard to get a proper perspective on how widespread it is, but I’m assuming it’s still relatively rare. I’ve had over 100 incidents reported to me, but this has been over 10 years. For more details on this issue, see my main article – washing machine door glass danger.
But read on if you are wondering – whose fault is it when the door glass on your washing machine shatters?
Manufacturers are blaming users
Manufacturers are claiming that it’s caused by overloading the washing machine, or leaving coins or other metal objects inside pockets. If this proves to be the case, they may have a point. But can manufacturers completely wash their hands of this problem, and is it really caused by user misuse? Some door glasses are shattering when the washing machine hasn’t even been running for several hours or more.
Door glass did not shatter in the past
One of the main things that informs my opinion on this matter is that, in my experience, door glass did not shatter like this in the past. This is despite seeing many thousands of coins, keys, penknives, and all sorts of undesirable objects getting inside washing machines. It’s also despite seeing thousands of very badly overloaded washing machines. Some of which went so crazy on spin that they walked across the kitchen, and damaged kitchen cupboards and worktops.
I’ve been repairing washing machines since 1976. I never saw a single case where any of these incidents caused a door glass to shatter. I only ever had to replace 2 or 3 door glass bowls on washing machines, and none of them had shattered. They’d just developed large cracks after unusual incidents. I recall that one of them had something heavy dropped on the glass when the door was left open, which just cracked. It was so unusual to need to replace a door glass that they had to be special orders, and took some time to arrive.
There’s no doubt that overloading, and leaving coins in pockets is extremely well known, common, and very predictable behaviour. So I would expect manufactures to ensure the door glass is strong enough to withstand these incidents. I personally doubt that the door glass shattering issue is caused by overloading or obstructions. But if it is, then it’s likely to be only because manufacturers have changed the way they make the door glass.
Only relatively modern washing machines have door glass that “explodes” and shatters. So manufacturers must have started to use tensioned (safety) glass, whereas before they just used really thick glass.
Is the broken glass safe or dangerous?
Apart from who’s fault it is, another issue is whether or not this is a safety issue. If the door glass breaks safely, with no risk of injury, and user “misuse” is to blame (such as overloading or leaving coins in pockets), then maybe we need to accept some responsibility. If we don’t use products properly, we can suffer inconvenient breakdowns and associated costs in putting it right.
But if the door glass shatters into dangerously sharp shards, exploding outwards and potentially hitting children & pets who might be in front of it, then it might be fair to see it differently. In this case, you might argue that manufacturers know full well that people will overload their washing machines, and that they will leave metal objects inside pockets. Therefore, you would expect that manufacturers have a legal duty to design against the door glass shattering – even if failure to use as instructed or leaving objects in pockets does cause it.
Do manufacturers have a duty in law to protect users from dangerous consequences of not following instructions? And do they have a duty to pre-empt easily predictable and well-known user behaviour? Particularly if the actions can result in dangerous consequences, not easily predictable by users. For example, who would predict that overloading a washing machine could cause the glass to explode?
Is there even such a thing as duty of care in design?
I was recently writing a new safety article about electrical adapters and plug extension sockets, and how easy it is to overload one, causing electrical overheating – which could set fire to your house.
I wondered why these extension sockets and adapters don’t have built in safety devices to protect against overloading and potentially lethal fires. Then it hit me. This is even more serious than the door glass issue, and yet there’s no safety device inside to protect users from misusing them with dangerous consequences. So maybe manufacturers don’t have to predict user behaviour and protects users from consequences?
Another example is where people have left laptops on beds or soft furnishings, blocking the vents underneath and causing it to catch fire. Again, this is technically misuse, and no doubt warned against in the instruction manuals. There are very dangerous consequences, and yet they haven’t been designed anticipating people will place them on soft furnishings, which will block the vents. They’ve not even designed them to cut out before catching fire. Surely they should be? (Continued below)..
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Possibly people will have a legitimate claim against these manufacturers for not thinking about those potentially lethal consequences, but maybe not. It’s not really clear. I would love to know the answer.
People do need to take responsibility for their own actions, but at the same time we all make mistakes, and have lapses of concentration or judgement. So shouldn’t easily predictable mistakes, and even misuse, be made safe by design?
This premise is already in action on many other things…
Examples of accident prevention design already in use
Despite the points in the last few paragraphs, manufacturers clearly do design safety features (which they would never dream of removing) into washing machines to protect users from their own stupid actions. The door lock, for example. You cannot open the door whilst the drum is spinning, for obvious reasons.
Imagine the outcry and litigation if anyone could just open the door whilst the drum is spinning at full speed. So manufacturers do either have a legal, or moral obligation, or they wouldn’t always fit a door lock device. They could just tell users in the instruction book not to open the door whilst it’s running. Then, if someone does and loses an arm, they can say it’s misuse – their own fault.
Sadly, I can’t give a definitive answer as to who’s fault it is. It may or may not prove to be user misuse. But if they believe it is caused by overloading etc. you would hope they would at least warn users about it properly in the instruction book. Something like – Warning: overloading, leaving coins and other foreign objects in pockets, or washing laundry with metal buckles etc could cause the door glass to shatter.
Is door glass breaking safely – or dangerously?
This is a pivotal point. If the door glass always shatters safely, and there is no danger to anyone, or any pet, and it is caused by misuse, then it could be argued that it’s not really a consumer issue. But, if the door glass shattering could cause injury to a small child or pet, or some of the pieces of glass are sharp and dangerous, then it should surely be a consumer issue that manufacturers need to address urgently.
See the experiences of consumers who have contacted me, and some of their photos –
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