Samsung killed the Galaxy Note7 this week after the devices continued to burst into flames. But the tech behemoth has not extinguished scrutiny over its safety record.
The South Korean manufacturer, which makes an array of consumer electronics, including kitchen appliances and television sets, is in the middle of juggling other safety problems. Those include a recall in Australia for more than 144,000 Samsung washing machines that were prone to causing fires, and a potential recall of defective laundry units in the United States.
Over the years, Samsung has faced other safety situations that have resulted in regulators taking action. The larger incidents include a 2003 recall of 184,000 microwave ovens in the United States, and 210,000 refrigerators in South Korea in 2009. There have been other smaller recalls, including one in 2009 of about 43,000 microwave ovens in the United States because of a shock hazard and 20,000 washing machines in 2007 because of a fire risk.
Those episodes have been compounded by consumer frustration. People who have faced safety hazards with Samsung kitchen and home appliances said they frequently had to jump through hoops to get replacement products or refunds. To them, Samsung’s bungled handling of the Galaxy Note recall this week was not surprising.
Ed O’Rourke, a resident of Boston, said that over the span of four years, Samsung replaced his malfunctioning induction range three times before the fourth one’s glass cooktop exploded in 2013. After that, Samsung declined to issue a refund until 2015, after his wife fought the company in small-claims court and won. The couple now uses an Electrolux range.
The panoply of other Samsung product recalls shows that the Galaxy Note7 fiasco was not an isolated case, though it was the company’s largest by far, with more than 2.5 million devices. Combined with Samsung’s often bureaucratic process for rectifying these consumer issues, it raises questions about whether the company prioritised profit over customer safety.
“I thought, why doesn’t this happen to Apple or GE? And is Samsung playing it a little too cute in pushing things to limits that other companies aren’t pushing in terms of engineering-safety ratio?” O’Rourke said.
Product recalls are common among consumer electronics companies, so given the large portfolio of Samsung products and the size of the company, some problems to its lineup are to be expected.
Apple, Samsung’s chief rival, has had a number of smaller recalls for products, including one for thousands of Beats speakers last year after receiving complaints of overheating, and a recall for some iPod Nanos in 2011 because of issues related to overheating.
A Samsung spokeswoman pointed to an earlier statement about its washing machines in Australia, in which the company said thousands of refunds and replacements had been made and that customer safety was its top priority.
Yet the scale and prominence of the Galaxy Note 7 problem renews the spotlight on Samsung’s safety record in other product areas, even as the company grapples with the smartphone recall. On Wednesday, Samsung revised its third-quarter profit estimates to absorb the equivelent of $2.6 billion in losses. The company said it earned 5.2 trillion won ($6.1 billion) in the third quarter, 33.3 per cent less than the 7.8 trillion won profit it had estimated last week. It said it had also cut its sales estimate for the quarter by 2 trillion won, to 47 trillion won.
The smartphone recall is most likely unrelated to other Samsung product recalls that are now unfolding, like the one for the washing machines. That is because consumer electronics like TVs and kitchen appliances are made by a different Samsung division than the mobility group that is responsible for the smartphones.
In Australia, Samsung is in the process of a recall it started three years ago for top-loading washing machines that were prone to catching fire as a result of an internal electrical defect. Samsung said that as of last month, it had resolved the problem in 81 per cent of the affected washers.
Yet many owners of the troubled Samsung washing machines contend their problems are far from resolved. For the recall in, Samsung repaired the machines by fitting plastic bags over some connectors. A Facebook group with more than 4000 owners of the recalled machines crowdfunded money to hire forensic experts to analyse the fix. The forensic reports concluded that the plastic bag was ineffective because it did not prevent moisture penetration of the connectors.
“It’s quite extraordinary that consumers who are scared for their lives had to get these scientific reports done,” said Tarn Allen, an owner of a recalled Samsung washing machine who is an administrator for the Facebook group. Allen, who lives in Sydney, said the South Korean manufacturer had refused to issue refunds to many members of the Facebook group until an Australian government agency issued a statement saying it was looking into the matter.
Samsung may also be preparing to recall top-loading washing machines in the United States. Some models of the top-loading washers made between 2011 and this year are at risk of causing property damage or personal injury when the machines wash water-resistant clothing and bulky items including bedding, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
“CPSC is advising consumers to only use the delicate cycle” with those items, the agency said late last month. “The lower spin speed in the delicate cycle lessens the risk of impact injuries or property damage due to the washing machine becoming dislodged.”
The affected units may experience abnormal vibrations, Samsung said in a statement. The commission and Samsung said they were working toward a fix.
By: Brian X. Chen and Choe Sang
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