/ Home & Energy

Take fire-risk appliances off the shelves immediately

We want people to be better protected from flammable plastic-backed fridge-freezers. Do you back our call for retailers to take fire-risk appliances off the shelves?

Update 11/07/2019

We’re celebrating a big win for our End Dangerous Products campaign.

Today, a new fridge freezer safety standard enters into force effectively banning the manufacture of flammable plastic-backed models.

We’ve been campaigning for the introduction of a new standard since 2017, along with groups including London Fire Brigade and Electrical Safety First, and our 115,000 campaign supporters.

The standard sees the introduction of new tests that require cold appliance backing material to withstand a naked flame for 30 seconds, and demonstrate that it can sufficiently prevent flames reaching the flammable insulation as a result.

Although fires due to refrigeration faults are rare, under the old standard, some appliances were made with a flammable plastic backing that can accelerate the spread of flames in the event of a fire.

While the new standard effectively bans manufacturers from making flammable plastic-backed models, retailers are expected to be allowed to continue selling their old stock so we’ll be calling for them to remove any remaining flammable plastic-backed fridge freezers from sale immediately.

If you’re thinking of buying a new fridge, freezer or fridge-freezer, remember to check before you buy to make sure you’re not getting a model with flammable plastic backing.

You can use our free tool to check the backing material of hundreds of the most popular fridges, freezers and fridge freezers currently on the market and reviewed by Which?.

The London Fire Brigade Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Charlie Pugsley, told us:

We have long been warning about the stark dangers of plastic backed fridges and freezers as part of our Total Recalls campaign and we support Which? in raising concerns about this issue and producing the online checking tool.

The new standard sends a clear message that these flammable backed fridges and freezers are a risk and is a big step in the right direction, but it’s really important that this isn’t the end of it and that more work is done to make white goods safer.

We’d also like to see recall notices better publicised and greater regulation of second-hand appliances”

Update 18/03/2019

We’ve repeatedly asked manufacturers and retailers to stop making plastic-backed fridge-freezers that can accelerate fires and put people’s lives at risk.

A new safety standard will be coming into force this July, requiring all manufacturers to stop making these potentially unsafe refrigeration models.

Retailers must now put the safety of their customers first. Hundreds of these potentially unsafe fridge-freezers continue to be sold across the UK. They must be removed from shelves immediately, so that people are not left at risk for years to come.

People must have confidence that the appliances they buy are safe. Until then, anyone planning on buying a fridge-freezer should still check they are not unwittingly purchasing an unsafe model.

Original convo 11/02/2019

First of all, it’s important to say that the sale of flammable plastic-backed models that pass the current safety standard is legal and that the backing itself is not the cause of fire.

However, our call comes in response to a growing body of evidence, including from the London Fire Brigade, Electrical Safety First and our own testing indicating that plastic-backing can rapidly accelerate the spread of flames in the event of a fire in your home.

Check your appliance with our tool

It is worth stressing that if you already own a flammable plastic-backed model, the risk of fridge-freezer fires is extremely low.

However, if you’re thinking of buying a new appliance, we’d urge you to make sure you’re getting a metal-backed (or other flame retardant) model. If you’re unsure about how to check, the free-to-use Which? fridge-freezer checker tool can help.

In September 2017, we urged manufacturers to stop using flammable plastic-backing in their fridge-freezers, while in April of last year, we took the unprecedented step of making 250 fridge-freezers Don’t Buys.

In response to this, a number of brands committed to stopping the production of these appliances by January 2019.

Last month, when we followed up with manufacturers, we were encouraged to find that almost all have now stopped producing flammable plastic-backed models while most confirmed to us that they no longer distribute these appliances to retailers either, marking a win for our campaign.

Your turn, retailers

Off the back of this, we looked into whether the UK’s four biggest fridge-freezer retailers (AO.com, John Lewis & Partners, Argos and Currys PC World) are still selling plastic-backed models.

Of the four, only John Lewis told us that they do not currently sell any plastic-backed models, and haven’t done so since April 2018. We’re now calling on AO.com, Argos and Currys to follow suit and remove all flammable plastic-backed models from sale immediately.

A fridge-freezer lottery

When carrying out our research, we found there was huge confusion about whether models were metal or plastic-backed, with a significant proportion mislabelled, making it difficult for people to have confidence they are not purchasing a fire-risk fridge-freezer.

I’d be interested to know if you’ve found similar when buying a new appliance?

That’s why we’re also calling on manufacturers and retailers to provide people with greater clarity by clearly listing model backing type so customers know what they’re buying.

This uncertainty demonstrates the need for reform of the standards system – people should be able to expect more transparency and consistency across the industry.

If you’ve recently bought, or are thinking of buying, a new fridge-freezer, I’d be really keen to hear about your experience. Were you able to find out the backing type of your model? Did you have difficulty locating this information? Let us know in the comments.

Comments
Davidv rickard says:
19 March 2019

Fridge washer problems are sometimes caused by the suppressor capacitor shorting if connected to 240 volt supply and triggered by a power surge. These machines are some times under the work top and cannot be switched off. (They are before the on/ off switch, and so are always connected.

DerekP says:
14 April 2019

I’d say it was the responsibility of the householder to ensure that all such appliances are only connected via switched sockets.

For example, in my kitchen, there are switches above the worktop for all my appliances.

That is good electrical installation practice, Derek, but unfortunately it is not a general requirement other than in new houses, although I believe it might be a requirement for refrigerators and fridge/freezers that run continuously to have a switched socket or an isolating switch accessible at all times.

I assume that current practice is to have switched fused spurs running off a ring main, connected to sockets sited under the worktops. Useful, but you have to watch out for guests who helpfully switch off the freezer or fridge last thing at night. 🙁

The problem with older houses is that sockets can be behind appliances, so that in event of fire it is necessary to turn the power off at the consumer unit.

DerekP says:
15 April 2019

wave change, my point was that home owners and landlords should upgrade important wiring to keep up with modern safe practices.

I’m quite pleased with our system, where it’s the same as Derek’s and I’ve added double pole, double throw switches for the oven, tumble drier and washing machines.

Derek – I looked for appliance isolation switches as one indicator of modern wiring when I bought my present house. I doubt that many householders would add them unless having their kitchen replaced because cables have to be laid in walls and power can be switched off at the consumer unit in the event of fire. I once had to deal with a cooker fire for a neighbour who was in a state of panic. I turned off the power at the CU and would not have been able to access the appliance switch because it was close to the cooker – and the fire.

Although I have my reservations in this case, I do agree that householders and landlords should keep their wiring up to date and have it checked periodically. I have read that many homes still have fuseboxes and don’t have a single RCD.

Ian – Plug-in appliances usually have a fused single-pole isolation switch, whereas wired-in appliances such as ovens and hobs will have a double-pole switch. In the home, double-throw switches are usually found in lighting controlled by two or more switches and not in power circuits.

Appliance isolation switches should be incorporated into the design stage of a new kitchen which ours wasn’t. Everyone probably knows they should have a cooker isolation switch, but it was only when an electrician became involved we discovered what was required by which time half the units were installed. So the switches are legal but not in ideal easily accessible places and in an emergency we might have to go to the main CU.

Now I know what is required, I would want the isolation switches to be on a mini CU near or even just outside the kitchen exit. As wavechange found out, you might not be able to get near a switch if an appliance is on fire.

When I wired our house 40 years ago I put isolation switches above the worktops connected to socket outlets below, adjacent to where the major appliances would be located. So in the event of a problem I could quickly isolate the offender without going to close. It is also convenient if I choose to isolate an appliance while it is not being used. This seemed a common sense approach and convenient.

It is important to know what the switches in your consumer unit control and they should be clearly labelled, so that you can switch off the kitchen circuits without losing all your supply – to lights for example.

One of the first jobs I did when I moved in was to improve the labelling of the circuit breakers on the consumer unit. The garage has its own CU but there was no indication that this was fed from the one in the house and it took some time to work out that the unlabelled circuit breaker was for the smoke alarms.

What Alfa suggests makes sense, particularly if the CU is not well sited or nearby. In event of fire it’s risky to go into a smoke filled room to turn off the power.

I also label the switches that are not for obvious functions in order to avoid confusion. In the kitchen there are isolation switches for the hob, oven, extractor hood, dishwasher and boiler [which is actually upstairs, and it took me some time after we moved in to work out what the switch was for]. The utility room also has switches for the washing machine, fridge/freezer, extractor fan, the patio lights and the garden power sockets, and they are not all in the most obvious places. Getting to the consumer unit means going into the garage where there are various impediments to rapid action.

I’ve never understood why the siting of consumer units is so variable, having seen them hidden under stairs and near the ceiling in some older properties. Mine is in the downstairs toilet. I’ve not seen a main consumer unit in a garage, but maybe that’s because I have not looked. It would be handy for anyone who wants to add a charging point for an electric vehicle, but otherwise a thick cable is needed to take the power from the garage to the house.

I wish the current regulations were freely available so that we could check how well our homes measure up. I have two power shower pumps that have been linked to the immersion heater circuit via fused isolators. The circuit is capable of handling the power and I’ve not used the immersion heater other than to test it, but my understanding is that an immersion heater should be on its own circuit.

There are a number of explanatory books on BS 7671; the “official document” is aimed at professionals and parts can be difficult to interpret without considerable knowledge.

Electrical Safety First publish useful Qs&As. inevitable the none you want to ask is not there 🙁 . https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/professional-resources/wiring-regulations/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI243CiMbS4QIVyLTtCh0hkw71EAAYAiAAEgJdrvD_BwE

I’m familiar with this, but others may not be. I’m in favour of having information available in a form that is easier to understand, but this needs to be comprehensive, structured, indexed and public access to the full regulations is needed, even though not everyone will be in a position to use them.

Some things are complicated and some of the changes introduced in the 18th edition wiring regulations will continue to be debated but others are very straightforward and easy to understand. Imagine how we would cope with pursuing our consumer rights if we had to rely on buying a copy of the Consumer Rights Act etc. or a book on the subject.

The wiring regulations are a joint production of the IET and BSI, bodies that are private and must recover the costs of all the work that goes into what is now BS 7671. If the taxpayer paid for all this work, as it does for laws, then maybe it could be free. However the vast majority of people will not ever want to look at the wiring regs, let alone make use of them, and much of the work they cover should be left to competent professionals. Any amateur will only be concerned with domestic installations and books are readily available showing the 18th edition’s requirements, typically £15. They are very limited in what they are legally allowed to undertake.

Useful information about what work can be carried out by an amateur is covered in useful detail in ‘Part P’ of the Building Regulations: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/441872/BR_PDF_AD_P_2013.pdf

As I have explained many times in other Convos, a different funding model could make British Standards etc. freely available to everyone, and the same applies with the wiring regulations.

Many amateurs will not tackle electrical work even where this is permitted, but understanding the regulations can help make home owners/tenants understand whether their home complies with current standards.

As Which? provides much valuable information perhaps that should also be made freely available? However I doubt most of the current funders – the Members – would continue to provide their annual subscriptions to pay for its work. So like Standards the money would have to come from somewhere else. Probably the hard pressed taxpayer. I wonder it they’d be happy to pay for a very very small minority of people with an interest in Standards to have free access. We could do it as it used to be done through municipal reference libraries; a good use of council tax money?

Which? have never responded to the question as to whether they would make online standards available to seriously interested members who wanted to help Which? in its work.

I would like to promote greater awareness of modern standards for domestic wiring and for householders to have a better understanding of the requirements so that they can spot possible problems, for example when a replacement kitchen is being installed. I have given a couple of examples of wiring that might not be best practice or even permitted and had the work been done for me rather than the previous owner of the house I would have wanted to check that the work complied with the wiring regs before paying the bill.

I do not disagree with anyone having a greater understanding of something – whether building work, plumbing, electrics. I consider explanatory books and online resources (Electrical Safety First for example) are of far more value to the layperson than, say, BS 7671 which requires a good understanding if it to be used properly. Books are inexpensive.

If you don’t want to spend money on learning something then the question that remains unanswered is how else it should be funded.

The wiring regulations could be made available online, like the Part P building regulations are. They can continue to be funded by those who need to use them in connection with their work. As I said before, much of what is in the wiring regulations is not difficult to understand.

This seems to have gone well off-topic.

Which? have been asked to explain the changes that have been made to or proposed in the revised safety standard for fridges etc – BS EN 60335-2-24 They have also been asked what they can divulge about the activities of the international working groups (that include BSI [UK] representatives) that are looking at fire in domestic appliances.

Any news?

Jill says:
13 April 2019

Domestic Electrical goods can be built, Inspected and Tested to the lowest of 3 quality standards, I believe this may encourage the build to fail manufacture that we all sadly recognise. I would never build or inspect goods of that lower quality, and I would feel ashamed to allow some of the small appliances, that I’ve opened up for repair, past inspection. It’s little wonder that they may fail or burn out. I cannot understand why domestic customers are treated so shabbily and expected to put up with inferior goods. Perhaps BSI regulations should be revised as our final domestic standard. We should all feel safe in our homes. And for that reason Smart meters of whatever generation will not be welcome in my home.

DerekP says:
14 April 2019

My experience of serving on BSI standards committees suggests that we can either choose to align British Standards with other international standards or produce our own UK specific versions.

The product must meet the requirements of the relevant international or national safety standard. “Quality” is different – how long the product lasts, whether it functions correctly for example, whether bits continue working. BSI generally adopt the European standards, which are usually based on international standards; these are published as BS ENs and these “harmonised standards” allow trade throughout the EU.

Amanda says:
9 July 2019

My dryer was affected, they did a modification, I pay 7 pound a month for cover and the last repair they did , the casing had split and I could smell burning , the wiring was melting , after the modification it’s been nothing but trouble repair after repair ,terrible really

mr Keith Wheeler says:
9 July 2019

I’ve believe that all items should have quality control checks before the items leave the factory as I had to when I use to make oil filters and inspection on all type where tested and filled in a chart recorded at 100% at all times.. Under health & safety all electrical appliance before they leave should be tested
your find in the regulation in this country and EU spec????? to be done.

Reputable companies will have an extensive audited quality systems complying with ISO 9001 that not only looks at quality control of the product in manufacture but all the processes that go behind it, including sales, design, laboratory, drawings and documentation, complaints etc etc.

Safety standards specify tests that must be applied in the factory to every product before it is released.

Trisha Powell says:
9 July 2019

How many people lost their lives in the Grenfell Fire started by a Hotpoint Fridge? This fact seems conveniently overlooked by the media reports on fires started by Whirlpool/Hotpoint etc. The Government needs to take action NOW and we need to boycott all products produced by this company as I have done for the last four years since I became aware of this issue. I also boycott the shops that sell them. thank goodness for Which and the ‘This Morning’ TV Investigative journalist for doggedly pursuing this issue. Well Done and thank-you.

[This comment was edited to remove defamatory content. Please see community guidelines https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/ ]

Ian says:
18 July 2019

I filled your online form in as our tumble drier was one of the Whirlpool (Creda) at risk driers last week and within a week they delivered a like for like replacement tumble drier free of charge.
Thank you ‘Which’