/ 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
John King says:
13 February 2019

Having spent 80% of my working life in the electronics industry where plastics play a big part in the manufacture of components, the prime requirement, certainly in my company (Transformer manufacturers) was that the material used met with UL (Underwriters Laboratory) approval with regard to flammability, the product then would carry a badge/removable sticker that would be visibly displayed at the point of sale added to which the appropriate H&S advertising and education would help steer the public followed by the manufacturer in that direction as it does in the electronics industry.

Car manufacturers advertise safety features and each model has an NCAP rating. I’d certainly appreciate details at the point of sale to help me make an informed choice although any information should be in a form that is useful to everyone, however non-technical they are. I agree about H&S advertising and education to help consumers install, use and maintain their products.

I am interested in the improvements in safety of electronic circuitry used in consumer products. Thermal fuses have been included in transformers for years to disconnect the power in event of overheating but there may be no indication that they are present. Is it standard practice to include these fuses and if not, would it be a worthwhile benefit? When I was younger I had to deal with a fire in my parents’ TV, caused by the paraffin wax burning in the line output transformer. 🙁

Richard Hughes says:
13 February 2019

As I understand it, the Grenfell fire started with a small fire from a fridge/freezer or similar type of device. Of course, the cladding of the building resulted in an exceptional fire and damage costing millions of pounds. However, that is no excuse for not making domestic electrical appliances as fire resistant as reasonably practical. This has been done for furnishings. As a result of requiring soft furnishings (cushions etc.) to be fire retardant since 1988, domestic fires in London have been reduced by about 30% (I believe). Prevention is better than cure and I feel strongly that domestic electrical devices, particularly those that are left unattended when in use (e.g. fridges, freezers etc.) should be designed so that in the event of an electrical fault, a fire does not start.

DerekP says:
14 February 2019

Richard, it has been widely reported that the *immediate* cause of that fire, i.e. its ignition source, was a fridge feezer.

But the *root* causes of that incident may lie elsewhere.

I’ve also seen press reports to the effect that severe problems occurred with the mains supplies to that building on multiple occasions, as evidenced by smoke coming off various cables.

Hence, it would be hard to prove that the fridge involved there had not been operated outside of its design ratings, due to those electrical problems.

So, in that case, the ignition of that fridge, was most likely the last link in a chain of mishaps and even without that particular fridge, sooner or later a similarly catastrophic fire, might have been inevitable.

Chris says:
13 February 2019

Improvements in standards if deemed necessary should be done entirely by changing the regulations for new products only. It is unfair to affect anyone by targeting products already produced.

Hamish Philip says:
13 February 2019

Get hold of a small magnet. When you shop for a new fridge, test if the magnet sticks to the sides and back of the fridge. If it does, then the fridge casing is definitely steel, and not plastic, and is therefore safe.

I have done that and been rather disappointed. Fridge and freezer doors are always steel so that you can stick fridge-magnets to them. 🙂

Amrat says:
14 February 2019

I think it states sides and back not doors !!

I’m not even going to look to see what the risks are for each individual appliance.
The fact is: IF THEY’RE DANGEROUS THEY SHOULDN’T BE AVAILABLE TO BUY !
ANY APPLIANCES THAT ARE ALREADY IN USE SHOULD BE RECALLED FOR MODIFICATION OR REPLACED FREE OF CHARGE. IF A COMPANY AVOIDS OR EVADES DOING THE RIGHT THING THEN CRIMINAL CHARGES SHOULD BE PROCEEDED WITH AGAINST BOARD MEMBERS.

Maureen says:
13 February 2019

I agree whole heartedly

This government cares about nothing except staying in power and jumping off a cliff edge- they don’t care if we live or die otherwise this would be a priority- remember Grenfell – for god sake stop selling appliances that risk human life- you as manufacturers of these appliances should have to support everyone from every fire in their home including Grenfell. I feel so angry that we are still buying rubbish that could cause the death of those we love.

Susan Leighfield says:
13 February 2019

We would like to buy a new fridge freezer and we have spent considerable time asking individual retailers for their advice regards which models they currently sell and recommend that have got all metal backs.. Not one retailer that we have approached has provided the information so far which pretty well sums up their attitude.
We note what Which say about John Lewis so we will be approaching them now.

DerekP says:
14 February 2019

Given that we know CPCW loves to upsell, I thought for a moment that they might want to “sales push” metal backed fridges, using their usual “hurt and rescue” SPIN selling techniques.

But then again, “Wouldn’t you rather buy this more expensive, safer product in place of this nice cheap fire risk one?” would raise the obvious question as to why, given the Health & Safety at Work Act, the “fire risk” product was available at all.

It’s years since the London Fire Brigade published a video showing that a plastic-backed fridge-freezer burned merrily and then Which? provided publicity. Although the risk is generally agreed to be small, I don’t have much sympathy for manufacturers that are still producing the ones with plastic backs.

Raymond Walker says:
13 February 2019

The fault lies with Far East imports. Acceptance of CE without a reference number is silly. British Standard specs must return after Brexit. China has us eating out of their hand by exporting defective goods that can’t be returned for replacement. The onus is left to the retailer; this is wrong. I always go back to the manufacturer, Which could report on the LED con. Adverts boast of 15-25,000 hrs life before failure. However it is the control gear that can prematurely fail, and does. My Osram LED bulb failed after only 4,000 hrs. They wouldn’t replace because it was over their 3yr warranty. This nullifies their boast of long life. After pointing out that historically a GLS class lamp was designed for a 1,000 hr life (never any talk of a warranty period) and that Osram do not state a limiting guarantee period of responsibility in their advertising I got a replacement. This is shoddy practice and manufacturers must be brought to heel post Brexit got stop this country being a dumping ground for poor products.

K BERRY says:
13 February 2019

When I have bought electrical appliances I ALWAYS PRESUMED they would be SAFE.
There was NO INFORMATION to make us think otherwise and I had never heard of appliances causing fires!
It should be illegal to SELL ITEMS TO THE PUBLIC THAT ARE NOT TOTALY SAFE especially when left unattended.
I do not remember EVER seeing warning notices on ANY OF MY APPLIANCES in the 60 years of using them—but luckily have never experienced a fire. Is that just “GOOD LUCK” or is it in recent years that they have become more unsafe with introduction of different materials .

DerekP says:
13 February 2019

Hi K Berry

I’m sorry to hear that you’ve never heard of appliances causing fires.

That said, welcome to reality.

As a (mostly) retired safety professional, I’m here to tell you two things.

1. There is no such thing as totally or absolutely safe appliance (or human activity).

Everything we do or use involves all sort sof potential hazards.

By hazards, I mean the potential for things to go wrong, so that bad things happen. Hence, the job of health and safety is to minimise the likelihood (or frequency) of any bad things occurring. When we’ve done that, we say that things are acceptably safe, because we’ve done everything that is practicable to minimise the risks involved. Here the term risk is used to quantify both the consequences, if things go wrong, and the expected frequency of those consequences.

2. In the industrial facilities I used to help look after, the two biggest causes of fires were hot work and faulty electrical equipment. I expect the same also applies to our kitchens at home.

Much of the debate in this conversation is around the extent to which plastic parts should be eliminated from domestic appliances, if those parts might worsen the consequences of any fire.

Mike Carroll says:
13 February 2019

It should be a criminal offence to sell seriously unsafe goods and not just a civil one.
Homes are destroyed and as we have seen lives have been lost.
The Goverment needs to step up bring in new legislation swiftly

DerekP says:
13 February 2019

Mike, I’m not a lawyer but I think the existing laws around manslaughter already apply, if the sale of a seriously unsafe item were to become a direct cause of death.

But, in legal and practical terms, how could “seriously unsafe” be defined for the context of domestic appliances?

Linda Badham says:
13 February 2019

Nothing electrical should be sold that is not safe in every way .A guarantee should be with the sale stating the safety of the item .

Colin G Griffiths says:
13 February 2019

It’s quite obvious that both Retailers and Manufacturers are putting profit before people, so it’s time that the Customers started fighting back by exercising a boycot off all the rogue manufacturers that clearly are not prepared to put this major problem right.If we hit them where it hurts (in the pocket) then perhaps they might do something about it.

Mandy says:
13 February 2019

The public presume when buying anything that it has been tested/approved/deemed fit for sale by someone, somewhere. The truth is the opposite, there isn’t a department testing every item on sale, it’s all kinda run on a trust system that what you’re selling conforms to safety standards. There are billions of things that are on sale, you dont get to hear about a problem until there has been a problem. That usually is either a product recall or trading standards involvement. B&M were selling hammers that had heads that flew off when used, despite trading standards demanding immediate withdrawal from shelves, it wasn’t until the press reported they were still selling them in multiple outlets before actually removing.
No-one has our backs! We are at the mercy of manufacturers and retailers…profit comes first, cover ups, false data (diesel scandal).
Its costing lives and it needs to change but this Countries Government and Administration seems to be more disjointed than ever, I doubt we will see improvements any day soon.

John Marshall says:
14 February 2019

I think it’s disgraceful that these appliances are still out on the shelves for purchase. It’s true what people say, big companies seem quite willing to put the public at risk for the sake of making a quick couple of hundred pounds. It’s shocking how low they value human life. They should face prosecution for the risls they take daily at our expense.

DerekP says:
14 February 2019

If we all stopped buying these “fire risk” products, they’d soon be taken off the shelves.

It seems that all plastic backed products either have been, or are being, removed from sale. As Which? has said the fire risk posed by any of these products is very low. There will be many millions of these in operation throughout the UK and, presumably, Europe and rhe rest of the world..

It would have been useful if Which? had told us about the changes to the international standard and the modifications in the European version. It would also have been helpful if they had also told us about the international working group looking at fire risk in electrical domestic appliances.

Bill H. says:
14 February 2019

Can I ask what the insurance industry’s take is on this. If certain fridge/freezers are deemed as unsafe then its likely that insurance cover would be deemed as invalid. Perhaps the insurer should ask certain questions about make/model of those items.

The fridge freezers are not unsafe (unless they fail to meet the international safety standard). F/Fs are one of the safest domestic appliances.

However, it also raises the question of the safety of all our electrical appliances that are subject to misuse, lack of maintenance, accidental damage and abuse that could result in malfunction and possibly a fire. We, the owners, would be responsible for the consequences. Should we have them routinely tested in a similar way to PAT testing of items in business premises? I can’t see it ever being practical or acceptable to those who would not want to pay for the service. But should your product through your neglect be shown to cause a fire you could be held liable if the defect was obvious.

DerekP says:
14 February 2019

Malcolm, if you rent out a holiday cottage, I think you are required to get all those checks done annually.

Thanks Derek. I presume that is to meet your responsibility to your customers. In buildings of multiple occupation, where your neglect could impact on other people, maybe annual appliance testing should be done?

DerekP says:
14 February 2019

Malcolm – yes indeed – perhaps that could be a lease or tenacy condition, or a landlord service, etc?

Bill H – I expect insurance companies would notice if certain fridge freezers or tumble dryers were becoming significant risks. I suspect that, within the overall spectrum of house fires, fridge fires represent a very low proportion of the overall ignition risks.

It might also be pertinent to mention, once again, that defective metal bodied appliances also pose very real risks of death from electrocution. When I was working in Berkshire, the son of one of my colleagues there tragically died by electrocution from a faulty fridge. That event occurred whilst on a overseas holiday.

I know that landlords have to do a gas safety check but not electrical items.

The landlord is responsible for ensuring that the electrical installation in a rented property is safe when tenants move in and maintained in a safe condition throughout their occupation.

Good landlords have landlord-provided electrical appliances routinely checked but that is not mandatory. It is also good practice to have electrical apparatus tested in between tenancies in rented properties.

It is a legal requirement that a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) has a periodic inspection carried out on the property every five years. An HMO is a single dwelling unit [e.g. a house] that has separate, but not necessarily self-contained, accommodation for a number of residents.

A purpose-built block of flats is not an HMO and, theoretically, each apartment complies with the Building Regulations as to fire containment and means of escape so that an internal fire should not spread to other parts of the property and people can evacuate safely. We have seen how this provision can be nullified in practice and a fire can spread catastrophically if certain dangerous circumstances combine.

Fire can cause structural failure which can pose as much or more risk than the fire itself.

Landlords have no responsibility for portable or removable items; those are the occupier’s responsibility but they can be at least as hazardous potentially as the installed appliances. A key part of the ‘protection’ is in the form of smoke and fire alarms which should also be tested and maintained to remain fully effective in the event of an emergency. Exit routes must have emergency lighting.

Fires can start for a variety of reasons, not necessarily as a result of product defects, which is why there is a raft of secondary measures designed to contain a fire, warn of its existence, and enable a safe escape. Neglect of any of the critical elements in this chain of prevention and protection should be brought to the attention of the appropriate authorities.

The containment of fire in domestic appliances through the provision of all-round metal casings is a good step in the right direction; before the routine use of plastic for back-plates, metal was the universal material. The appeal of plastic was its economy and lightness. Suitable plastic materials are available but would cost as much as metal and possibly weigh more.

There is a case for deciding that all buildings containing more than one household should have mandatory periodical appliance inspections. I cannot see that happening in the foreseeable future so better build standards for appliances and proper testing and maintenance of secondary safety systems are essential.

Thanks for this useful summary of requirements for rented property etc. I presume that gas appliances in rented property should be serviced annually too. Having seen some very dubious electrical installations in rented property and gas appliances burning with yellow flames, I suspect that standards in rented property are better overall than in private property.

The gas safety requirements in rented property are more rigorous than the electrical requirements. Tenanted property must have an annual inspection and test of gas appliances including their connexions and flues. Managing agents appear to be fairly diligent in this regard but not all landlords employ an agent. If there is a turnover of tenants during the course of the year there is likely to be no independent check on whether the periodic inspection is overdue. Many tenants might not be familiar with the regulations and know where to look for [or have access to] the test records. If there is a gas leak combined with an electrical fault the risk of a devastating explosion is greatly increased.

I have little recent experience of rented property but have seen gas inspection certificates and PAT-tested appliances when I have investigated.

Terry says:
14 February 2019

This whole disaster stemmed from the govenment department concerned failing to issue clear enforceable guide lines on surface cladding, the same applies to domestic appliances, once a problem is identifed it should be mandatory for changes to be implimated and the makers be checked by trading Standards to ensure that items failing to comply are removed from sale.

Y Creasy says:
14 February 2019

Name, shame and ban anything dangerous. We don’t want another Grenfell tragedy!

Steve Evans says:
14 February 2019

Why are we shy about naming the brands ?

Hi Steve. No shyness here – we’ve named the brands involved comprehensively: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/04/250-fridge-freezers-fridges-and-freezers-named-which-dont-buys-over-fire-safety-concerns/

You can also find a full list of the brands and model numbers in our checker tool here: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/02/hundreds-of-potentially-unsafe-fridges-and-freezers-still-on-sale/

Thanks George. It is commendable that Which? is making information information about products best avoided on safety grounds available to everyone and not just subscribers. The same applies with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.

I agree. That’s Which?’s role in a nutshell.

Chris Mullins says:
14 February 2019

I suggest that Which set up an appropriately worded petition to the relevant manufacturers asking them to remove their dangerous fridges from the market and forward it to 38 degrees since a 38 degrees campaign backed by say 100,000 signatures would send a pretty effective message and gain the publicity to further back it up.

Refrigerators are not inherently “dangerous” but can certainly be made safer in order to prevent, or at least restrict, the spread of fire.

Which? is in the process of checking with the major retailers of fridge/freezers whether they will cease the sale of those with plastic backplates. John Lewis have confirmed that they no longer sell such models and haven’t done so since April 2018. Which? are now chasing AO.com, Argos and Currys and urging them to remove all flammable plastic-backed models from sale immediately [See the section headed “Your turn, retailers” in the Introduction].

Setting up an on-line petition is a good idea and I hope you get a good response.

We don’t run petitions on 38 degrees as we have our own campaign sites. Here is the dangerous product campaign. Please do sign the petition and share it with anyone you think would be interested.

https://campaigns.which.co.uk/product-safety/