/ Home & Energy, Technology

Update: we want manufacturers to stop making fire-risk fridge freezers

fridge freezer

We’ve written to fridge-freezer manufacturers urging them to stop using non-flame retardant plastic backing in their appliances. We believe this material could pose a safety risk in people’s homes. Do you back our call?

We’ve reviewed cold-appliance safety and have significant concerns about the safety of some models of fridges, freezers and fridge freezers on the UK market.

Fridge freezers

Some fridge, freezer and fridge-freezer models use non-flame retardant plastic backing material, which we believe poses a fire-risk. While this material isn’t the cause of the fire itself, there’s a growing body of evidence that indicates the risk of a fire spreading is greater with non-flame retardant plastic-backed models.

People who already have one of these models in their homes shouldn’t be alarmed as refrigerator fires are extremely rare. However, our advice is that no one should purchase a new fridge freezer with a non-flame retardant plastic backing.

To help with the purchasing of a new fridge, freezer or fridge freezer, we’re now highlighting information about the type of backing material type on our website and noting those we have concerns about.

Check the flame-retardant models here:

Fridge reviews

Freezer reviews

Fridge-freezer reviews

Safety regime

In light of our concerns, we believe the current British Standard on cold appliances is inadequate. And following our review of cold appliances, we’ve written to manufacturers asking them to do the right thing and voluntarily end the production of these appliances.

We’re also asking them to help us bring in a tougher safety standard on fridges and freezers that will no longer allow potentially flammable backing material to be used.

It’s important that standards evolve to reflect new evidence and companies must act swiftly in the best interests of consumers.

This once again shows that the UK’s product safety regime is simply not fit for purpose and the government can no longer continue to allow it to fail. We want the government to urgently set up a new national body to take responsibility for ensuring manufacturers keep households safe.

Update: 8 December 2017

Two separate samples of non-flame-retardant plastic backing set alight after just ten seconds when we conducted our fire tests.

We also tested refrigeration backings made of metal and aluminium laminate. Not only did they not catch fire after the 30 second test, but they didn’t ignite after being subjected to an open flame for a full five minutes.

Watch our video to see how refrigerator backings can go up in flames in less than 30 seconds:

The current British Standard requires refrigeration appliances to pass a glow wire test to assess their fire resistance. This involves putting a hot wire through a sample of the fridge or freezer backing material and seeing if it catches alight. All fridges, freezers and fridge freezers on the UK market currently pass this test.

The more stringent fire tests we used for our video form part of a proposed new refrigeration safety standard that’s currently more than 12 months away from being implemented. We’re calling for immediate action to toughen safety standards on refrigeration products.

Our managing director of Home and Product Services, Alex Neill said:

‘Manufacturers must put consumer safety first and immediately stop making fridges, freezers and fridge freezers to a standard that is clearly deficient and could potentially be putting people’s lives at risk.

‘This once again shows that the UK’s product safety regime is simply not fit-for-purpose and the Government can no longer continue to allow it to fail.’

Do you want manufacturers to stop producing cold appliances with non-flame retardant plastic backing?


Comments
Admin

Morning, today we’ve shared video footage of our tests on refrigeration backings.

The video is available in the convo above.

Our fire testing found that two separate samples of non-flame-retardant plastic backing set alight after just ten seconds. We also tested refrigeration backings made of metal and aluminium laminate. Not only did they not catch fire after the 30 second test, but they didn’t ignite after being subjected to an open flame for a full five minutes.

The more stringent fire tests we used for our video form part of a proposed new refrigeration safety standard that’s currently more than 12 months away from being implemented. We’re calling for immediate action to toughen safety standards on refrigeration products.

Our managing director of Home and Product Services, Alex Neill said:

‘Manufacturers must put consumer safety first and immediately stop making fridges, freezers and fridge freezers to a standard that is clearly deficient and could potentially be putting people’s lives at risk.

‘This once again shows that the UK’s product safety regime is simply not fit-for-purpose and the Government can no longer continue to allow it to fail.’

Read more here: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/12/safety-alert-watch-our-video-to-see-why-fridge-freezers-pose-a-fire-risk/

Admin

Thanks Lauren. I would like Which? to look at the use of plastics in the cases of white goods. Fridges and freezers must run unattended and overnight, so it’s vital that they are as safe as possible. It concerns me that the manufacturers did not think about the possible fire hazard when introducing plastic backs.

It’s not practical to design appliances that will never go on fire but it would be possible to get rid of plastic fascias etc. that could burn or melt, allowing a fire to spread.

New and replacement consumer units must be made with a non-combustible materials and all the ones I have seen advertised recently are metal. http://electrical.theiet.org/wiring-matters/55/consumer-units/index.cfm

Admin

I think I’d be rather more concerned with why there was a fire in the first place rather than closing the barn door after the horse has left the building.

Or indeed ensuring that the surroundings don’t catch light when whatever the actual problem is fails and goes up. That strikes me as a potentially far, far greater risk.

Or even ensuring safe installation and maintenance.

But then again… it’s such a phenomenally rare occurrence at any rate why would we bother with the rest of the safety aspects when this is a far easier target, just blame the big bad manufacturers. Even if any result will likely yield minimal change to any risks.

K.

Admin

Thanks, Wavechange. I know you’ve raised this previously, but I’ll share this with the team who worked on this fire test. That’s interesting to know that the standards changed for consumer units and now you’re seeing them being sold in metal casings – thanks for sharing that with us.

Admin

Thanks Lauren.

Admin

Coincidentally, I’ve posted a comment on the Convo “Taking our product safety concerns to parliament”. The revised IEC standard requires a needle flame test to be applied, as well as the glow wire, and I understand that BSI have proposed other more stringent requirements to be added to the standard when it is issued in Europe as an EN (and in the UK as a BSEN). Which? will hopefully be aware of this if they are now a member of the committee. Telling us would be reassuring.

I hope Which?’s publicity of the different backing types will educate some buyers into making better purchases. I don’t know whether contacting the major retailers would influence what they sell until the new standards come into effect. Those more responsible ones (JLP perhaps) might be receptive.

Admin

Thanks to Which? website I discovered that my fridge and freezer both have flammable plastic backs. I have a smoke alarm above and a heat alarm not far away and appreciate that the risk of fire is small, but I wonder how the manufacturer decided that it was acceptable to use flammable plastics.

Admin

If you are sufficiently concerned then you might replace them with Which? recommended versions. As Kenneth says (welcome back 🙂 ) the risk is very very small. We are far more at risk from smokers, candles, cookers, and other sources of fire. However, anything that can reasonably be done to reduce risk is welcome. I’m glad we have organisations that look after our interests, whether they are the international standards bodies, BSI, or Which? And the manufacturers that support the work of standards to get improvements into the market place.

Admin

Yes, Wavechange. We don’t want to alarm you at all, the risk is small and it’s good to hear that you have a smoke alarm near your fridge too 🙂

Admin

I’m not concerned about myself, Lauren, but we need to think about the safety of those living in flats and tower blocks where it would be more difficult to evacuate and a fire could put multiple lives at risk.

Admin
bishbut says:
9 December 2017

The risk to most things is small it’s when there is a big tragedy that some get concerned and worry you have to take precautions and reduce the risks if you are worried many accept the risk and are not concerned at all

Admin

But its also down to caring for others when tragedy strikes Bishbut and learning lessons from it not accepting that profit comes before human life. Everything in life is a risk but when people intentionally increase the risk to human life+health then that is just greed .

Admin

“Everything in life is a risk but when people intentionally increase the risk to human life+health then that is just greed .”

Does that include people who skimp and don’t buy quality products, do not maintain them properly, do not install them correctly and misuse them?

It’s not all just on the big bad companies you know. 😉

People want cheap, manufacturers provide to that need or, they wouldn’t survive as nobody would buy their products.

If people put safety concerns above all else and were willing to vote with their wallets to that effect, manufacturers would quickly get geared to satisfy that demand.

That’s a free market, consumer driven economy in action. You know, like the one we have.

Or you legislate and force it down everyone’s throat, irrespective of cost, inconvenience to all parties concerned, producers and consumers. Then it’s not free market, it’s as regulated economy by government et all.

But I do not for one second believe any manufacturer is putting profit before safety or, certainly not intentionally as there’s enough legislation in place in the EU to have them hung, drawn and quartered if that were provable. Which would in turn logically make me think, there’s not enough evidence for the various bodies to bring a case or, the bodies that could don’t have the cash to do it. Can’t think of another reason.

But my main point is and, I’m not having a pop at you Duncan merely using your comments to serve as a jumping off point to highlight that **CONSUMERS** put their own personal profit ahead of quality and safety as much or more so than manufacturers do in my opinion, most probably more so and in doing so drive the quality and quality down.

In my view, the biggest culprit here isn’t one party or the other.

Consumers drove quality and prices down, manufacturers let it happen. Some more than others I’d grant you.

Consumers still expect the same quality, service and durability for a fraction the cost. Manufacturers don’t get why as the stuff is so cheap.

Hence, fault on both sides but to look at it in inflammatory terms of it being a simplistic case of companies putting profit first over safety is at best disingenuous so, I feel it only right to point out that companies are simply not the only party that does so, to say otherwise would be an untruth in my view.

K.

Admin

I agree with the sentiments. The question of consumers driving down prices is, I believe, because many consumers are not educated as to the outcome – short lives, poorer quality products that are really not cheap if you can’t repair them and have to keep replacing them. Many of us learn this from experience. This is a wasteful process, of labour and resources and cannot go on for ever. The only way to prompt a change is to introduce regulation and require certain standards to be met – economical repairability and minimum durability for example. JThe manufacturers will have, then to respond and prices will increase at the bottom end. Some consumers will bleat but the world won’t stop turning and it will be a better place, in my view.

Regulation by the mandatory imposition of safety standards avoids manufacturers marketing products that do not meet appropriate levels of safety. We accept that, even though it adds cost.

Admin

Your right malcom , and when you say the public arent educated on this is quite right but ,to me, they are intentuionally not being educated to it to the same defree as 24/7 advertising rammed down everybody’s throat, they just dont get all the sources available when competing with Big Advertising .Kenneth name me an alrtuistic profit making business ? even charities are now run on pure profit margin lines and not cheap at that – Age Concern ? look at their retail prices compared to elsewhere . I have no illusions about why companies are in business – to make as much money as they can out of the public . You now have Global monopolies buying up small businesses by undercutting them to put them out of business and then buying them cheap. Then you have price fixing big companies getting together to set a standard high price as well as contract small companies to do work and dont pay them for 6 months or more putting them out of business , sorry Kenneth your view and mine has a large gulf in place . Chinese companies have a;ready been caught printing out CE stickers by the million and the only thing holding me back from posting a lot more on devious practices is that Which has warned against anything libellous being posted otherwise I could post some well know firms crafty actions.

Admin

Duncan, if it were true and supported by evidence it would not be libellous.

Admin

White goods appliances have to be safe, irrespective of price. This is particularly important with fridges and freezers, which run when we are asleep.

How on earth did we end up with fridges and freezers with plastic backs, or appliances with plastic parts in their cases? Did no-one do a risk assessment?

Blaming customers for pushing down prices is unfair because the selling price is up to the manufacturers and retailers to decide. Mr Dyson has demonstrated that it’s not necessary to sell cheap vacuum cleaners to succeed in business and I suspect he has helped prevent the race to the bottom in that sector.

The sooner the relevant standards require that white goods are able to contain fires the better.

Admin

Quite so. And Mr Dyson got a knighthood and an enormous luxury yacht on the back of his success. I bet the yacht is watertight.

Admin

Nonetheless, Dyson only has a small fraction of the vacuum cleaner market and many less expensive (and yet still effective) products are sold.

Lots of folk want inexpensive white goods. They want them to be safe too. So manufacturers must meet applicable safety standards whilst keeping the costs and prices down.

There is, however, no such thing as absolute safety.

Admin

There are certainly some rather poor vacuum cleaners, often sold under supermarket brand names, but there are many decent quality cleaners too, and I believe Mr Dyson has helped encourage consumers to spend a bit more on vacuum cleaners.

Having done risk assessments throughout my working life I know that household goods are never going to be absolutely safe*, but replacing steel with plastic for reasons of cost saving/appearance/weight reduction and compromising safety make no sense to me.

*I have friends who nearly had a fire after the hamster escaped and chewed the mains cable attached to the fridge-freezer.

Admin

We’ve had two Dyson vacuum cleaners and we’d never get another. In our view they’re simply not worth the silly cost.

Admin

wavechange – I think your hamster example nicely illustrates “the unforeseen component of risk” or, in other words, the sort of thing that a conventional risk assessment is unlikely to take into account.

Appliance manufacturers must struggle to balance fire prevention (stopping a fire from starting in the first place) and fire protection (limiting the consequences of any fire) within their parts budget for any appliance.

In your previous posts, you have reported your discovery of “flammable plastic backs” in your fridge and freezer, followed by your judgement that, given your particular circumstances, your are content that their overall contribution to fire risk is tolerable – so you won’t be rushing to embargo their use and/or replace them with safer models.

I expect that manufacturers go through a similar process when deciding what parts to use.

Now that Which? have produced information on whether or not machines have flame retardant backs, at least Which? Members can now vote with their feet on this issue.

Admin

I agree about unforeseen risks, but hopefully we learn. I had one potentially serious near miss at work and we promptly redesigned equipment to eliminate the possibility that the same mistake – caused by human error – could happen again.

I am surprised that the first manufacturer using the plastic backs did not appreciate the risk and rather concerned that prompt action was not taken when fires were reported. I appreciate that we can make use of NCAP ratings when choosing cars but I am very disappointed by the manufacturers who have chosen to use plastics unnecessarily.

Admin

I expect that, up to now, manufacturers using non-flame retardant backs will have been aware of potential hazards – if a fire starts – but will have satisfied themselves that the risks are either negligible, or acceptably low, or tolerably low.

I also expect that, in general, consumers will not have been making informed choices on this issue. But that can now change…

Admin

@wavechange I wonder if your friends contemplated the risk of having a hamster? A safety standard might have ensured that teeth were not sharp.

We all hold certain views, convinced they are correct. However many others, with experience and expertise representing a wide range of interests an many countries worldwide, are responsible for considering such matters and putting standards together. They might not be wrong in the balance they have sought to achieve in the past, nor may they be incapable of learning from experience. We can all contribute our views directly to our national standards organisation and be heard; better to say what we think directly than rely on others to do it for us, perhaps? Although I do hope Which? might set up some forum to collate relevant views, reach a consensus, and put them to BSI if it chooses to join the relevant committees.

As for Dyson, he might have designed more innovative products but judging by the huge discounts they attract, whether bought direct or through third parties, they are grossly overpriced. That is when value for money needs to be considered. The huge profits he has then made fund 30 000 acres of agricultural land and other assets, without the benefit to the country of using UK manufacture. So i’m not a fan (not can I afford his).

Admin

I think your last paragraph is more relevant Malcolm as money, or shortage of it, is often the main determinant that decides what consumers buy. Coupled with the undeniable reality that modern society has become so utterly dependent upon technology to wash and dry our clothes, our dishes, keep our food fresh for longer, provide vital communicative links and keep our homes warm and clean, all of which are now more or less taken for granted – until they malfunction.

Manufacturers are fully aware of the need to produce cheaper, inferior, and as a result, more dangerous domestic equipment with fire hazardous plastic materials to satisfy an enduring demand from a generation where both parents, often with families to support, have to work in order to sustain a reasonable standard of living, which inevitably produces an ever increasing dependency upon machines to enable them to do so.

The older generation, who have learnt through bitter experience the folly of buying cheap often means buying dear, and over the years have been able to pay off their mortgages and save a little ‘nest egg’ to cover such emergencies, and are in a position to pay a little more for something of better quality that is more durable and safe.

It all comes down to a chicken and egg situation, whereby demand dictates that manufacturers supply immediately available cheaper plastic equipment out of a well researched and knowing need, or are manufacturers guilty of exploiting a consumers dependency by making that equipment much too readily available (and therefore unsafe) in order to maintain their lucrative product turnovers and profit margins?

My guess would be the latter due to an innate human idiosyncratic need to opt for an easy ‘quick fix’ solution which most manufactures are fully conversant with.

Admin

While we cannot always prevent a fire from starting [the unpredictable hamster contingency] we can install warning systems and try to stop a fire spreading. Having heat alarms in domestic areas containing appliances seems an elementary and economical way of providing a warning, and having fire extinguishers in sensible locations can provide a first line of defence if a fire starts. By “sensible location” I mean not adjacent to the possible source of a fire. It costs nothing to think through and plan for what to do in the event of a fire. Modern homes have half-hour fire resistant doors on the escape route which should be closed to contain a fire before the fire brigade arrives.

Admin

Hamsters are not the only problem. A relative who works in security is frequently called out to mostly larger type rural homes with rat infested lofts that have chewed through cables. Unfortunately, there is not much he can do to fix a faulty security system until the owner has contacted the local pest controller to get rid of the rats.

Admin

From the London Fire Brigade website: “We have been lobbying for five years for all new refrigeration and freezing appliances to have a fully fire resistant backing as standard but the current proposals would still allow a large hole at the back of the fridge or freezer which would leave the highly flammable insulation inside exposed.” http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/news/LatestNewsReleases_gaping-hole-in-fridge-freezer-safety.asp#.WiqX-q2cZE4 After all this time, appliances with plastic backs are still being sold.

Admin

London Fire Brigade are listed as belonging to the BSI Committee which has put together additional proposals to those in the IEC document. Presumably by “lobbying” they mean they have contributed their advice? If Which? would tell us what is being proposed by BSI then we will know whether, if adopted, the current “holes” will be plugged.

Admin

I know that LFB is listed but we have no record of what was submitted or resolved. Why should Which? tell us what is proposed by BSI when they could do that themselves.

Admin
Brian Harvey says:
8 December 2017

Seems to me that while inflam. plastic backs are undesirable, they are unlikely to be subject to starting a fire by spontaneous combustion. The risk they represent therefore seems to be very small indeed.
Fridges /freezers are subject to leaking refrigerant, gas/liquid, and would suggest that an investigation into this aspect of fire risk would be more worthwhile. Refrigerant used in recently bygone days was traditionally Freon, which I don’t think is inflammable. However Freon was banned on environmental grounds years ago and replaced by other refrigerants. These may well be flammable, and in gaseous form could well collect in poorly ventilated areas after leaking from the fridge, in effect bombs waiting to go off if a spark is applied. Worth investigating, I believe.

Admin

IEC 60335-2-24, the international standard that forms the basis for other countries’ standards (including EU/UK) has been amended, including clarifies tests for appliances using flammable refrigerants.. This may be pertinent to your concerns. Flammable refrigerants have been used for many years now, but are in very small quantities.

As you infer, the history of fridge/freezers with regards to fire is very good, and needs to be taken into account when debating possible risks, and in avoiding raising panic reactions. I am all for making improvements where they are seen to be necessary (of course) or desirable, and it seems the revised fridge/freezer standard will do this.

Admin

I’m not sure about ‘very small quantities’. If a fridge contains a mole of cyclopentane (about 70 g) this would produce over 22.4 litres of pure gas at standard temperature and pressure, or a little more at room temperature. The explosive range of cyclopentane is between about 1 and 9%, so there could be a rather large quantity of explosive gas/air mixture produced. We were quoted 50g for the refrigerant charge in a small fridge in an earlier discussion, so that would reduce the potential amount pro rata.

It’s fairly unlikely that a leak and a spark would occur together, and I understand that spark-proof thermostats were introduced after a door blew off a fridge, but a fridge or freezer could be a bomb in a house fire.

Admin

Is there any evidence to show that this is a significant problem? Risk is about what is likely to occur, i would have thought, and includes experience of what has occurred.

Admin

I agree and was only trying to provide factual information. In an earlier Conversation we were told that the amount of refrigerant was similar to that in a disposable cigarette lighter, which is not true. I measured 3 grams and the highest amount I have seen quoted is 5 grams.

There is no doubt that refrigerant could accelerate a fire. I would have preferred the we stayed with chlorofluorocarbons, which help extinguish fires, and recovered these when fridges and freezers were scrapped.

Admin

Here is yet another photo of an appliance where plastic has been destroyed in a fire, allowing the fire to spread:

http://www.cambrian-news.co.uk/article.cfm?id=117636&headline=Lucky%20escape%20for%20couple%20after%20tumble%20dryer%20blaze&sectionIs=news&searchyear=2017

The warning about flammable plastic fridge/freezer backs has received considerable attention thanks to the London Fire Brigade and Which?. Now we need them to look at what I believe is a greater risk.

Admin

…actually the posted link says “Luckily it was in an enclosed space so the fire put itself out”, so arguably the fire did not spread.

Nonetheless, I accept there might have been less smoke and heat damage, it if had been all metal dryer had caught fire. But who, these days, still has all metal dryers – the one my friend retired a few years ago was ancient and performed very poorly. compared to it modern (plasticy but non-Indesit) replacement.

Or, if the couple involved hadn’t chosen to use a dryer in the first place, the fire could never have started.

Admin

Back in the 60s and 70s it was common to put polystyrene tiles on ceilings. They were responsible for making fires worse, especially if painted. We learned from experience and I doubt that anyone would now put polystyrene tiles on ceilings. Maybe we will learn that appliances with plastic in the casings are not a good idea.

I’m fortunate in having a garden to hang the washing and an airing cupboard to dry it inside, but dryers are more or less essential for those living in flats.

Admin

Perhaps putting these points to experts in the field will provide information to help this topic progress. Simply posting occasional pictures of fires with indeterminate causes illuminates the problem but does not get us any further forward. A number of possible improvements to products have been made over the years in these Convos by “interested people” and should be put (maybe they have already) to those with good knowledge of the topic and in a position to make changes that are sensible. If they reject such changes then we should find out why.

As has been said many times, plastics used in household electrical appliances must be resistant to heat and the spread of flame. Plastics are suitable if they resist appropriate conditions, having other desirable properties that make them particularly useful. It may be in the light of events the degree to which plastics must be assessed needs raising; it already is proposed for the backs of cold devices. So demonising plastic will be counterproductive; promoting better heat and fire resistant plastics would, in my view, be far more productive.

Which? have hopefully now joined one or more BSI committees and, equally hopefully, will take an active part in contributing to their deliberations. As they are financed totally by consumers (us) they should consider and pass on our suggestions and concerns and let us know the responses.

However, manufacturing is of course a global concern and governed by international standards set by agreement among a whole range of countries; each participating state has a standards body using intelligent, knowledgeable and experienced people drawn from most relevant sectors of society, whether manufacturers, consumers, fire authorities…… All proposals for amending standards need to be properly scrutinised and agreed by these committees. I doubt there is a worldwide conspiracy to suppress significant safety issues.

Admin

As I have said repeatedly, I am hoping that Which? will take this up. It’s encouraging that they have raised concerns about use of plastic backs in fridges and freezers, which is probably a less serious issue. Why don’t you contact BSI rather than push me to do this?

“As has been said many times, plastics used in household electrical appliances must be resistant to heat and the spread of flame.” In the photo I posted, it is clear that the plastic has melted and in other photos, the plastic has burned, allowing fire to spread. From what I have read, the relevant standards do not refer to plastic in the cases of appliances. Am I correct in my interpretation?

Metal consumer units were phased out in favour of plastic ones, but these have been deemed a fire risk and new/replacement ones must be made of a fire resistant material such as metal. All the ones I have seen are metal. I wonder why this has been done, on the basis that consumer units cause fewer fires than white goods. I wonder if the relevant committees communicate with each others and share expertise.

Admin

Although fire protection/prevention was a major factor in changing back from plastic to metal for electrical consumer units [fuse boards/circuit breakers] – especially since they are increasingly installed in garages – I guess earth continuity and impact resilience might have played a part.

Admin

I can see that metal-cased consumer units are stronger, but don’t understand the point about earth continuity. Have I missed something?

Admin

I agree with most of what you say Malcolm and I am all too aware that in order to regain any consumer confidence when purchasing new safer products, it is necessary for manufacturers to update and change their protocols, which can be a long and tedious process requiring constant pressure.

I am also aware of the difference between fire resistant and fire retardant and the above video in the header clearly illustrates the difference between metal and plastic and the duration of time it takes each material to burn. If it is possible to produce a fire resistant plastic, manufacturers would need to way up the difference in cost between that and metal. In any event, safety is paramount, and if it means paying a little more to ensure that safety, then the onus surely rests with the manufacturers to take the initiative and produce equipment that is reasonably safe and fit for domestic purpose.

Standards, as we have witnessed in recent years show little sign of improving without the pressure exerted by consumer bodies and their associates. It is vitally important therefore, to keep that pressure ongoing until manufacturers accept that people are more important than profits and anything that is instrumental in achieving that goal is to be welcomed, even if it means posting more pictures of yet another appliance fire.

Admin

Well it was just a guess, Wavechange. I thought there could be benefits in having a completely earthed enclosure.

When viewing properties I have sometimes seen the door of the consumer unit hanging open or missing and was thinking it might be safer to have a fully-earthed and fairly indestructible box.

Admin

Beryl – Hopefully the publicity is resulting in manufacturers phasing out fridges and freezers with fire-retardant backs. The most expensive fridge-freezers listed on the Which? website – £1999 – don’t have flame-retardant backs.

John – I’m fully in favour of metal consumer units in garages and I don’t see a problem with having an external plastic casing for cosmetic reasons in the home. The new regulations require that cable entries are sealed to prevent fire spreading via cavity walls, which makes good sense.

Admin

I have just had a look at mine and it is made of hardened plastic , not unlike Bakelite . A mains electric box is connected via the meter to the incoming mains and either fuses or reset-able types are used , in either case as its incoming you could easily touch the mains direct with no safety back up . Two choices are presented to you one- it has a metal earthed case and if you touch the mains using insulated shoes and aren’t earthed you get a survivable shock , but two- if you touch the earthed case with one hand and in the act of withdrawing the fuse your right hand touches the incoming live then a massive electrical current travels via your HEART to earth on your left hand and kills you

Admin

wavechange, I encourage others to contact BSI with their specific concerns and suggestions because I have done the same, and met with a positive response. We can rely too much on “others” to do things for us. I think we have to take responsibility for ourselves and make our views known where it matters.

I, too, hope Which? collates all the information that commenters provide but I see no need to just leave them to it. I hope they will tell us how they are working with BSI.

Admin

Duncan – I know the type of fusebox you mean, but with modern consumer units I don’t think there is any chance of touching the mains unless you dismantle the unit. With the old type the instructions were to turn off the main switch first and sometimes there was an interlock to ensure that this was done.

Admin
Carole says:
11 December 2017

Derek,
Unfortunately many people live in flats that do not have (secure) outside drying space and with the weather we have had recently even I, an avid “peg out” person, have had to resort to the tumble dryer.

Admin

I wonder how mankind managed to survive through to the 1900’s at times. Nigh on two millennia and more without tumble dryers or indeed most of it without electricity at all.

How did we possibly survive and evolve without these things, how did we possibly get by?

Sorry but no, regardless of circumstance and you can argue contrary if you like and tell me that for two millennia mankind didn’t cope, you cannot say that a tumble dryer is a necessity to live.

K.

Admin

Perhaps you could offer Carole some practical suggestions about how to dryer her washing, assuming you have experience of living in a flat.

Admin

Early municipal flats had ‘drying grounds’ with rows of washing lines [as well as pram sheds]. Unfortunately, naughty people stole or interfered with residents’ washing and it had to come indoors. After that local councils saw that few were using the washing lines so they turned the areas over to car parking space.

When I lived in a private flat there were no drying facilities [and it was banned on the balconies]. I had a twin-tub washing machine with a very fast spin-dryer; I could iron things straight out of the dryer and air them on a rack over the bath. This would be difficult for a family with children and a number of bed sets to launder every week. Those without access to a private garden or yard do need a tumble dryer, especially in the winter months when even the indoor atmosphere can be damp.

I remember when I was growing up our kitchen was frequently festooned with garments hanging down from a pulley-operated drying rack above the boiler, and there were clothes horses at strategic locations adorned with table cloths, towels and underwear in various stages of becoming dry or ironable. Personally, I think a tumble dryer is the answer – and more essential than a smartphone.

Admin
Carole says:
11 December 2017

Wavechange.
Actually I have a house with a good sized garden but have a young friend living in a bedsit with no drying facilities – guess who does their laundry for them.

Admin

We use a clothes horse in a warm kitchen or bathroom, and there are still, I imagine, those ceiling mounted drying racks on rope and pulleys. Our tumble dryer is used occasionally but most often we dry outside on a rotary line, or inside on a clothes horse (for “we” read “mrs r”).

Admin

where there are (were) rows of terraced houses it seemed common practice to sling washing lines between them across the street to hang out your washing – in cooperation with your neighbours on the other side of course.

Admin

Carole, as your friend is in a bedsit, they probably don’t have a great deal of space.

But I have only had a tumble dryer for 5 years and before that I used an older version of this dehumidifier that is still going strong for over 10 years now:
https://www.airconcentre.co.uk/mitsubishi+mj-e14cg-e1+14+litre+dehumidifier+-+2+year+warranty/1067858711

Clothes hung on a clothes horse dry overnight and I still dry delicates this way.

It still picks up dust in the air and needs periodic cleaning, but it is better than wet washing hanging around for days when it cannot go outside. The extracted water can be used in an iron to keep it free from limescale.

Admin

“Perhaps you could offer Carole some practical suggestions about how to dryer her washing, assuming you have experience of living in a flat.”

I shouldn’t have to.

And sensible suggestions have been made that are cheaper, more environmentally friendly and so forth.

But if building/renting codes/regulations etc. preclude natural drying I think you might direct attention to addressing that issue more than the *forcing* of their use which should not be required.

As after all, is that not putting cramming more homes into a space over health and safety concerns?

They are more convenient sure but, not required or should not be and they are not a “right”, they are a choice.

K.

Admin

I’m glad you are helping your friend, Carole. In flats, drying, bathing and cooking can cause condensation, especially if ventilation is inadequate, and an unhealthy atmosphere. As Alfa suggests, a dehumidifier is a way of removing moisture from the atmosphere.

When the weather is unsuitable for drying outdoors I use an airing cupboard and sometimes a bathroom with an extractor fan for clothes drying. I don’t own a tumble dryer.

Admin

When I lived in flats I mostly used local laundrettes, usually for both washing and drying.

These days, I live in a house that is large enough to permit the use of clothes horses for drying.

I do understand that large families in small flats would have difficulty with the above arrangements.

Earlier this year, I discovered I’d had a “near miss” fire in a failing (and faulty) DVD player. To me, that shows that, any electrical appliance has a small chance of starting a fire.

Hence, the more appliances we use, the more likely we are to suffer a fire. So, where practicable, we should supervise all our usage of appliances – and leave all items safely switched off when not in use.

As discussed here, some appliances, including fridge-freezers and central heating boilers do need to be on 24/7, but even those may sometimes start fires.

From all of this, I think responsible householders must consider both fire prevention – how they minimise the risk of fires starting at home – and fire protection – or what steps they will take after a fire breaks out.

Admin

I wonder if it would have been easy to redesign the DVD player to reduce or remove the risk of fire.

One of the problems with PVRs and smart TVs is that they are designed to remain switched on. Another is that they are designed to remain on standby. Another problem is that the wall sockets for TVs etc are often inaccessible, hide behind the TV.

Admin

Our DVD player packed up and the thing we missed most was the permanent time displayed in standby mode.

We have just bought a new all-singing-dancing player, but we can’t get the time to stay. The manual does say if this is on or that is off….etc. During the setup phase, it wanted us to accept wording that translated as “spying on us” which we declined. I’m not sure, but I think that is what is preventing the time from permanently displaying.

We are awaiting a reply from Panasonic on how to display the time in standby mode.

Admin

If there is no option to turn on/off the display then try disabling Power Save ( or its equivalent ) Alfa . Whats the model number+name Alfa ?

Admin

Thats the problem Wavechange – modernisation . With the demise of mains isolating transformers to reduce space and the near universal introduction of SMPS,s the number of fires has increased as the mains is now directly connected to the power supply the old equivalent being the “mains dropper large ceramic resistor in non-isolated radios+TV,s opf the valve era. THe design lends itself to enable cheap components to be used to save money -IE- non branded Thyristors/Triacs cheap smoothing capacitors miniaturised on SMD circuit boards. All this compactness obviously raises the internal temperature as well adding to instability.

Admin

Thanks Duncan, will give it a go.

Admin

If switched-mode power supplies are properly made I’m not aware of a safety problem and have never experienced a problem with the small ones used as mains adapters and chargers. The problem is the dangerous and counterfeit products that come into this country and there have been many fires due to dodgy phone chargers.

Admin

I’ve had one catch fire. It was of Chinese manufacture.

Admin

I would hope that this is a very rare occurrence with familiar brands. I tend to use my iPhone and iPad chargers (both made in China) with other products that need a USB charger.

Unfortunately it’s not possible to identify whether an adapter or charger is safe just by looking at them and sometimes well known companies have bought and distributed substandard chargers.

Admin

This wasn’t a well-known make, W; it was from a small Chinese company and used to power LED lighting.

Admin

Thanks Ian – I had wondered. It does not bear thinking about what could happen if a small fir goes unnoticed.

The problem is that we just don’t know whether a product that appears to work fine would fail safely if there was a problem. I had an Energizer battery charger (4xAA) that I had used for years and one day it went off with a loud bang when I plugged it in, with ‘flames’ momentarily appearing from both sides. I dismantled it and saw that some circuit board tracks and component leads had burned away, causing considerable damage to components. The inside of the case was coated with black copper oxide, but there was no melting or burning of the case and I concluded that the charger had failed in a safe way. From memory, the safety device was a thin track in the circuit board and a better design (such as a proper fuse) might have meant a less dramatic failure.

I’m particularly wary of Christmas lights and last time I checked to make sure the power supply was a known brand.

Admin

Wavechange-If the copper oxide was not due to the fault the only alternative could be for screening purposes , I have seen this in old military electronic equipment especially high frequency stuff. I still don’t like SMPS,s exactly because of Ian,s post , just too easy to get away with cheap stuff inside them and bad design. It was usually the case in old valve equipment the heavier the transformer the better the equipment more lamination’s of good quality steel and heavier winding’s , now you cant tell unless you open units up. This country used to make top quality transformers till the Far East took over .

Admin

It was near the the part of the circuitry that had been destroyed, so not for screening. It’s easy to identify power supplies and chargers that contain transformers because of the greater weight and size, and they usually run slightly warm.

Admin

In that case it could be a blown capacitor , it wont be a solid -state device they just blow the plastic , large resistors can have a shell of metal oxide (resistive ) , small ones wouldn’t have enough coating to hit the casing . I use metal film in high quality amps as they produce low noise when heated by current. Metal oxide types are “cheapies” .

Admin

I thought that a capacitor might have failed but they were intact. Some of the ‘print’ on the circuit board had gone and I remember that part of the wire to a diode/rectifier had been also been burned away, though the plastic was intact and the type number still visible. I have never seen that happen before. Sometimes low value MF or MO resistors are used as inexpensive fuses in small chargers and power supplies.

Admin

People need to check their home insurance to see whether they are covered for fires starting in tumble dryers. Insurances companies have introduced several new T&C’s such as following manufacturers guidelines with regard to filter cleaning after every use and never leaving the tumble dryers unattended.

Admin

Clauses may invalidate part of any claim if you are negligent. Mine requires me to have my boiler checked annually or claims for resultant damage may be affected – a good idea.anyway. If a tumble dryer is declared as unsafe to leave unattended, but that is ignored, then an insurance may not pay out – just as not maintaining your car by running on illegal tyres for example. Cleaning filters is in my maintenance instructions; you ignore instructions at your peril.

Admin

Part One: my take on this.

Fridge freezers should withstand the kind of fire that might occur due to a fault, and that includes the materials used. Non-metallic materials should be resistant to the type of overheating/fire that might arise. Safety standards should deal with this so that products that reach our homes are “safe”.

In themselves, existing safety standards take time to be updated as amendments need to be tested for efficacy and appropriateness and agreed by all those states involved, before publication. Furthermore there is inevitably an overlap when both new and old standards have currency while designs and manufacture are changed, and existing stocks moved, unless the safety change is so critical as to require complete withdrawal immediately (very rare).

When deficiencies are found there is nothing to stop these changes being implemented by manufacturers before the standard is amended. Manufacturers could be listed that already produce products with properly “fire-resistant” materials. We have no need to wait for a change in standards if, indeed, compliant products are already on the market.

Nor is there anything to stop retailers only stocking those products that already comply with the main features of a proposed standard. To do so requires knowledge of which products would comply, so as Which? have done, and others, product testing may be required.The backing of fridges and fridge freezers is one contentious point, and one material that seems to figure in poor fire resistance is the use, as described by LFB, of twin-wall polyethylene/polypropylene board. This should be simple to identify visually without testing, so retailers could be asked to act responsibly and not sell such products.

Blaming “standards” is not the answer (see part 2) when action need not rely on the minimum requirements of the standard being the only criteria for what retailers choose to sell.

Admin

Part 2: I am concerned about the time line in the fridge-freezer fire debate, and the seeming lack of information interchange and actions between the interested parties, including us.

Which? Issued a first (I believe) press release “Stop making fire risk fridges, says Which?” 21 September 2017 followed by another on Dec 8th. This seemed to be presented as a scoop. However, this has all been known since Oct 2012 when the London fire Brigade issued a report.

Claims that the “government” have ignored this seem untrue. The UK Representation to the EU Brussels wrote to the EC expressing great concern about this very issue in March 2016. (“United Kingdom Formal Objection to a harmonised standard under Article 11”) The letter began “The issue of concern to the UK is that a common construction of household refrigerating appliance uses highly flammable materials particularly in their backing panels which if it catches fire is likely to spread quickly and lead to serious injury to persons and damage to property and in extreme cases has caused death.”. It included the LFB report.

The letter also includes “. UK industry have also accepted the recommendation of the Coroner and support revision of the standard. The UK National Standards Body, supported by UK industry, have presented the fire risk concerns, using the London Fire Brigade Report as a basis, and put forward a proposal to the IEC for revision of the standard. The issue and UK proposal have been discussed since 2012 in IEC, unfortunately there has not been adequate support for the UK proposed solution; partly due to an alternative solution having been put forward.”. The letter was formally published by the EU in Oct 2016.

Why did the Which? Press release, and published articles, not include any reference to this and the information it contained?

There is also a claim that “this British Standard is clearly deficient and inadequate”.
Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/09/stop-making-fire-risk-fridges-freezers-and-fridge-freezers-says-which/ – Which?. It is not a British Standard but a European standard, based on an international (IEC) standard that BSI contribute to through CENELEC and implement when the EN is agreed. As the above letter makes clear, BSI (as the National standards Body) have submitted proposals for revisions – in 2016. I believe these include restricting severely the plastic permitted on backing.

“The current British Standard requires refrigeration appliances to pass a glow wire test to assess their fire resistance.” True, but what is not said is that the revised IEC standard requires a flame test to be applied to these materials.

We do not need a revised standard to be up and running to see that better fridge / fridge-freezer safety is implemented as soon as possible, as I suggested in Part 1.

What concerns me is that it seems we were not told about formal actions already taken with regard to flammable backings, nor actions formally taken by BSI to improve the proposed new standard. I want to see those involved cooperating, not seeming to undermine the efforts of those already dealing with the problem, and making relevant information known rather than suppressing it (might that dilute the scoop?).

Is it too much to ask for a fair, balanced and complete report to be given by Which?, rather than one where the suspicion is relevant information is either excluded because they do not know about it or, worse, because they do know but choose not to reveal it?

However, i will ask for my post to be totally removed if I have misrepresented the situation. I can only go by what I read and am told 🙂

Admin

Well said, Malcolm. I found Part 1 so gripping that I had to immediately go on to read Part 2. I can’t wait for the next instalment. [Sincerely : this is not irony.]

Ideally, the UK should be in a position to introduce its own superior regulations as to product manufacture, components and materials if it considers the available controls are inadequate or insufficient for public safety. So long as we remain in the single market for the free movement of goods across Europe this cannot be the case because it would be deemed a barrier to free trade within the single market and a form of protectionism. I was a ‘Remainer’ at the time of the referendum on leaving the EU but I have come round to the view that compliance with the wishes of 27 other countries is altogether too complicated and not necessarily in our interests. In practical terms, unfortunately, we might have no choice but to continue to abide by European regulations in order to enjoy reciprocal trade and not be at a commercial disadvantage when exporting UK-made products. Imports [and the cost of living] would also be affected if manufacturing costs to meet the ‘UK specification’ meant higher prices for our appliances. Overall, I think ‘safety first’ should prevail and we should not accept standards that – of necessity – are the lowest common denominator.

Admin

Part 3 John 🙂 I believe in the good intent of those who put standards together, but I also recognise frustration with the time it can take for them to be fully implemented. It is a bit like changing the law; as many stones have to be unturned and examined to ensure that the result is as good as possible. However, nothing to stop products being made to higher standards, including those of amended standards before they are even published let alone fully implemented,

International trade is made possible by harmonised standards – essentially most countries working to the same ones, or very similar ones. Otherwise each state would have to test any imported product to their own particular standard, which would make trade a nightmare. Not just in the EU, but elsewhere.

Electrical standards largely emanate from the International Electrotechnical Commission as IEC documents. For cold household appliances this is IEC 60335-2-24, in Europe EN 60335-2-24 and in the UK as BSEN 60335-2-24. Europe can add to the requirements if it chooses, as can other states – Australia and New Zealand are in process of doing just that.

For us to continue to trade we will need to use the same standards. Working with the EU is not, in my view, hampering safety but if we do so choose after Brexit we could, I imagine, unilaterally increase the requirements of a standard when we adopt it. But my money is on EN standards being amended to suit the requirements of all the EU, plus UK.

Referring to safety standards as ” the lowest common denominator” is not the correct interpretation for “minimum standard” of safety. It means that safety must be of a standard no less than that specified in the standard, and can be greater. So, for example, a maximum touch temperature is specified for safe handling, but it of course can be lower; a minimum safe clearance is specified between parts of different polarity, but the distance can be greater; the time for a fire alarm to sound must not exceed a particular value, but can be less.

I hope I’m not wrong.

Admin

Today I got an email from a certain Northern England business wholesale company that I bought my Samsung commercial microwave from advertising many reduced prices. In the context of this debate I checked out their bargains – all were heavy stainless steel heavy duty knobs for cookers heavy duty cast iron top burner stands , built like tanks , yes utilitarian looking but all quality construction reduced from over £2000 down to around £1100 -2 year undisputed parts+labour guarantee -FREE delivery (quick ) quality delivery service . The same applied to fridge /freezers all stainless steel high safety standards ( complying with shop/restaurant safety standards) NO sign of plastic , if only the public could put looks aside instead of buying on the outer shell decoration which isn’t guaranteed any longer . If my Cannon breaks down its a built like a tank commercial cooker for me.