/ 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
Member

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/

Member

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

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

Thanks Lauren.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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.