/ Home & Energy

*Alert* Hotpoint fridge freezer product notice

hotpoint fridge freezer

The Metropolitan Police Service stated today that a Hotpoint FF175BP fridge freezer has been identified as the initial source of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The Hotpoint FF175BP and FF175BG fridge freezer models have not previously been recalled, but an immediate technical test of the fridge freezer has been ordered by the government.

Hotpoint fridge freezer

Around 64,000 units of the same model were made between 2006 and 2009 before being discontinued, according to Hotpoint.

The government has advised that at this stage there is no specific reason for people to switch off their fridge freezers.

Our Managing Director of Home Products and Services, Alex Neill, said:

‘If it turns out that faults in this fridge-freezer caused the fire to start at Grenfell Tower, this raises serious questions about the safety of these products.

‘If this model is found to be faulty, a full product recall must be implemented swiftly by the manufacturer so that any at risk products are removed from people’s homes.’

What to do next

The advice for owners of white Hotpoint fridge freezers FF175BP or graphite fridge freezers FF175BG is to contact Hotpoint to register the details of the fridge freezer by calling 0800 316 3826 or visiting hotpointservice.co.uk/fridgefreezer.

Model numbers can usually be found on a barcode sticker behind the salad container inside the fridge.

If you’re concerned about the safety of your appliance then take a look at our consumer rights and product safety advice for further guidance.

Comments
Profile photo of malcolm r
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These fridge freezers have been in use for between 8 and 11 years. Out of the 64 000 made, how many have failed by catching fire? I’d suggest we need to know this before we panic about the particular appliance.

It is premature, I’d suggest, while the Grenfell Tower investigation is underway, and with all the terribly tragic loss of life, to be discussing a fridge freezer – we do not know what caused it to fail or why it transferred the fire to the building. The focus should be on helping all those affected and looking at the reason the fire spread so rapidly.

Profile photo of Lauren Deitz
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Hi Malcolm, it’s not clear whether there’s a fault with the fridge freezer. Hotpoint has called for all owners of the two models to call the free hotline or visit hotpointservice.co.uk/fridgefreezer to register the appliance for further update. This convo is to share this news and advice.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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This is perhaps another opportunity to press for mandatory registration of relevant appliances so that in the event of a problem, almost all owners can be contacted with advice or for a recall. Will Which? help to pursue the Government to set up an appropriate system?

Profile photo of wavechange
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I agree, Malcolm. Registration need to take into account the fact that products may be secondhand or the owner may have moved home. Both are likely to be relevant in rented accommodation.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I would be very grateful if Which? would have a look at the safety of white goods.

Fridges and freezers commonly use highly flammable refrigerants such as isobutane. I have seen examples of fridges where a thin capillary has fractured, allowing the gas to escape. The heat of a house fire can cause a fridge or freezer to explode, even if it is undamaged.

I have repeatedly asked Which? to look into the dangers of using plastic fascias and other components in the casing of appliances. Electrical appliances can go on fire for many reasons, so it is essential to have a metal case to contain a fire to prevent it spreading. Other materials might be suitable, but steel is cheap and effective.

These dangers are certainly not restricted to Hotpoint or Whirlpool models.

Profile photo of Lauren Deitz
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Thanks, wavechange – I’ll share your request with the research team. It’s not clear whether there’s an actual fault with the fridge freezer – the government has ordered immediate technical testing.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Thanks Lauren.

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Phil says:
23 June 2017

Which? no longer has the expertise or the facilities to do this kind of work. Best wait until the FRE or BRE to do the research. If they’ve not already done so.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I agree, Phil. Which? often reports concerns to the appropriate organisations to investigate.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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I would suggest of far greater immediate concern is the fire safety of tower blocks. Fires can start locally for many reasons apart from an appliance that is faulty or misused, a chip-pan catching light, a careless smoker for example; we need to ensure in multi-story buildings particularly that such fires are contained locally and preferably with sprinklers to help deal with them.

Profile photo of wavechange
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The failure to install sprinklers when the building was refurbished has attracted a great deal of discussion and hopefully action will be taken. The suitability of cladding containing flammable plastic will also be investigated. Hopefully other tower blocks can be made safer places to live.

The safety of appliances is a separate issue and deserves to be investigated. Why not use non-flammable refrigerants and design appliances so that they can contain a fire and prevent it spreading?

Profile photo of DerekP
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Short of banning the domestic storage and consumption of food completely, it seems there will always be some fire risk associated with those activities.

Hence, I think it is reasonable to do what we can to minimise those risks.

Nonetheless, to minimise the overall risk of harm from fires, it is important to have adequate emergency arrangements to deal with any fires that start.

Fire protection arrangements should include measures to prevent the spread of fires and for extinguishing them. However, because these measures may fail, it is also important to have adequate emergency plans and evacuation arrangements.

In Austria in November 2000, the Kaprun railway tunnel fire disaster cost the lives of 155 people. It provides an example of how badly things can go wrong, when fire safety provisions fail.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I don’t think we need to get rid of our fridges and freezers. Choosing safer refrigerants and designing appliance casings to contain fire could, I believe, largely eliminate the fire risk. The next step is to have efficient alarms to warn of fires, and then ways of protecting people and property. I would like to see the risk assessments used when deciding that it would be safest for residents to remain in their flats in event of fire, and as you say, it is vital to have emergency procedures in place.

Profile photo of DerekP
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I don’t believe we will ever completely eliminate fire risks from kitchens, if electrical appliances and “hot work” are to be allowed there. Although we should do whatever we reasonably can to minimise those risks, there can always be “unforeseen” components of risk.

Once a disaster has occurred, it is all too easy to look at its causes and circumstances with 20:20 hindsight. Amongst other things, the Kaprun disaster highlights the fallacy of assuming that, because fire risks were low, only very limited protection and mitigation systems were needed to assure fire safety.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I agree, Derek. Frying, grilling and hobs are obvious dangers. I had to deal with a burning pan of fire on an electric cooker in the early 80s and though I extinguished it in seconds with a damp towel, I learned of the danger of inhaling even a small amount of smoke. I still recall my neighbour hammering at my door. I have never seen anyone in panic before or since and it was some time later that I learned that this was the second incident.

Today’s news mentions 27 tower blocks with cladding that has failed fire tests. These and other serious concerns will undoubtedly be investigated thoroughly. My particular concerns are about the design of appliances and I certainly hope that the issue of flammable refrigerants will be looked at again.

Profile photo of wavechange
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@derekp – After you mentioned the Kaprun disaster I looked it up and read this: “Nearly one year after the fire, the official inquiry determined the cause was the failure, overheating and ignition of one of the fan heaters installed in the conductor’s compartments that were not designed for use in a moving vehicle. The ignition was caused when a design fault caused the unit to over-heat, which in turn caused the plastic mount for the heater element to break off, leading the element to jam against its plastic casing and catch fire.” I have not read further but this suggests two examples of inappropriate use of plastics. Plastics are undoubtedly some of the most useful and important materials but sadly they are often misused.

In my opinion, it makes no sense to manufacture fan-heaters with plastic cases. I have a couple of all-metal ones dating from around 1980 and the one in my workshop was bought by my father around 1955. Having seen a plastic fan heater with a large chunk of the plastic grille either missing or heat-damaged, I believe I am right to be concerned.

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DerekP says:
24 June 2017

If the wikipedia article is correct, the fire then burned through plastic pipes that formed the hydraulic power supply to the brakes and the doors. A safety interlock then stopped the train (because the brakes had failed) and, because door would not operate, passengers were unable to exit the train. Really nasty – and avoidable.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I believe that all our buses and trains have doors that can be opened manually in emergency and some have hammers to break the glass.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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I was pleasantly pleased, until now, that the Grenfell Tower fire and the tragedy that ensued was not raised in Convos – there was enough speculation elsewhere. Particularly so out of respect for all those affected. So I must confess to feeling uncomfortable with comments being made, and to some extent using the tragedy to make particular points, with so much grief to be dealt with, and with the focus that I believe should be directed towards fire regulations, materials used, lack of safety, that are the source of the scale of the disaster.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I have been concerned for the feelings of the survivors and families/friends of those who lost their lives. I think it is vital that the issues are discussed promptly and constructively in the hope that we can make lives safer, especially those living in higher risk environments such as tower blocks.

Member
Phil says:
23 June 2017

Yes I was quite shocked at the speed and the extent to which this tragedy was politicised. We need to direct our collective energy towards establishing the true sequence of events and doing whatever is necessary to avoid a repetition.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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And we should wait for those with expertise to provide answers, rather than get into speculation. I hope those investigating this tragedy will come up with information as quickly as possible, and see that safety requirements are implemented without delay, to make any subsequent discussion well-founded.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Have the experts established why the tumble dryers subject to Whirlpool’s safety notice were at greater risk of catching fire than other dryers? Following normal procedures can be a recipe for procrastination. If I was living at the top of a tower block I would be happier if I knew the pressure was on to make my life safer.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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Appropriate building fire control systems will make the lives of those living in multi-storey buildings safer. That is what needs dealing with urgently. I think at the moment linking a fridge freezer failure of unknown cause and the Grenfell Tower is insensitive. By all means let us resurrect ongoing discussions about appliances, but do it separately. That is my own personal view.

Profile photo of VynorHill
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What have we got? A public enquiry. An urgent and extensive safety check country-wide. Discussions about preventative fire measures that can add to anything already in place. A momentum to act to avoid a further disaster. All these things need to continue long after the initial turmoil has abated and those who grieve have left the limelight and mourn alone. I don’t suppose we will ever get a risk free society, but this tragedy needs to be the name that drives us in the right direction. Any product that is available for sale should be tested so that use and abuse is thought through. Do the fridge manufacturers, in this case, know why their product caught fire? If not, why not? Anything that generates heat while it operates, anything with the potential to produce combustion from its contents needs to have counter measures in place to stop this reaction from producing fire. While a gas cooker will always have a flame, appliances that are less obviously flame hot, should have over-heat mechanisms in built. Careless candles and cooking can never be stopped but innocent looking white goods should always be safe. That they are sometimes not, is something that should drive us with the same urgency.
Finally, there always seems to be a series of warnings that have been ignored in many of these tragedies. Letters sent, reports submitted and lost. The excuse for this, is often financial and pressure of work that prioritises action. Perhaps this should also be something to be investigated. What constitutes a warning, what should happen to that warning and what checks need to be in place to decide whether it was heeded?

Profile photo of wavechange
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Anyone who has watched the news will have seen many people pushing for action. It has been heartening to see the amount that has been done to offer help. We owe it to the memory of those involved to take prompt action.

Profile photo of John Ward
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Now is not the time but I would like the question of insurance to be explored in a future Conversation on this horrific incident.

It seems to me that the tower block’s owners and freeholders, the Council of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea [RBKC] could have good claims against their buildings insurance and against any contractors or suppliers whose workmanship or materials, respectively, are proved to be deficient. In general I doubt if the tenants of the housing management organisation that leases the building from RKBC are in any such strong position and they have lost every last fragment of their possessions, and their life-stories, as well as, most grievously, in some cases their children and other members of their family and friends. People living in high rise apartment buildings don’t generally need to insure their contents as the risks of loss are relatively low – or we thought they were. However, the possibility that a defective structural condition occasioned and aggravated their loss might give the residents, collectively, an opportunity to claim against RKBC. It is good that immediate financial relief has been provided by the government, and the immense and spontaneous generosity of the community has been impressive, but I hope that they will not be the only sources of recompense for people who have lost absolutely everything and could be psychologically damaged for life.

Every few years our lives are punctuated by awful tragedies and it is reassuring that in all the cases that I can currently think of [Aberfan, Lockerbie, Ronan Point, Piper Alpha Oil Rig, Moorgate, Kings Cross, the IRA atrocities, and a worrying number of railway disasters] a special inquiry was convened under a judge or top counsel and good recommendations were made and implemented, the result being that generally the same thing has not happened again, lessons have been learned and systems, techniques, materials and safety procedures have been changed. It is unfortunate that calamity remains the pathway to progress and that elementary safety precautions were sometimes rejected on cost grounds. A large number of questions are already circulating and I just hope that the public inquiry into the Grenfell House fire will be quick but comprehensive and give survivors and grievers a route to justice. Now that the Metropolitan Police have made it clear that prosecutions could ensue I hope this will not mean that vital evidence will be withheld from the inquiry or that important witnesses will be inhibited in what they say. I trust the judge who conducts the inquiry will be empowered to demand full disclosure even if that might give rise to potential self-incrimination. A fine balancing act, but watch that space. Expect very expensive lawyers to be deployed to protect people who failed to protect those whose lives have been shattered and their homes ruined.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Let’s hope that justice will be done and that prompt action will be taken to investigate the many concerns that the Grenfell Tower fire has raised. It is very disappointing how long the deliberations about the Hillsborough disaster have dragged on for.

Profile photo of John Ward
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Yes, Wavechange, and that was largely because of legal prevarifications. The good thing that came out of that terrible incident was the Taylor report following the public inquiry that led to rapid improvements in sports stadia and the provision of all-seater grounds, especially at the top echelons. Likewise with the report following the dreadful fire at Bradford City’s Valley Parade ground where a discarded cigarette set fire to some rubbish underneath the wooden spectator stand; major improvements were carried out to he structures of sports grounds to prevent fires occurring and spreading.

It is a pity that sometimes the recommendations have not been carried across into other sectors. The tragic Kings Cross Underground Station fire was caused by a lighted cigarette falling under a wooden escalator and setting oil-soaked litter alight. At least following the Grenfell Tower fire people are looking at other buildings where cladding has been applied including hotels, hospitals and offices. I think they should also review high-rise blocks where there is only one emergency staircase and escape route.

I am hoping that the cost of making many high-rise residential buildings fire-safe will prove to be prohibitive and that they will either have to be reduced in height or completely cleared. I expect many freeholders of large private apartment blocks are worried about the implications, although I believe most such buildings do have detectors in every apartment and all communal areas that set off the alarms throughout the building.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I very much agree with what you say about applying safety recommendations to other sectors, John. I believe that involving the public rather than just relying on experts can have a major benefit. We included non-specialists such as secretaries in routine safety inspections of labs and offices and they spotted problems that the rest of us had missed.

Profile photo of Ian
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Picking up on your comment regarding ‘legal prevarications’, John, two things seem fairly clear to me: whenever we have a major incident, such as the tower block fire, it’s eventually discovered that it might have been avoided if someone, somewhere hadn’t approved the specification of materials that combust. The second thing is that we never seem to be able to appropriately deal with or even discover the individual concerned.

I always accept that the law works slowly, sometimes absurdly so, but in the UK it does so to protect the innocent as much as to punish the guilty. Last night one of the BBC reporters mentioned potential charges of Corporate Manslaughter and then added ‘But it’s extremely difficult to prove’. Looking over instances where it’s been tried it seem to me that those in big corporations or even relatively small companies are adept at evading culpability.

The big problem as I see it is that if we introduced legislation that would make it a lot easier to prove that charge we could end up with a lot of businesses choosing not to operate here. Interesting conundrum.

Profile photo of wavechange
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We should also consider the failure of those with authority to heed concerns that have been raised, which certainly applies in the case of Grenfell Tower.

Profile photo of John Ward
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I don’t know how the non-word “prevarifications” got into my previous post in this thread. I must have started with “ramifications” and tried to convert it to “prevarications” without checking the result. Thanks, Ian, for picking it up.

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bishbut says:
26 June 2017

Do all things recommended ever get done as quickly as they should ??

Profile photo of AlgernonThePug
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Whirlpool Group, yet again. Before Grenfell, we had the Shepherd’s Bush flat fire caused by a Whirlpool Group tumble dryer, where the company have been dragging their heels over recalls and fixes for years, despite Which? pressure. There’s a disturbing video on a newspaper web site that suggests the US model of fridge freezer doesn’t catch fire in the same way because the back plate is metal, not the cheapy plastic used on UK models. And a quick web search confirms my memory that there’s been fire safety concerns with a whole range of Whirlpool products including tumble dryers, fridges, ovens, dishwashers and microwaves (invariably “diluted” under the individual brand names like Creda, Indesit, Hotpoint, Zanussi etc). I get an impression that Whirlpool have a cavalier attitude to safety, and build things as cheaply as possible, and then try to avoid facing up to the consequences. But despite Which? brave words, and even legal action (against Trading Standards, not the company!) Whirlpool group products continue to feature as “Best Buys” in most appliance categories. Why should Whirlpool change its behaviours, when there’s recommendations from Which to buy their products? About time Which looked at the track record of Whirlpool, and considered making ALL Whirlpool products “don’t buy” until there’s evidence of a much stronger safety culture. I might add that another company, Beko, appear to be trying to copy Whirlpool in this respect, with fire safety concerns over fridge freezers and tumble dryers. Volkswagen get hounded to the ends of the earth for some minor cheating on emissions tests, and are fined billions. Whirlpool put people’s lives at risk, have triggered the worst fire disaster for decades, yet seem to be immune from any sanction at all.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Here is a link to a London Fire Brigade video showing how a plastic back on a fridge-freezer can help fire to spread: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pvko16hqJ7g

What concerns me is that the metal-backed appliance is also inadequate. If the lower part of the back and the bottom of the fridge-freezer were metal, the fire would go out when the oxygen had been used up. We need appliances that are designed to contain fires.

All my appliances contain flammable plastic in their cases. I know that because I have taken small samples and they burned rapidly producing considerable smoke.

It’s not just Hotpoint or other Whirlpool brands we should be concerned about.

Profile photo of John Ward
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Algernon – Until more is known about the start of the fire it is premature to blame the manufacturer of an old appliance. The fridge could have been overloaded, misused, operating with a known defect and not been serviced or repaired. It might have been a second-hand fridge-freezer that had had previous problems. The fire happened on a hot night when the fridge-freezer would have been operating at full throttle. We don’t know if any attempt had been made to deal with the fire, close windows and doors, or take other precautions.

Having said that, domestic appliances should not routinely catch fire under predictable operating conditions and should be so designed as to contain any fire by the use of suitable non-combustible material.

Whirlpool manufactures such a large number of domestic appliances that the odds on one of their products being implicated in a safety incident are above average.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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Quite right John. Speculative scapegoating is an unfortunate feature of disasters; we should wait until we get some real facts. Domestic refrigeration equipment is covered by an international standard issued in the UK as BS EN 60335-2-24. It covers the use of flammable refrigerants and the design of the appliance to ensure that in the event of any leakage nothing in the appliance can cause combustion. The ignition temperatures of these refrigerants range from 372C for nIsobutane to 537C for methane; Greenpeace played a significant part in introducing these because of the environmental impact of those previously used.

Now this will raise a discussion I expect on whether the standard is adequate. To answer this I would suggest Which? asks for those with expertise to explain the current situation and what is under discussion regarding revisions.

As domestic fires are caused by many things – cookers, grills, candles, toasters, cigarettes, misuse of flammable materials—– I’d suggest that protection of dwellings against the spread of fire is by far the most important consideration.

Profile photo of wavechange
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The flash point https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_point of isobutane is −83 °C, Malcolm. The boiling point is -12 °C, so any leakage will enter the atmosphere, where it could be ignited in a variety of ways, much like any gas leak.

You are quite right that Greenpeace pushed for hydrocarbon refrigerants and I was one of those opposed to their adoption at the time.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Hotpoint has issued a notice concerning two models of fridge-freezer: https://www.hotpointservice.co.uk/fridgefreezer

It’s not a recall and at this stage there is no indication that there is a particular safety issue or what the company will do when owners contact them. It would be interesting to find out.

Edit: Here is information about the intended actions: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/department-responds-to-police-identification-of-hotpoint-fridge-freezer-involved-in-grenfell-tower-fire

Profile photo of malcolm r
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“Greg Clark, Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said:

The safety of consumers is paramount. The device is being subject to immediate and rigorous testing to establish the cause of the fire. I have made clear to the company that I will expect them to replace any item without delay if it is established that there is a risk in using them.

Just like Indesit tumble dryers then?

Profile photo of wavechange
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I posted the link so that we could could all read this. I don’t see much evidence of action without delay in the case of the tumble dryers.

Profile photo of KennethWatt
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I will post verbatim what I posted last night in a closed trade forum on this topic, it is not PC at all and does not reflect in any way the tragedy of the fire at Grenfell but intended for technicians and to make them aware of issues along with clarifying some. Please keep this in mind.

It was in response to the calls for metal backed units that were highlighted in the course of conversation on this topic but not solely about that.

K.

:::::::

Honestly, I really don’t see how that solves any problems in reality.

What’s to go on fire or likely to in a fridge?

Think about it.

The heater on some, yup, seen that.

Relay/klixon melting, seen that.

Defrost timers, a few (okay a fair few from a certain purveyor of perhaps Turkish origin).

Uhm… struggling now! 😕

A compressor on fire, it’s a sealed bottle if flame gets out there’s a hole, a big ‘un!

They are, by their very nature, designed to keep gas in and contain that under pressure in a vacuum free of atmosphere or they don’t work so, chances of air getting in to provide oxygen to burn… mhm, let me think… none?!

Fire around it, wires burn, relay etc, pop, trip/fuse pops and it stops doing anything, becomes an inert lump of metal.

The “plastic” backing going on fire I don’t think is the problem really, I mean have you tried to burn that stuff, it takes some effort. To burn foam even more so. And the smoke, man the smoke off that lot would send smoke detectors apoplectic to the point of waking the dead… there’d be zombies popping up in your garden they’d be going so nuts.

Anyone who’s worked on an integrated unit with a turbo torch will know this only too well. 😉

All of which gets you to a bit of logical, pragmatic thinking rather than knee-jerk reactions, often in response to people suggesting stuff that they often have little idea about.

In that, the problem with fridge going up is where the fire started, not so much on how it spreads… cure the disease, not the symptoms.

Ensure fire and smoke alarm safety. As in, they’re there and work!

Ensure that they’re installed properly, it’s staggering how many aren’t, ventilation blocked and all that, in outhouses, garages and God knows where all else.

Make sure people don’t stuff freezers to the gunnels blocking airflow, that ain’t gonna help at all on some.

To get the backing and insulation to burn you need something to get it going.

Stuff like this:

Is all well and good but, how’d the flames get there in the first bloomin’ place? Don’t you think that’s more of a concern than it actually burning if you take a blowtorch to it?

Almost anything will burn under the right circumstances.

The trick is not to allow those circumstances to occur.

For me, from my own point of view, everything else is a bit like chasing your own tail. Wasted effort as you’re not solving the actual problem, merely shifting the blame about.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Mains or bottled gas is safe when it is in the pipes, but when it leaks into the air, then there is the risk of fire or explosion. That’s why we respect gas and hopefully take action if there is a leak.

Our research labs contained numerous fridges and freezers and though it was not a common fault, I had a fair number re-gassed due to leakage.

Apart from leakage of a substantial amount of potentially explosive gas, I accept that there is not much to start a fire in a fridge or freezer, though defrost timers have been a problem with the odd model.

I have a smoke detector in my kitchen but many don’t because of nuisance alarms. Heat alarms are recommended, but these obviously don’t respond to smoke or give as much warning.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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Thanks, Ken, for another useful contribution. The opportunity to criticise any product is tempting, even when no one knows what happened or how it happened. I assume Whirlpool reacted in the way they did through their nervousness over tumble dryers.

If we find that these particular fridge freezers, or any others, have a dangerous defect that needs addressing then I would be one of the first to propose it is dealt with. However there does seem to be a dangerous defect here, and that appears to be the cladding. The other dangerous defect is in a system, or those involved, that allowed allegedly dangerous cladding to be installed. We should not divert attention away from the prime suspect, and efforts to get that sorted as quickly as possible.

I am a little disappointed that Which? should introduce this Convo as “If it turns out that faults in this fridge-freezer caused the fire to start at Grenfell Tower, this raises serious questions about the safety of these products..” Does it know of a problem that it is not telling us? Is it designed to have anyone with these model cease using them immediately?Otherwise it is, at the very least, a very premature comment, and rather opportunist. Let Which? work with facts please.

Profile photo of wavechange
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It has been widely published that the fridge-freezer in question was the source of the fire. There may be information that has not been published but in the absence of a recall it’s reasonable to speculate that Whirlpool has invited owners to contact them for the reason you have suggested and also because the amount of publicity could result in unwarranted concern. I support the action taken by Whirlpool and very much hope that there is no specific safety issue.

Profile photo of KennethWatt
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Thing is, when gas dissipates to free air it gets less and less dangerous as such. You’ll find most gases in the atmosphere in trace amounts that will vary.

The point being, the level of butane in a modern domestic machine is very low and, even dispersed in the air within the cavity, poses very little risk at all except for under very, very unusual circumstances.

Even if that does go pop that’s about all it can do. It’ll very quickly burn out and certainly not long enough to do what the LFB posted in that video. I can attest to that as I’ve blown a couple of systems in my time when brazing systems.

You need a larger volume for it to pose any real danger as such.

The same is true of mains gas or LPG if you like, it’s when it’s concentrated in a volume of air or space that it becomes a problem and all the more so when it’s got oxygen to feed it.

Then you need something else that can ignite reasonably easily beyond that point.

K.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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BS EN 60335-2-24 (the UK implementation of an international – IEC – standard) includes a wide range of requirements supported by testing under normal and abnormal conditions to prevent fire in refrigerators and similar when using. different refrigerants.

If it is shown that these requirements are dangerously defective I will wholeheartedly support a revision. At present we have no idea why the fridge failed, and what caused it (unless someone does know?). I’m far more concerned about the fire safety standards of buildings. I hope we will soon have definitive information on how the building failure happened.

I am a little uncomfortable at debating this topic against the background of such a tragedy, particularly when most of it is speculation. Why do people not wait to learn the facts? Unless, of course, someone with appropriate knowledge can supply them.

Profile photo of wavechange
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That’s right. The explosive range of isobutane is between 1.8 and 8.4% (v/v). If there is a tiny leak then there is little danger and the user discovers that the compressor is running continuously because there is little gas left. I have seen two examples where I could hear gas hissing following a fracture, one caused by abuse – over-enthusiastic defrosting with a scraper.

Ignoring the lubricant content, a litre of liquid refrigerant will produce over 20 litres of gas or around 1000 litres of explosive mixture. (I appreciate that the refrigerant charge will be much less than a litre, but the figures can be adjusted easily.) With an integrated appliance or a close-fitting undercounter appliance there is more risk of a gas/air mixture in the explosive range because of the limited ventilation.

I have no idea of how many appliances are involved in domestic fires, but in the case of Grenfell Tower it seems that we have an example. We don’t know how many fridges and freezers exploded in the intense heat of the fire in the building.

A friend of a friend was taken to the burns unit at Pinderfields Hospital after a lamp powered by a very small butane cylinder developed a leak and caused an explosion.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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If isobutane is used as a refrigerant, a small domestic refrigerator will be charged with around 20g, and the maximum allowed for a domestic appliance is 150g. This is calculated to ensure that should all the refrigerant be discharged it will be below 25% of the lower explosion level in a kitchen.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Malcolm – A flat owner claimed that his fridge exploded, though I have no idea if this has been confirmed or even can be. If the FF did explode, then ignition of leaking refrigerant is, I believe, the most likely cause, and it has been a concern since before hydrocarbon refrigerants were introduced into home appliances.

I very much support investigation of the fire safety of this and other tower blocks and it does seem that prompt action is being taken.

As far as I know we have never found out whether the Whirlpool-owned brands of tumble dryers were unsafe. Waiting did not help.

Regarding the explosive range for isobutane I did point out that the danger is in confined space, such as built-in appliances. No-one is suggesting that there is a significant risk if the gas is dispersed in a room.

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So we should wait to find out the facts, surely, rather than speculate? 🙂

The Indesit dryers were deemed unsafe, which is why they are subject to an extensive repair or replace programme – badly dealt with by all concerned. Which? have never responded to requests to test faulty Indesit dryers, nor to find out why they were likely to cause fires. I hope there are some who will be diligent in doing so. BSI, and international bodies, have working groups investigating appliance fires and methods of mitigating them. Anyone with “good ideas” can contact them to make their suggestions known. I am pushing for Which? to actively engage with BSI to help in this.

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I have pushed for Which? to take up the issue of use of plastics in the casings of appliances and have repeatedly explained that the reason I have not contacted BSI directly is because I don’t have access to the relevant standards documents.

Please can we try and work together for the common good?

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I can’t help you with access to standards but that is no reason not to make any concerns you have known to BSI, Where I can I have looked at the relevant standards and passed on information in Convos and to Which?

Which? can listen to our concerns and suggestions and act on consumers behalf in a number of ways, one of which is to actively engage with BSI – the UK arm for standards creation and update. Will you support that?

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I have invited you to look at the standards and pass on information that I have posted on these pages, Malcolm. If you don’t wish to do that then please, please stop asking me to communicate with BSI. 🙂

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I post occasional information on standards when I think it is relevant, including responses to help your thoughts. However, I regret that is not something I can be expected to do “on demand”. I have asked Which? to do this for its contributors, on the assumption it has access to standards. Perhaps you could also ask them.

I point out to everyone that if they have constructive information and legitimate concerns one way they can pass these on is to BSI. Alternatively they can press for Which? to engage with Standards. Making individual comments is interesting to other Convo members but is unlikely to make any progress.

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I’m referring to you passing on my suggestions to BSI. Perhaps you could compile a summary of the main points put forward by our group.

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Sorry, Wavechange, but while I’ll pass on my considered comments to other bodies it is up to others and to make their particular case to support their proposals or critcisms. Alternatively, as the “group” is hosted by Which?, you could ask them to do it for you.

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I omitted to mention that leakage of refrigerant into a fridge or freezer may result in an explosive mixture that could, for example, have been responsible for this incident: http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/492544/samsung-fridge-explosion-RS21NCNS-recall-fault

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That’s one I mentioned in that thread when the topic of R600a was discussed.

There was another in South Africa.

From what I understand to be hundreds of thousands of those Samsung units under various models worldwide that’s a very, very rare occurrence.

The full facts in both incidents are not known.

In fact fridge freezers having any kind of serious or dangerous issue is pretty rare all things considered, they are like most appliances statistically very safe indeed. That said, as I keep reminding people all the time, if it’s plugged into a service and uses electricity and/or gas then there is always going to be a potential for something to go awry and I’m sorry but that’s just the nature of the beast.

The best to can do is to make them as safe in all regards as is reasonably practical to do.

The unit that had an issue at Grenfell is not one that is known for issues, very low spares use from what I can tell, no problems of any note I could find and zero reported incidents of any fire with one or any major incident for that matter. For units that are at least eight years old it’s actually unusual not to see more parts usage.

I would be intrigued to know what happened and why this was the source of this utterly tragic incident.

K.

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Ken, thanks, this helps to keep it in perspective. We can generate scares about safety by pointing out what might happen. Those who drive petrol cars are at risk of a fire with gallons of flammable liquid, worse could happen with stored hydrogen, and any domestic gas appliance can cause a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. We need to be practical about this and recognise the overall safety statistics. Nothing can be made totally risk free, but concerted experience and regulations work to mitigate risk.

There seem to be a lot of “experts” prepared to condemn appliances and cladding while the real experts are investigating exactly what caused the fire, what caused it to spread so rapidly, whether the materials and application met regulations, whether those regulations are defective, and whether anyone is culpable of either not applying the regulations or of evading them. I’d prefer to have the facts exposed so a considered discussion can ensue.

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I noted with interest that the residents’ blog (cited by Ian below) referred to previous problems with power surges at Grenfell Towers.

Hence the failure of the particular fridge freezer here may have been a delayed consequence of those events.

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Darryl says:
24 June 2017

I have one of the fridge freezers identified as at risk. But how will Hotpoint and other white goods manufacturers reassure the public they are safe. After all 64,000+ is a large customer base to loose. Will Hotpoint say they are ok so it doesn’t damage sales? I agree with other comments that this needs a full inquiry to put peoples mind at ease. If I was going to buy a new fridge freezer now as a Which! subscriber I still wouldn’t know who to trust!

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I suggest you phone the company and see what they have to say, Darryl. If a problem is found then there is little doubt that a recall will be issued, but at present I have no reason to believe that these fridge-freezers are any more dangerous than others.

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Our shiny new A/C units only use R410A, which doesn’t deplete Ozone, apparently, and isn’t flammable. It is, however, 500 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

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That’s one of the problems. Of course it is possible to reclaim most of the gas when refrigeration equipment including air conditioners is scrapped.

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Having had a look at R410A it is a blended refrigerant intended for use in air conditioners and other heat pumps. It’s clear that we also need non-flammable refrigerants for fridges and freezers that is both efficient and causes the minimum environmental damage.

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I’d repeat a proposal I have made a number of times, here and to Which? directly. The sooner Which? becomes directly involved with the work of BSI in revising and developing safety standards the better. Then another Consumers’ voice can be heard (there committees already include wide representation, I hasten to add) and appropriate suggestions expressed in Convos and other communications to Which? can be presented for consideration.

However, I’d suggest the basis of this Convo – the particular fridge freezer – is a little premature. As Which says, “it’s not clear whether there’s a fault with the fridge freezer. Hotpoint has called for all owners of the two models to call the free hotline or visit hotpointservice.co.uk/fridgefreezer to register the appliance for further update. This convo is to share this news and advice.

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It has been officially stated that a fridge-freezer on the fourth floor of Grenefell Tower was the starting point of the devastating fire. Such a fire would not normally spread to the whole building, but windows were open and flames must have reached inside the cladding panels, possibly as a result of a draught within the cladding structure. I think the installation of the cladding will be a much more important line of inquiry than the fridge fire. It could just as easily have started with the careless discard of a lighted cigarette if the cladding had any apertures.

The amount of void space between the insulating material and the metal cladding panels could be highly significant, especially if it created a chimney from the bottom to the top of the tower. The insulating material itself might not be the prime suspect even if it was not as fireproof as it should have been. Once the fire gained a certain strength the metal cladding panels would have badly distorted allowing much greater ingress of air thus accelerating the combustion. Open windows would have easily drawn the fire into the flats, especially if there was a breeze or wind. As well as the composition of the materials involved in the cladding their performance in the installed conditions will be highly relevant. There are so many possible factors to be taken into account that only the public inquiry will be able to deal with them all systematically. I hope a panel of experts is appointed to advise the inquiry on the technical aspects. The inquiry will be initially concerned with establishing the key facts and timescales and considering the rescue and recovery arrangements. Behind the scenes the experts can have every relevant element of the structural conditions examined, analysed and tested. Luckily we have excellent laboratories and research establishments that can undertake this. People will be clamouring for early answers and hopefully these will be available quickly on the humanitarian, managerial and regulatory aspects.

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Listening to the news I heard that the cladding on all the other tower blocks has failed the relevant fire tests. We certainly need answers as soon as possible.

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The cladding is a system and all elements will need to be examined. It is worrying that it appears that the insulating material held behind the cladding panels in many high-rise buildings has failed relevant fire tests but that is only part of the problem and all components in the system need to perform safely and interact safely with each other. The design of the attachment frameworks and the fitting and filling specifications will need be put under scrutiny. There are questions over the adequacy of the relevant standards and building regulations but just as important will be the level of conformity with those specifications in the actual application. As I understand it the cladding has two main purposes: to insulate the exterior of the building and to improve its appearance. We might discover that the second characteristic was uppermost. It will be interesting to see whether an adhesive was used to seal the insulating material to the masonry or whether it was loose and only held in place by the cladding panels. Examining the reliance of any one part of the system on the performance of the other components will be crucial.

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Here is one of the numerous reports about the cladding used in Grenfell Tower: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/16/manufacturer-of-cladding-on-grenfell-tower-identified-as-omnis-exteriors

The cladding used on Grenfell Tower (Reynobond PE) consists of a layer of polyethylene (polythene) sandwiched between aluminium. It is well known that polythene is flammable but it is worth noting that aluminium burns (oxidises) in fire, as can be seen if you put an aluminium foil container on an open fire.

The more expensive alternative that was rejected (Reynobond FR) has “a fire-retardant mineral core that guarantees higher resistance to fire”, again sandwiched between aluminium sheets.

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Wavechange I am right behind you in your perseverance in both cause relation as regards the cladding and attempts to get action at a higher level. This was cheap American cladding banned in the USA and publicized a year or two ago by a local resident who found out it was “sat upon ” at a higher level both in the local council and government level . How much is human life worth in relation to profit in this country ?? it seems not much in ENGLAND BUT – Professor John Robertson -the Scottish government confirm that NO Scottish tower blocks have been clad in the type used on the Grenfell Tower -June- 22 -2017 (copyright scottishhousingnews.com )- reference -quote-generally the requirements in Scotland are more onerous than those in England +Wales or NI -in Scotland the AS Fire REsistant WAll system should be used for ALL walls which require a fire resistant period , see Scottish Building STANDARDS Technical Handbook Section -Section 2 for details of boundary conditions + fire resistant requirements . Scottish building regulations (2005 ) must be NON-combustible materials or pass high fire tests , those before -2005 should be made to meet class 0 classification which was the most demanding anti-flame spread classifications of the time – WE can confirm – EXACTLY as you have pointed out Wavechange -that ALUMINIUM composite materials have NOT been used in our high rise domestic flats . Due to the severe tragedy of this catastrophe I will not get into the political aspects of this but if you need any help in furthering your case Wavechange I have hidden info that doesn’t make certain people in authority in England look good.

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It will be interesting to see why the mineral-based material was rejected and how the PE material passed the relevant tests and complied with building regs. The specifiers and those who approved it will have some explaining to do.

However, the main issue is the rapid spread of fire and I suspect that has more to do with the design of the cladding system and the amount of openings, void space and air channels behind the panelling as well as the extent to which the cladding had open or sealed joints between any panel and its surrounding panels. For a fully-sealed installation the PE type material might be satisfactory, albeit questionable; it is possible that it has been used outside its approved application if the cladding was an unsealed system. If flames from the inside of a flat can be drawn into the cladding [for example by an updraught behind the panelling] it is essential that the insulating material offers maximum resistance. Metal panels and the background masonry would not sustain a fire so it is clear that the material in the spaces between the cladding and the walls of the block were critical to carrying the fire once flames had entered the cladding. The lesser damage showing on the lower floors suggests that there was a powerful updraught and that the cladding functioned like a chimney.

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Duncan – Thanks, but I am simply looking at the cladding in the way that a chemist would. I feel I can be more use in relation to deficiencies in the design of appliances. I know nothing about Scottish building regulations but welcome different approaches as a way of establishing the best way forward. Perhaps we will see this in action when the cladding is replaced.

John – I know nothing about the design and application of cladding but regarding the ‘chimney effect’ it seems logical that there should be no continuous path for hot air to rise. Horizontal supports at one metre intervals would interrupt the flow but could trap water and cause corrosion of aluminium, so they might need to be at an angle to avoid this problem. Perhaps Duncan can let us know what alternatives to aluminium composites are in use in Scotland.

The choice of the less safe option for cladding might relate to weight as well as cost.

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Being neither an Engineer nor a Chemist I can’t comment in the learned vein of my colleagues but on reading the well-written Grenfell blog

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/

it would appear that there may well have been numerous factors involved in the tragedy. Sadly, it seems that a film might be made about this entire event, such is the almost unbelievable catalogue of deceit, evasion, recalcitrance and incompetence that seems to have characterised the all too familiar saga.

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Thanks Ian. I was aware of this blog but had not read any of it, and there is plenty of information. It’s a bit emotive but hardly surprising in the circumstances. It is vital that we pay attention to the concerns of the public. Those living in the tower block will have an insight of factors that may be unknown to those who sit behind desks and make decisions. No doubt lessons will be learned, but why do we have to wait for a disaster before action is taken.

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Until we know a lot more about the insulation material used, and about the cladding system that holds it in place on the building’s exterior, it is unhelpful to speculate. Duncan says that the cladding has been banned in the USA but no official statement has yet been made, so far as I am aware, about exactly which product was used and its specific composition. There have been media reports saying the insulation material was made in the UK by a particular company but whether that is the same as the product that Duncan refers to is not known; there could be differences in specification and composition. The cladding tested from other buildings might also differ from that used at Grenfell Tower.

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Ian,

Thanks very much for the link to the “the all too familiar saga”.

Organisations that operate in ignorance, or in denial, of their safety responsibilities often end up being responsible for accidents that could have been avoided.

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If some or all of this information had been compiled six months ago, what could residents have done that would have dealt with the various safety issues? It seems that we need a disaster to provoke action.

The fire has been blamed on a fridge-freezer, but what if the cause had been a product fitted with the wrong type of plug, which some of us have spent so long discussing to no avail. Where can we take this issue and get some action?

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It was interesting to read that blog, Ian. It struck me that you can have all the management and inspection systems in the world supposedly for preventive purposes but if they are not exercised competently as specified things will go wrong. Various deficiencies in tests and inspections were revealed, including falsification of records.

The article did not say whether or not these procedures were incorporated in a recognised quality assurance system that is externally audited. While not entirely foolproof such systems are a very good way of eliminating deficiencies caused by human fallibility or mendacity, or at least exposing them. Leaving it to the caretaker to check without verification that vital safety systems [like emergency lighting] are in full working order is asking for trouble.

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I would prefer to say ‘independently audited’ because of the danger of collusion.

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wavechange, you asked “No doubt lessons will be learned, but why do we have to wait for a disaster before action is taken?”

In many cases, I think this occurs because improving safety costs money.

After lives have been lost, it is much easier to make compelling arguments in favour of spending the money. Under other circumstances, there can easily be other competing uses for the same money – including alternative potential safety improvements, that would address other aspects of safety.

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I entirely agree, Wavechange. Any audit of a quality management system should be completely independent of the organisation concerned although it is not unheard of for a certain degree of cosiness to develop between the auditors and the client. It is best to change the personnel around on both sides at intervals if possible or even change the auditors. One problem is that good auditing comes at a price and involves not just a documentation-checking exercise but practical on-site inspections and tests to prove that the record-keeping of the internal procedures is telling the truth.

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In industry, most companies must have quality systems complying with ISO (international Standards Organisation) 9001. This covers the whole of their activity from research and development to order control and customer services after sales. Their approved documentation covers this in detail and is regularly audited on site by working through particular scenarios, checking the system is working and is used correctly. In our case the auditors were appointed by BSI. The sanction for any minor non-compliance will be a requirement for improvement, subsequently re-audited. Serious or persistent non-compliance will result in removal of the accreditation.

This is not limited to industry; most organisations need to operate under this system, including I presume local authorities.

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A number of local authorities had BS5750 quality systems in place twenty years ago but when they were required to expose their direct works operations and other in-house services to compulsory competitive tendering the requirement for a quality system was often removed from the contract specification as it was considered to be uncompetitive and likely to lead to higher prices [in those days the private service industry – as distinct from manufacturing – was possibly not so advanced with quality systems as local authorities were]. Once the outsourcing of public services was virtually complete the new private operators saw a quality system as a way of protecting their contracts from undercutting so persuaded local authorities to make it a contractual requirement. This does not seem to have percolated into white-collar outsourcing as in the case of housing management that has been transferred to external or arms-length housing [or tenancy] management organisations. I agree that it certainly should become a standard requirement. It will be interesting to see whether the lack of such a system [if that is the case] becomes a relevant matter during the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, and if so whether anyone will be held to account for it.

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I was associated with a private contractor who tendered for local authority work many years ago and they had 5750 accreditation. As far as I recall it was a requirement for them to be able to tender.

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Phil says:
25 June 2017

Neither BS 5750 or the ISO 9000 series of standards would’ve prevented the cheaper cladding being fitted if that was what the customer specified providing all parties jumped through the right hoops and filed the correct paperwork.