We all expect manufacturers and retailers to only sell products that are safe. And for the most part they do. But we’ve found hundreds of potentially unsafe fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers currently available in shops across the UK and we’re calling for them to be urgently withdrawn from sale.
In September last year, we published the first round of our research into the safety of fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers. Following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower in June, we looked hard at the products we review and what we would need to adapt to identify possibly unsafe appliances that could be on the market.
We delved deeper into safety testing of refrigeration appliances, in particular, the material used to cover the back of the product. Some backs are made from metal, some plastic – and there are many varieties. Last year, we discovered that there were plastics with two properties, some flammable, others supposedly flame retardant.
At the time, we didn’t have the evidence to counter the claims from manufacturers that these so-called ‘flame-retardant’ plastics were safe, but we asked them to stop producing refrigeration models with non-flame-retardant plastic backs.
We then went away and dug deeper. We carried out a programme of testing and research that looked at 555 models of fridge, freezer and fridge-freezer. Our research has shown that so-called ‘flame-retardant’ plastic is nothing of the sort.
These samples of flame-retardant backing, along with all other plastic materials used in backings, did not survive our testing. When we applied an open flame to them, they all melted or burned, meaning they could expose the highly flammable insulation that the backing is there to protect. In contrast, metal and aluminium laminate samples were able to withstand the flame.
New Don’t Buys
We have found hundreds of models currently on sale in shops across the UK that use backing material we now consider to be potentially unsafe. As a result, we’ve taken the decision to make all plastic-backed models we’ve reviewed (whether labelled as flame retardant or not) Don’t Buys and add safety warnings to our reviews.
The industry has had many months to get its act together and withdraw models that they know to be a fire risk. The types that we requested they remove from sale in September are still on the shelves. And now there are many more that should be removed.
Which? has since labelled 250 models Don’t Buys and is recommending consumers steer clear of buying plastic-backed refrigeration appliances.
Thankfully, fires due to refrigeration faults are rare. Recent Which? research (March 2018) looking at UK fire statistics showed that only 8% of fires caused by faulty appliances were caused by fridges, freezers or fridge-freezers.
Even so, we’re calling on manufacturers to make product safety a priority and immediately stop making refrigeration products with plastic backing. A number of manufacturers have already committed to replacing plastic backing on refrigeration appliances, but this must be done immediately.
Retailers should also immediately stop selling these products to keep them out of people’s homes and ensure consumers aren’t unknowingly spending hundreds of pounds on potentially unsafe appliances.
Do you support our call on manufacturers to immediately cease production of refrigeration products with plastic backing?