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Plastic-backed fridges must be removed from sale

product safety

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freezers and fridge-freezers currently available in shops across the UK and we’re calling for them to be urgently withdrawn from sale.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.

Refrigeration backings

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.

Fire statistics

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?


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Thanks again for your support, Duncan. To date I have never been contacted by anyone from Which? to discuss the issue.

Hi Wavechange! I emailed you directly about this last week. Can you confirm if you’ve received this?


Hi Alex – I am sorry I missed your email but have found it and will respond now. Thanks very much.

Perfect! No problem, Wavechange, just wanted to make sure it was received. Thanks 🙂

I’m trying to locate what I have posted in the Convos. 🙂

It is good to see that Which? has published the long list of “don’t buy” appliances.

Even in advance of a change to design standards, this should allow risk aware consumers to achieve the risk mitigation that comes from having a metal backed appliance.

For those of us who already have plastic backed appliances, the linked Which? article says: “If you do own a model with one of these plastic backs, be assured that refrigerator fires are rare. Our March 2018 research into government data found that only 8% of fires caused by faulty appliances were caused by fridge freezers, fridges or freezers. And although these plastic backings may accelerate the spread of flames, they are not the cause of fire itself.”

Hence, I think a proportionate response here is that there is no need to recall all plastic backed fridges. (But perhaps those of us so afflicted should make sure we have good domestic fire safety precautions and good insurance.) However, when appliances fall due for replacement, it will be a good investment to ensure that any replacements only have metal backs.

Is Which trying to cause people to panic when reading todays articles on fridges they say the risk is slight A tragedy caused by a fridge has seemed Which to panic saying that all fridges are dangerous with plastic backs that saying the danger is slight If there had been no big tragedy there would not have been the panic

Although I have a fridge and a freezer with plastic backs I am not too concerned because the risk of fire is small. Nevertheless, I strongly support the action of Which? to cease production of these machines. Why were they produced in the first place, when metal-backed appliances were satisfactory?

PLEASE WILL WHICH? LOOK AT THE USE OF PLASTICS IN THE CASES OF APPLIANCES. (That is in capitals because I am shouting.) There are plenty of photos of appliances where plastics have burned or melted, allowing fire to spread. I have posted numerous photos in different Conversations, and here is another:

Credit: Manchester Evening News

@darren-shirley – I would appreciate a response from Which?, either to say you will look into the use of plastics in the cases of appliances or to explain why I’m barking up the wrong tree.

If Which? have taken up BSI’s invitation to join their committees then they can no doubt contribute to the work that is taking place internationally on fires in domestic appliances. Hopefully they can report back on the progress that is being made by a wide range of contributors.

I’d also ask what Which? is doing to look at this problem with their European sister organisations who may also have views and proposals on this. It is not a UK issue only.

Consumers’ organisations can help but it is the manufacturers and BSI etc. that are primarily responsible for ensuring that products on sale are safe. Why was the use of plastics allowed in the first place? I don’t have much faith in BSI over this issue.

There is no indication that BSI or Which? are concerned about the inability of appliances to contain fire thanks to use of plastics in their cases.

I’d have thought a strong consumers’ organisation would have great weight, particularly if all the European consumer organisations spoke up, as these same products will no doubt concern them all. I wonder if they take the same view in fridges as Which? Have Which? liaised with them? They use the same standards.

This is not specifically a BSI issue in that they are one standards organisation among all those in each European state who contribute to the EN standard; then, through harmonisation, all EC states must adopt the same final version of the standard.

I have said elsewhere that BSI proposed significant changes to the fridge standards (BS EN 60335-2-24), one of which dealt with the backing material. Before criticising BSI we should know what it does. I don’t know what shape the final standard will take and whether their proposed amendments have been agreed.

BSI and other relevant organisations should be able to ensure that products on sale are as safe as reasonably possible without input from Which? and other consumers’ organisations, though this input could be helpful. Which? has done a good job in raising awareness of the problem of plastic-backed fridges and freezers, but I have yet to see any response to their concerns from BSI.

The point I raised above was about my general concerns about use of plastics in the cases of appliances.

BSI are the standards agency that represents the UK within Europe and internationally. One of its remits is to help prepare ENs but it has no remit to issue UK-only standards (except in very specific circumstances like our unique 3 pin plugs). That is because the UK is signed up to standards harmonisation with the EC.

As I explained elsewhere, BSI has proposed specific improvements to the IEC standard on fridges and, as yet, we don’t know the outcome until the EN is published. So it does work on behalf of us all, but cannot act unilaterally. However, if it has a proposal with merit then it will argue its case and convince – if it is necessary – the other EU standards bodies. They may, indeed, all be of a similar view anyway.

The same arguments apply to the use of materials generally. If the case is strong enough then the EU states’ standards bodies will act to produce appropriate European standards. Which?, as a representative of consumers, can and should play its part in working with BSI to ensure that, among all the other organisations contributing, its voice (ours, hopefully) is heard.

The “relevant organisation” is given here: Trading Standards.
Number CBP08211, 15 February 2018

2.1 Who is responsible for enforcing product safety?
Particular product sectors have their own enforcement agencies…….
Otherwise, responsibility for enforcing legislative safety provisions lies with local authorities Trading Standards services. It is a requirement of the General Product Safety Directive (2001/95/EC), that manufacturers, importers, distributors, etc. carry out checks to ensure consumer products are safe. These duties are enforced by Market Surveillance Authorities (MSAs).
7 Commons Library Briefing, 15 February 2018
In the UK, Trading Standards Services are the main MSAs in respect of consumer goods (whether they are bought from a shop, online or second-hand). Specifically, it is the responsibility of Trading Standards to stop unsafe products from entering the country, remove products already on the market, conduct random sampling, offer advice and
assistance to business, and investigate reports of unsafe products.”

So we need an effective Trading Standards organisation to carry out its statutory role properly. Should we be campaigning for that?

The concern I raised was about use of plastics in the cases of appliances. Look at the photo I have posted above and those in other Conversations. I don’t have much confidence in BSI and those other standards organisations responsible for the safety of white goods. You are entitled to have unshakeable confidence in BSI but with regard to fire safety, I do not.

Some of us are very keen that Which? campaigns to restore Trading Standards as an effective organisation, as discussed in other Convos.

It is not unshakeable confidence in BSI, as you choose to put it. I am pointing out that standards are international and that if a case to change a standard is to be made it goes through all the nations’ standards organisations. It is not controlled by BSI.

So, put together the appropriate case, have it properly examined and unless the whole of the worldwide organisation is blind to progress or corrupt I see no reason for it not to be properly considered. BSI do this on our behalf. Their committees are widely based – I won’t list their constituent organisations again as I’ve done that elsewhere. Consumers are already represented at BSI but I have been asking for a long time whether Which? are – I know they would be welcomed and have been invited by BSI. Then proposals such as yours can be formally presented (even though you can also approach BSI directly and be heard).

I have said elsewhere that there are working groups within standards organisations examining fire in domestic appliances and have been for some time.

Maybe if Which? feel as you do they should work on this and raise it with BSI (although it is likely to be on their radar already).

That is how it comes across, Malcolm. I don’t recall you offering any criticism of BSI. Might I have a valid point in my concerns about use of plastics in the casings of white goods?

You have a valid point wavechange if the plastic, if exposed to fire, can burn and spread a fire. Equally, there are plastics formulations that do not contribute to the spread of fire, and there are locations for plastics that are appropriate. It is the “blanket condemnation” that I do not subscribe to.

I do have faith in those who put standards together to do a good job – they have provided the basis for consumer protection, among other matters, over many decades. Where a valid problem arises I expect it to be addressed but, as others have pointed out, 100% safety is not achievable; we must be pragmatic about the solutions and look at the risks involved.

I would be more than happy, with others, to help Which? consider the safety of domestic electrical appliances, whether it is the use of materials, their construction vis a vis fire, or other matters on a sensible basis, with a view to Which? taking the proposals to the appropriate BSI committee that I hope they will sit on and play an active role.

You may misunderstand the role of BSI. It is the UK body that contributes to the preparation of international standards; it has no role in seeing that products brought into the UK comply with those standards (its test houses will examine compliance, however, when asked to do so). The job of policing the safety of general domestic products in the UK is officially delegated to Trading Standards as our Market Surveillance Authority.

What should I be criticising BSI for?

It is use of plastics in the cases that I am condemning, Malcolm, not internally where they have obvious uses. Where have I made a blanket condemnation? I’m well aware that complete safety is unachievable and have never suggested otherwise.

If you have evidence that any company is using plastics that can prevent the spread of fire then I would be interested to see evidence of this.

Perhaps BSI should be more in touch with some issues such as appliance fires, so that prompt action can be taken to help save property and even lives.

As I have said before, BSI have a working group looking specifically at fires in domestic appliances. Maybe Which? is involved?

External use of plastics seems reasonable providing they do not contribute to the spread of fire.

My company used plastics in electrical equipment that did not contribute to the spread of fire. Thermosets are one way to achieve this, as are additives to thermoplastics. The choice of the test fire is important to determine their fire resistance.

Most homes, and kitchens, are full of wood that will burn easily and extend the fire beyond the confines of the space where it started. As most kitchen fires emanate from causes other than white goods – whether faulty or abused – I favour the installation of sprinklers to deal with the consequences and protect co-habitants, particularly in multi-occupancy buildings. Would this be a way forward that was supported – as it is in Wales?

To expand on my comment on BSI’s role, they coordinate the committees that work on standards. These involve representatives from a wide range of disciplines who contribute their expertise and knowledge. These include Trading Standards, engineering institutes, science Institutes, London Fire Brigade, consulting engineers, manufacturers, retailers, test house, government, consumer groups…. The full list for the relevant committee can be found here – https://standardsdevelopment.bsigroup.com/committees/50001507. This is why I am keen for Which? to be directly involved and not just commentate from the sidelines – they can input appropriate views posted in Convos. I note they are listed now so perhaps they do play an active part. Maybe they will report back to us?

Hi @wavechange and @malcolm-r. Thanks @wavechange for sharing this info. As you know, we’re only in the early stages of our campaign work on unsafe products and a significant chunk of this has been testing and reviewing plastic-backed fridges. Much of the safety testing we carry out is based on evidence and intelligence suggesting that there is a safety problem – so it’s useful to have this information and we can take a deeper look at this issue. Where we have that evidence, we can design tests to highlight the problem, as we did with potentially dangerous carbon monoxide alarms in 2016.

I hope you feel assured that we take product safety very seriously, we’ve been researching and campaigning about product safety since the 1960s. Our work on product safety led to safer child car seats, safer electric blankets and the introduction of lead-free paint on children’s toys. We pushed for seat-belts in cars to be fitted as standard and for the wearing of them to be compulsory.

We call for action when we think it’s necessary to protect consumers from potential harm based on research, testing and intelligence received. We feed our investigations into BSI (formerly known as the British Standards Institute) and actively participate in the development of new standards where necessary, but we will also communicate issues to consumers when we don’t believe standards are up to scratch.

@ldeitz, thanks Lauren. It would be useful if we knew what committees Which? attended and took an active part in, and what contributions they made. For example, many constructive suggestions have been made in Conversations on the safety of electrical domestic appliances. Have Which?raised any of these at BSI committees? It would be good if consumers were kept informed.

Thanks Lauren. I do hope the use of plastics in appliance casings and the need for appliances to contain fire will be investigated by Which? and feature in future reports and Conversations.

We have a plastic backed American Style Fridge-freezer, it does make some very strange sounds. We did ask for it to repaired ( through an Ins.) but the company rep. Was rude & We complained with no response. We contacted the manufacturer’s, they came out, dealt with the problem and were very good. WE FEEL WE SHOULD BE OFFERED AN ALTERNATIVE PRODUCT, RECTIFICATION OR A REFUND, WE DO NOT TRUST OUR FRIDGE!

Hi Colin, thanks for your comment. Please don’t panic – the risk of fire is still low, but we don’t think it’s low enough if you’re buying a new model today. If manufacturers can make products safer, then they absolutely should.

Please be reassured that the vast majority of appliances are safe. That said, it is essential that you follow manufacturer’s instructions about the use of your appliance and make sure you have functioning smoke alarms. If you believe that there is something wrong with your appliance or that it is overheating, unplug the appliance and contact the manufacturer immediately. If the appliance begins to smoke, or if a fire breaks out, call 999 immediately and switch the appliance off if it is safe to do so.

I, naturally, support any moves to increase the safety of products in sensible and proven ways. Part of a safety assessment is to assess the risk of an unsafe occurrence. As Which? state, “We all expect manufacturers and retailers to only sell products that are safe. And for the most part they do.”…….” fires due to refrigeration faults are rare”.

A useful job Which? has is to draw consumers’ attention to matters that could influence a purchaser’s choice of appliance when they want something new. In this case, if widely publicised and if people agree, then they would only buy metal backed appliances and retailers would find no use for stocking others. So a natural extinction should take place in the UK.

I wonder what other consumer groups in the EU think about this. Clearly if plastic-backed fridges are to be eradicated then it would be handy if all Europe’s member associations acted together. Have Which? consulted with them (BEUC is their umbrella organisation)?

The international standards organisation (IEC) has already (last year) issued a revised standard on “Safety of refrigeration appliances……. “and BSI has proposed amendments to what will become the European version we will use – BS EN 60335-2-24 – … that specifically address the material and testing of the backs of these appliances. Standards may change slowly, but that is because they are thoroughly examined by a range of groups to ensure they are as unambiguous and effective as possible. Unless, of course, there is a dangerous situation that needs addressing immediately, which does not seem to apply here.

What I find a little disturbing is that which? seem to have ignored parts of the previous Convo that explained this. Why make no mention of the changes in standards being proposed to deal with the very problem Which? is criticising. Are they not up to date with standards development? Do they prefer to ignore something that reduces the impact of their journalism? We need more balance from Which? and a sign of a willingness to use their expertise and knowledge of consumer views to help improve standards. They were invited to join BSI’s committee. Have they done so?

Hi Malcolm, we didn’t mention this in this convo (but I think we have in previous convos) and we did talk about this in the news too – despite a new standard coming into force, the manufacture and sale of these products remains completely legal. The current safety standards won’t be replaced until 2019. We want these products removed from sale now.

@ldeitz, rhanks Lauren. I’d suggest asking retailers not to stock these fridges, and consumers not to buy them. But in principle, while they comply with current EC legislation and regulations, they are perfectly legal.

The risk, as you rightly point out, is very small – as with many products there is often a “potential risk” that in practice is of little consequence. There is no call to raise a panic.

Even though a revised standard does not come into effect until 2019 manufacturers can use totally fire resistant backs at any time – as many do.

Out of interest, Which? say they have “looked at 555 models of fridge, freezer and fridge-freezer”. Presumably many of these are model variants with the same basic construction. Have they tested all the plastic backs used in representative versions of each of these? Exactly what test (IEC specifies a range) was used?

I believe that Which? should actively contribute its expertise in the development and revision of standards, and not just sit on the sidelines. Are Which? on the relevant BSI committees, attending and contributing? I know BSI have invited them and would welcome their involvement.

I mean “thanks” not “rhanks” (below) 🙁 Whoops.
@ldeitz, can you tell us how many fridge/freezer fires have arisen directly as a result of the plastic back being compromised allowing fire access to the insulation?

As part of the ‘throw away’ society it seems manufacturers are responding by making goods out of cheap materials as people now seem to change their ‘white goods’ frequently and if they don’t match the kitchen decor any more.When I had my kitchen done, the fitter asked wasn’t I changing the washing machine because it was silver grey and didn’t exactly match the new units! I laughed until I realised he was serious.
Cheap imports and shoddy goods are killing people and the recent Which campaign about faulty tumble driers highlighted the Governments total lack of concern about this.Even the Grenfell Tower tragedy was said to have started with a faulty fridge.Plastic is cheap,but it seems life is even cheaper these days.

I have just contacted Currys about my plastic backed Fridge Freezer which I purchased in February this year. I was told that all departments had received a email this morning saying if anyone phoned about the issues raised by Which to tell us that all safety checks had been carried out on these products and unless there was a fault with the fridge freezer there was nothing else they were prepared to do.

Colin says:
5 April 2018

Really pleased to see this campaign apparently succeeding. I’m likely to need to buy a new fridge-freezer sometime soon, but if at all possible I’ll keep my creaking, rusty, 28-year old one going for a few more months. Hopefully by the time it finally gives up the ghost there will be a wide selection of fire-safe models to choose from. Even better though, if all models were required to be safe, so that consumers wouldn’t even need to check the safety of products they’re buying.

Hi Colin, thanks for your comment and welcome to Which? Conversation. To help you out with searching for a new fridge-freezer, take a look at our guide which includes a model checking tool to help you find the appliances that do not have a plastic backing: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/fridge-freezers/article/fridge-freezer-safety

Which? has produced a press release “A burning issue: Which? calls for plastic-backed fridges to be removed from sale”.
It goes on, as in this intro:
“Hundreds of fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers currently on sale in shops across the UK are potentially unsafe, Which? is warning today as it calls for all plastic-backed refrigeration products to be urgently removed from sale………
“Retailers should immediately stop selling these products……….
and then:
“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 fridge-freezers, fridges or freezers.” (and what proportion of these were due to plastic backs?).

I support the removal of potentially flammable materials from fridge backs, as does BSI.

But, I wonder how many people who don’t read the full story will be frightened by this announcement? Millions of people will have plastic-backed fridges and many may be thinking they should get rid of them immediately otherwise they are at significant risk of catching fire.

The logical conclusion to Which?’s press release might be that all plastic backed fridges should be withdrawn from millions of people’s homes, if there is such a risk. This is not the case.

It is perfectly sensible to advise people not to buy plastic-backed fridges, and to ask retailers not to sell them. But I think it is irresponsible to raise the issue in such a way as to scare people unnecessarily.

Patrick.Taylor says:
5 April 2018

I am all in favour of safety and I wonder why Which? has not over the years looked at trends in manufacturing and considered whether to ask the independent labs it uses to test specifically when new materials are used.

Can Which? advise why the 2012 call was not supported by marking fridges do not buy in 2012? ” The National Fire Chiefs Council has backed the calls stating: “We welcome Which? raising concern around this issue which was first formally raised by the fire service in 2012 after several serious incidents, including where there was the loss of life.”

A cynical person might think that now that change is on the way [2019] Which? has leapt into action to share some glory. However there does remain the question why the Fire service call in 2012 was not supported. What discussions/circumstances lead to Which? taking no action?

When small incremental reductions in risk become reasonably practicable, such improvements are effectively mandatory under UK law.

Other countries do not operate under UK law. Some may be content to achieve compliance with current standards, but not to seek improvements beyond that position.

In the UK, we also generally recognise that it can be perilous to make any safety improvements in a rush, because we then risk making mistakes, where the effects of the mistake more than negate the intended benefits of the improvement.

As we’ve discussed before on here, there is no such thing as an “absolutely safe” electrical appliance. That said, it should be practically possible to design appliances where the benefits from their use far outweigh any associated risks.

Much the same arguments apply to cars too, so we now enjoy much safer cars than we had years ago.

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The newspapers like to publish inflammatory stories duncan. Will we now have millions of people panicking when we see headlines like this “Almost half of fridges on sale could be life threatening .? (Mirror)

I think generating this sort of journalism is irresponsible.

The risk of a fridge fire is admitted by Which? to be very low. However, a well-argued and supported case put to retailers and CEN (the European electrical standards organisation) could result in action being taken if all concerned believed the risk was sufficiently great. I wonder if Which? have pursued this route yet? I’d suggest it is done with the backing of all the other European consumer groups (coordinated by BEUC perhaps) assuming they feel the case as strong enough.

Hello everyone, our testing results and calls on plastic-backed fridge freezers did indeed travel far and wide. Please be assured, however, that the likelihood of a refrigerator fire is very low.

Our February 2018 research analysing government fire data found only 8% of fires caused by faulty household appliances were caused by fridge freezers, fridges or freezers, with the total number of fires thankfully low.

To minimise the risk of fire in your kitchen, we recommend referring to the user manual of your appliance. This is likely to suggest plugging the appliance directly into the wall (rather than using an extension), leaving a certain distance between the back of the appliance and the wall and ensuring that vents aren’t blocked and are regularly cleaned to prevent the build-up of dust.

If you own an appliance with a plastic back, you don’t need to replace it, but there are some steps we recommend taking. We recommend that you register your appliance with the manufacturer as this is the best way to be sure you will be contacted in the event of an issue with your appliance. We also suggest you refer to your user manual to follow any safety instructions recommended in the manual – these are likely to include plugging the appliance directly into the wall (rather than using an extension), leaving a certain distance between the back of the appliance and the wall and ensuring that vents aren’t blocked and are regularly cleaned to prevent the build-up of dust. Finally, when the time comes to replace your appliance, buy a fridge freezer/fridge/freezer with a back made out of either metal or aluminium laminate. You can check models here which.co.uk/freezersafety

Thank you for all that useful info Lauren. I would like to add the importance of making sure kitchen fitters, when installing integrated fridge/freezers especially, comply with the manual safety instructions relating to electrical sockets and ventilation. When my kitchen was installed some years ago I was not happy with the finished result and so registered a complaint to the manufacturer who sent an inspector out to check it. The integrated fridge/freezer had been installed without any ventilation at all and the gas central heating boiler failed the obligatory smoke test.

I have not been able to move the fridge/freezer from its cupboard since it was installed so have no idea what is lurking at the back, whether it is plastic or metal, so I need to get someone to help me to move it.

I am pleased to report the kitchen company has long since ceased trading.

Beryl – The instructions for your fridge-freezer should explain the ventilation requirements, though these might be in a separate booklet that may not have been left by the fitter. If you don’t have this information, the manufacturer could help, or there may be information on their website. If in doubt, ask the Which? Community. 🙂

I would expect vents at the base of the unit and at the back of the worktop, so that warm air can pass over the condenser at the back to remove heat. Without this cooling the compressor will have to run longer, shortening the life of the unit and increasing running costs.

Thank you Wavechange, I do have the instruction booklet. A ventilator was eventually installed at the base of the f/f cabinet. The appliance has never been moved since its installation so there must be an accumulation of dust behind it. It is not possible to vacuum behind it without moving it from its casing. It seems to work alright but the fridge has never gone below 5 degrees. The freezer seems to work well but I have never actually tested its temperature.

I expect that the instructions will specify a vent at the top to allow warm air to escape, so that the two vents act like a chimney. That should be easy to fit.

I set fridge thermostats to as cold as possible without the contents freezing, which helps keep food safe for longer. The temperature should not be above 5°C to avoid growth of listeria: https://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/campaigns-0/germwatch/science-fsw/fridge-temperatures

Freezer thermometers are readily available but with most fridge-freezers there is no separate thermostat for the freezer, so the operating temperature will depend on both the fridge temperature, the room temperature and how well insulated it is. A temperature of -18°C is the ‘normal’ temperature for a freezer.

Beryl – a quick test for you to do…. Get a paper streamer or three and fix them just above the recently fabricated vent at the bottom of the F/F cabinet. After the mechanism has been running for a few minutes, if the vent at the top has been correctly formed, the streamers will tuck nicely in to the vent, showing a decent draft. That’s the reassurance that you have a good cooling tower where it should be behind the gubbins. If the streamers hang limp, then …. you need to get someone to come and carve a slot in the top of your cupboard at the back. Not a long job, but worth doing.

That’s a good idea. You should feel warm air from the top vent when the compressor has been running.

Many thanks for that simple but ingenious tip Roger. I must say it’s nice to see another regular with a face 🙂

Having spent 30 years working to make workplaces safe it appauls me how companies get away with making homes unsafe – all in the interest of fatter profits. How many more deaths will it take before government action is forthcomming.

If I’ve understood the Which? video tests correctly, they show that, if there is already a fire raging in your kitchen, plastic backed fridges will catch fire, and fuel that fire, much more readily than metal backed ones would.

Hence, there is direct evidence to show that a very small improvement in fire safety would result from the phasing out of plastic backed fridges.

Also, but only by inference, Which? claims that those tests also show, that if the electrical systems of a fridge self-ignite, then there is less risk of the fire spreading to the combustible insulation, if the fridge is metal backed. Whilst not directly supported by the videoed tests, I think that is a reasonable argument, but as Which? seem to admit, the risks involved are already low.

It is hard to quantify the risks involved and therefore very hard to quantify how many lives have been lost as a result of plastic backed fridges being involved.

I think the Grenfell Tower disaster is a rather special case. Although a fridge-freezer seems to have been the ignition source, and hence also the immediate cause of the fire, the root causes seem to have included previous over-voltage problems on the mains power there, and the death toll seems to have been aggravated by firefighters initially advising residents to “stay put” instead of evacuating. So plenty of scope for being wise after the event there.

I agree Derek. I would buy a metal backed (or of other fire retardent material) material, but I won’t panic while my current fridge still works.

I think bringing Grenfell Tower into this argument was both insensitive and opportunistic. As far as I know we do not know what caused the fridge-freezer to fail – it was old, may have been abused or misused, or may have developed a fault. I also hear on the news tonight that some of the cladding panels used had not passed the appropriate tests and were more of a fire hazard than the correct ones. So I suggest Grenfell is kept out of this until all the facts are known.

These arguments applied to the plastic cladding on the tower blocks….

In 37 years of married (and therefore white goods owning) lifetime, I have had two compressors fail. The first on a fridge/freezer went open circuit and I had a new one put in under warranty – that was in ~1983. The second – in a 1981-purchased upright freezer, only about 10 years ago, went up like a Roman candle (all over in 15 seconds. I did switch it off but I think by then the fuse had gone).. If it had had a plastic back, who knows what would have happened. The heat was intense but local. By total chance I happened to be in the room at the time, heard the hiss – looked around – and saw the white intense emissions from the compressor. The compressor was way too hot to touch (could feel the heat from 3 or 4 inches away) – but there was nothing combustible anywhere near it – and it cooled over the next half an hour or so without incident. This was I think a Bejam’s own, and the back comprised the radiator supported from a galv plate which held in all the closed cell insulation.

“To take one recent example – when we found growing evidence that the backing material of fridges can greatly increase the risk of a fire spreading, we successfully applied pressure for change across manufacturers, government and regulators, ultimately influencing the standard on refrigeration safety. This integrated campaign across our charity and its commercial businesses, combining our expertise in research, policy and consumer advocacy to maximise our combined impact, is a successful example of our One Which? approach in action. ”

From the Consumers’ Association review out recently covering June to December financial period. that is online but sent only to the 7000 Ordinary Members.

You may feel in the light of the FireOfficers call of 2012 and the 2015 newspaper articles on dangerous fridges that this claim [above] is rather self-congratulatory. Why did Which? not blacklist them in 2012 or in 2015?

I think the new Council is escaping the legacy of the years under the Chairmanship of Mr Barwise where keeping members in the dark and spending massively is being reined in.

Incidentally if you have a copy of the Review or read it online
you ought to bear in mind the large figures recorded by similar charity organisations such as Citizens Advice to provide context, and also the campaigns that Which? has failed to launch over the last few years to do with housing such as peoples houses rendered valueless by onerous leases, shoddy buildings, and sharp practices.


I’m not at all sure about the basis of Which?’s claim about “we successfully applied pressure for change “ – at least, not single handedly. A revised IEC standard on fridges etc was published early last year. This would have been some considerable time in the making, with contributions from many countries worldwide.

This standard was then subject to CENELEC review to see if it should be improved for the European version. EU countries did, indeed, propose improvements, with BSI playing a leading role. These proposals were not conjured up overnight. So no one organisation can claim credit for change. Which? might tell us where they applied pressure to get their views across. I hope it was in cooperation with BSI because that is where the standards work is brought together and where the views and expertise of all interested parties is welcomed.

Back in 2011, the London Fire Brigade pointed out the danger of plastic in fridges:

“The problem occurs when water gets into the defrost timer switch in the fridge freezer, which can lead to an electrical malfunction resulting in plastic components and other highly flammable insulation inside the appliance catching fire.”

A coroner urged reform of safety standards in 2014 after a fire caused by a faulty fridge-freezer.

From your link: “The problem occurs when water gets into the defrost timer switch in the fridge freezer, which can lead to an electrical malfunction resulting in plastic components and other highly flammable insulation inside the appliance catching fire.” Had the manufacturer put the defrost timer in a metal case this would have contained a fire and prevented damage to property and loss of life. It isn’t rocket science.

The London Fire Brigade are listed as being on the relevant BSI committee. I’d expect the defrost timer switch to be made resistant to ingress of moisture at an appropriate level so the “malfunction” did not have the opportunity to occur in the first place.

Water ingress protection can fail, whereas putting the defrost timers, capacitors, etc. in a metal case is a solution that can be relied on.

“Water ingress protection can fail”. It can, but when properly designed it shouldn’t. Standards involve endurance testing to check the ongoing integrity of seals. I’d rather we start by avoiding the problem in the first place rather than just dealing with the consequences of a failure. Or we could use belt and braces.

The defrost timers I have seen were not IP rated. I think my solution is better.

Regardless of the method for making them safe Which has for many years had the opportunity to NOT Recommend any number of plastic-backed fridges.

Whilst one can say the past is history and we should be looking at the current situation I do believe that there is an issue here of Which? Ltd being overly uncritical of manufacturers. We could all benefit from understanding how Which? Ltd decides which campaigns to follow and at what level these decisions are made and how they are minuted. This is relevant because of the relationship with the actual charity the Consumers’ Association.

The Council of the Consumers’ Association is responsible for the Which? group and one would like to know that they are there to review the activity – or non-activity – of the Which? Ltd Board. However when they were running on 4 meetings a year under Mr Barwise I fear their role was much diminished. Which? Ltd is run by a mixture of executive staff and co-opted big business people – these might have a slant on how businesses should be treated not shared by the general population or subscribers.

SO can Council perhaps respond and tell us how the new Council monitors what is covered and what is not covered.

Which? could have acted more promptly on plastic-backed fridges after the London Fire Brigade publicised the problem.

I do believe that members should be invited to make an input into steering the work of Which?, most obviously in deciding which products to test.

John bakaszynski says:
6 April 2018

They keep churning out items that are inflammable .why are they being allowed to do this .surely the health and safety of these items shouldn’t be passed ..why are they ..?worrying .

Which? have admitted that, even with plastic backs, the fire risks are very low.

That said, they can be made even lower by phasing out plastic backs.

Hence, if we can afford to do this, it is the right thing to do.

Thin painted steel is not expensive I presume that the plastic backs were introduced to make fridges and freezers more energy efficient, allowing manufacturers to claim a better energy rating for their products. If all manufacturers are required to use either steel or the non-flammable laminate product used in some appliances then it would be fair to all manufacturers. I just don’t understand why plastics were allowed in the first place.

The answer to your question Wavechange is here?

political-lobbying.co.uk – Does Business Really Control Government?

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Steel rusts and painting it is not particularly cheap. Prepainted sheet is available but will corrode where there are sheared edges and piercings unless treated. Pre-galvanised or zinc coated steel is an option that has better corrosion resistance, including at cut edges. These may need further treatment if they are thin to give them rigidity – pressing in ribs for example.

Thin painted steel worked fine for years, helped by the heat from the condenser (the heat radiator at the back of many fridges and freezers) keeping the steel dry. You can galvanise or powder-coat the steel if you wish but I am not aware of a problem. I had a freezer in my unheated garage for 34 years and the metal back was fine.

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You can buy stainless steel kitchen appliances duncan – as I know you will know. And work tops. Quality, in the sense of doing a job properly, does not demand more expensive materials.

Be careful with cleaning stainless steel appliances not to use a steel scouring pad; steel particles will become embedded and rust.

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50% of the primary structure of Boeing 787 and other modern aircraft is plastic-based. Much of the interior is made of plastics components. all meeting stringent requirements for flammability. It is a misconception to condemn plastics as a whole; there are very many materials with very different properties and applications. It is a question of choosing the right materials for the particular application and ensuring through specification and appropriate testing – such as the needle flame test and temperature – that they meet safety standards.

Plastic have great advantages over metals in many applications – complex shape, self finish, integral fixings and fastenings, electrical insulation, that keep costs down.

So we need to consider materials used in appliances rationally.

Incidentally, how much of your house contains, and is constructed, of wood? Should that all be condemned? It is the most likely material to spread fire.

Are you implying wooden appliances are a better option than plastics Malcolm?

malcolm, I hear what you’re saying but have you considered the overall safety and environmental benefits that would result if far greater use of steel was made in aircraft.

Not only would these aircraft be much less likely to ignite, if exposed to YouTubers armed with blow lamps, but they’d probably also be too heavy to fly, leading to useful reductions in plane crashes and green house gas emissions into the atmosphere.

To restore their mass transport function, we could perhaps make further good use of steel, by extending their runways to cover the full length of actually useful journeys, for example Stockton to Darlington, Liverpool to Manchester, London to Birmingham and so on.

I am pointing out that wood used in your house is flammable, Beryl. Furniture, joists, doors, roof construction etc.. Then there are flammable fabrics, clothing…..

We should choose the right material for use in particular situations, and there are appropriate plastics that can, and probably are, used in domestic appliances. We need to ensure the tests used to determine their suitability are appropriate and that the correct materials are use. Not all plastics are the same.

Malcolm – Who has condemned plastics as a whole? Certainly not me. I have criticised their use in the cases of white goods and elsewhere when weak plastic components have broken, sometimes due to use of the wrong plastic or ageing. I recall you gave an example of this – maybe the lid of a food processor. A thin plastic peg on the door of my microwave oven broke, preventing the oven operating when the door was closed. I made a new one of metal and that has worked for many years.

Wood can be treated to make it fire-retardant but I do not know whether this is done. Not according to ad hoc experiments that I have done.

The source and real cause of a fire is usually plugged into the household electrical supply Malcolm. Wooden furniture is not, well not in my house.

It is the spread of fire that has major consequences. Electrical appliances are far from the major sources of fire. 8 times as many fires are caused by cooking – a lot of which is by gas – as fromtumble dryers, fridge freezers, dishwashers, combined. Let alone from smoking, candles and such.

However, the point is, in my view, to use performance-based specifications that state how a product or component should behave under particular conditions, including unusual but possible ones. So under ignition, and if a fire starts to prevent its spread. Materials and components are then only suitable that meet these specifications. The key is to get the performance specification right. Standards essentially follow this route – they do not normally specify a material, but the characteristics required. So non-metallic materials, as an example, that include plastics, must meet specific performance and safety requirements.

They might be, Beryl.

I think we called them railways, DerekP. 🙂 I wonder what people now would say if the aircraft they use to get to the sun were covered in doped fabric? Or filled with hydrogen? I think we’ve drifted off-topic. 🙁

Love the humour Malcolm 🙂

Gas hobs are now being gradually phased out in favour of electric inductions. Anyone thinking of buying a new gas hob will have trouble finding replacement parts for future repairs.

I just don’t understand why plastics were allowed in the first place.https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/remove-dangerous-appliances-from-sale-dont-buy-products/#comment-1527696

Sorry if I misunderstood. It is easy to make brief comments in a Convo that can be taken as representative of a particular view, but really a lengthier comment might have qualified it.

As I have said elsewhere (among many others) I support safer products. I also support the work the international standards organisation have done, and continue to do, to set down safety requirements that all suppliers must meet to market products (if the EC, in our case, requires that under product safety legislation which it does). But for those we would be exposed to uncontrolled product safety.

30% ovens are gas, 61% hobs. I don’t know how sales of induction hobs are increasing. Gas hobs have greater potential fire risk and as they normally last a long time I’d guess they will be with us for years to come.

To answer your question, sales of induction hobs are increasing:

alliedmarketresearch.com – Household Induction Cooktops – Market Review

With about 150 countries signed up to The Paris Agreement (excluding Donald of course) all gas appliances will gradually be phased out as repair parts become more unavailable and American appliances with newly imposed trade tariffs more expensive and therefore less popular – an opportunity for UK mfrs to take advantage of Donald’s apparent unwillingness to cut carbon emissions and become more proactive in the electrical appliance industry, post Brexit, producing safer fireproof plastic materials for use on household appliances, when Whirlpools cheap highly flammable household appliances will then hopefully all sink in the Atlantic before reaching our shores!

I think you should give evidence to support “Whirlpool cheap highly flammable appliances”.

I wonder at the logic behind phasing out gas appliances. Are we all to use electricity to heat our homes at 4 or 5 times the cost? And what will generate all the extra electricity needed for cooking and heating (let alone electric cars)? Maybe we could do with a bit of global warming to help reduce our energy bills 🙂

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Induction hobs are proven to be more energy efficient than gas – the evidence is in the link. Evidence for Whirlpool appliances is already well established on W/C In spades. . Gas appliances are pollutants as are petrol and diesel engines . Malcolm, global warming is not the answer – it is the problem.

But, with electricity costing say 15p per kilowatt hour and gas only costing 3p………….. Global warming was tongue in cheek Beryl (I’m sure you knew 🙂 ).

Over 40% of our electricity is produced by burning natural gas. And probably will be for some years.

Whirlpool was in fact an Indesit problem caused, as far as we know, by their tumble drier accumulation flammable fluff from fabrics near the heater. A design problem rather than anything else. Unless their are other examples where non-compliant materials have been used.

Janie says:
8 April 2018

There is by far enough evidence of these types of household appliances being faulty, unsafe and outright dangerous – from the huge track-record of events/tragedies (Grenfell included). Therefore Malcolm, at the end of the day, the devil is right there in the details – for anyone who has eyes to see.

Incidently, you are not working for Whirlpool/Indesit by any chance? Just wondered.

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It is now becoming increasingly more difficult to stumble your way through the thicket to reach the core of a problem, and therefore the answers Duncan, and the larger the business the harder the trek.

Janie says:
8 April 2018

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Janie, I do not know (unless you have information) what caused the fridge freezer to fail – whether it was a fault, or down to misuse or abuse in an appliance that was at least 8 years old. But far more kitchen fires are caused by sources other than white goods. The problem at Grenfell appears to be the failure of the design of the building to contain the spread of fire and it now seems, from a news report a couple of days ago, that some of the cladding was not even of the same fire-resistant class as had been expected.

There are a number of manufacturers of white goods who are independent of Whirlpool.

Janie says:
8 April 2018

Well, Yes, but all you have referred to here is the issue concerning the “cladding” around that building being largely the “main” culprit in this case – to which yes, it was indeed a fire-risk. But though, first and foremost it was the faulty/dangerous (whirlpool) fridge/freezer appliance which had suddenly burst into flames inside one of the flats. But it is however irrelevant of how old any appliance may be, it should never just burst into flames, i,e, I have had many appliances for many years and towards the end of their lifespan they had just gradually slowed down until they eventually had given up the ghost – which is normal – but never burst into flames. But if an appliance does this, then it is badly, negligently and recklessly put together by people who simply don’t give a damn or otherwise trying to knock up their appliences on the cheap, or both. And this is totally unacceptable even in the case we may be in argument/dissagreement about this situation – because at the end of the day we are all at “risk” because of this problem. If either way you/I or any other unfortunate victim were to [unwittingly] have a faulty/dangerous appliance in our home, then we/our families lives would be in danger. And this is the situation which should not be forced/inflicted on any of us, just because of the greedy and devil-may-care attitude of this particular company.

However though, like you point out – yes, of course fires in the home are caused in many different ways. But this does not excuse the badly made, faulty and dangerous products put out on the market by this company. And trust me, I am speaking from a very long experience of their shoddy appliences.

Though however, excuse me for saying this if I am wrong – but from where I am looking, it would be only someone who is working for this company (of which I have outlined) or has an invested interest in the company who would want to “defend” them. And also, when I asked previously if you worked for them, you made no comment.

As I stated earlier, there is always the chance my hunch might be wrong – that you may be working for that company – but even if you are not, then all I can say of it is that you really do give this impression.

Janie, you might like to look at comments in other appliance conversations.

I think your criticisms of Malcolm and his comments are uncalled for, Janie, and the presumptions you are making both in relation to the cause of the fire at Grenfell Tower and in relation to the manufacture of appliances are unjustified. As Malcolm has suggested, you need to look at all the comments in previous Which? Conversations submitted by Malcolm and others with considerable knowledge in this area before rushing to a judgment.

I don’t think anyone is defending Whirlpool but at least we are not condemning the company in the absence of the evidence. There are numerous possibilities for the cause of the fire at Grenfell Tower and we need to see the results of the official investigations before declaring a particular view. Nobody has established that the fridge/freezer “burst into flames”. It could have started at the electric socket or in an adjacent appliance. It does seem that the fridge freezer caught fire and set light to some curtains which, with an open window, caused a conflagration and led to flames escaping the building and being funnelled up the inside of the cladding via the insulation material. That is reasonable speculation in view of the visual evidence but still not a reliable determination of the cause.

In terms of Whirlpool’s manufacturing standards, I don’t think there have been many incidents of fire breaking out in their refrigeration equipment and it is probably the case that many millions of their fridges and freezers have been sold over recent decades. The tumble dryers that have been the cause of numerous fires, but very few deaths, were designed and manufactured by Indesit, and the fridge/freezer involved in the outbreak of the Grenfell Tower fire was also designed and manufactured by Indesit.

In 2014, Whirlpool acquired a 60% stake and controlling interest in Indesit and inherited that company’s liabilities.

Malcolm has not written anything that requires him to explain his position on this and his record in commenting on Whirlpool over the years shows that he does not have a conflict of interest so I think your inferences are unfair. So far as we know, the appliances made by Whirlpool and by Indesit, and by other white goods manufacturers, comply with the relevant international standards in force at the time.

Janie, as regards Grenfell Tower I have seen it reported that a fridge freezer was the “ignition source” that started the fire.

I’ve not seen any consensus of what the “material first ignited” was – i.e. whether or not it was combustible elements of that appliance, or other things in that kitchen.

I have also seen claims that there had been “mains supply problems” a few months previously, possibly causing “wiring faults” and the degradation of many appliances in that building, with some reports of smoke from wiring.

Given these additional other circumstances, I think it is hard to say whether or not the fridge/freezer involved was in an unsafe condition, irrespective of any issues related to its design and manufacture.

As others have noted, it is also by no means uncommon for fires to be started by the wiring that feeds individual appliances.

A few weeks ago, I witnessed such an event at work, when the wiring to a colleague’s PC first started to smell, then smoke, then burst into flames. In that case, prompt action with a CO2 extinguisher put the fire out. The affected ring main was then isolated and made safe.

You always see bad comments and complaints but very few from happy and satisfied consumers of which there will be many more than the moaners I wonder why ?