Playing with fire: Substandard safety checks mean fridges could be at risk

The current safety standard for fridges, freezers and fridge freezers is deficient and is allowing manufacturers to sell products that are a potential fire risk, Which? is warning today as it calls for immediate action to toughen safety standards on refrigeration products.

While non-flame-retardant plastic-backed fridges, freezers and fridge freezers pass existing safety standards, Which? is warning that these safety tests are inadequate, not fit for purpose and do not come close to replicating the source of a real house fire.

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

However, when conducting more stringent fire tests, Which? found that two separate samples of non-flame-retardant plastic backing set alight after just ten seconds. In order to pass this test, they should be able to withstand an open flame for at least 30 seconds.

In similar testing of metal and aluminium laminate backed refrigeration products neither caught alight after the 30 seconds test, or following a full five minutes of being subjected to an open flame.

Almost half (46%) of the most popular fridges, freezers and fridge freezers on the market have non-flame-retardant plastic backing and will have been subject to the deficient current method of fire safety testing, deemed inadequate by the consumer champion.

Which? is now calling on manufacturers to put consumer safety first and implement this tougher safety standard immediately and voluntarily.

Worryingly, the sector has already recognised the need to toughen safety standards, but the current plans mean any toughening of the requirements won’t be implemented for at least 12 months, allowing many more potentially fire-risk products on to the market in that time.

The findings come as Which? undertakes an extensive program of fire tests across the whole market. Results of the investigation are expected to be released next year.

Which? has previously highlighted significant concerns about the safety of some models of fridges, freezers and fridge freezers on the UK market which could create a fire risk in people’s homes due to the potential to accelerate the spread of fire.

As such, Which? has stopped recommending the purchase of any fridge, freezer, or fridge freezer with non-flame retardant plastic backing. Advice to consumers who already own one of these models, is that refrigerator fires are rare and as such Which? isn’t calling for a full product recall. The consumer champion’s July 2015 research into government fire data found that only 7% of fires caused by faulty appliances were caused by fridge freezers, fridges or freezers.

Which? believes that non-flame retardant plastic backing material presents a safety risk due to its potential to allow an existing fire to spread – it isn’t the cause of fire itself – and future models should not be made in this way.

Which? is now calling on the Government to urgently set up a new national product safety regulator to take responsibility for ensuring manufacturers keep households safe and get dangerous products out of people’s homes quickly before there is further tragedy or loss of life.

Alex Neill, Managing Director of Which? Home and Product Services, said:

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

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


Notes to Editors:

  • Which? includes information on the backing material type for all individual refrigeration appliances on its website, including concerns on more than 230 models, to help consumers with their choice when buying.
  • Which? subjected plastic backing to the needle flame test, which forms part of the proposed new standard. The plastic, which meets current safety standards, failed to withstand an open flame for 30 seconds, which is why we’re calling on manufacturers to implement the new standard immediately.
  • The current standard is BS EN 60335-2-24:2010 Household and similar electrical appliances. Safety. Particular requirements for refrigerating appliances, ice-cream appliances and ice makers and this is the standard being revised in line with the publication of IEC 60335-2-24: 2017 v7.2
  • Which?’s report on ‘Strengthening the consumer product safety regime’ can be found at:

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