Which? is warning people to avoid buying flammable plastic-backed fridges, freezers and fridge freezers, as stringent new tests that effectively ban the fire-risk models from being manufactured come into force today.
The consumer champion has campaigned for a change to the safety standard for the appliances since 2017, after its testing found plastic backing on the appliances can be extremely flammable and, in the event of a house fire, can dramatically accelerate the spread of flames.
When Which? tested fridge freezers by setting them alight, a plastic-backed model was engulfed in flames and pumping out toxic black smoke within a minute. In comparison, a metal-backed fridge was able to contain the spread of the fire for far longer, and it was almost 10 minutes before the flames had to be put out.
The London Fire Brigade and Electrical Safety First have also warned about the dangers of the backing material. The Grenfell Tower fire started in a fridge freezer with flammable plastic backing, and an electrical fire expert stated in a report for the inquiry that plastic casing is combustible and will contribute to the spread of a fire.
However, despite the new standard effectively banning these models from being manufactured, the Office for Product Safety and Standards is yet to confirm if any measures are in place to stop existing products from being sold in shops, meaning that retailers are expected to be allowed to keep selling plastic-backed appliances to get rid of existing stock.
Which? believes that this is unacceptable due to the safety risk the products potentially pose, and retailers should remove any remaining models from sale immediately.
The testing for the previous standard involved putting a hot wire through a sample of the fridge or freezer backing material and seeing if it caught alight. Because the plastic melted, rather than ignited, it was deemed safe.
Under the new, more realistic standard, a product will be required to withstand a naked flame for 30 seconds, and demonstrate that it can sufficiently prevent flames reaching the flammable insulation as a result.
But as there is currently no legal restriction on how long retailers can sell products that passed the previous standard, consumers could still be exposed to these potentially unsafe appliances for many months to come.
Fires due to refrigeration faults are rare, and the material used in the backing allows an existing fire to spread, rather than causing the fire itself. However, although the numbers of such products on the market are expected to be small, Which? is warning people planning to buy new refrigeration products to avoid any models that have flammable plastic backing by checking before they buy.
People can use Which?’s free tool to check the backing material of hundreds of the most popular fridges, freezers and fridge freezers currently on the market and reviewed by Which?.
Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services, said:
“These fire-risk products have been banned in the US for years, so new standards that will ensure they can no longer be manufactured for sale in the UK are long overdue. But it is deeply concerning that retailers may continue to sell these potentially dangerous models for many months to get rid of existing stock.
“If you are looking to buy a new fridge freezer, make sure you are vigilant and don’t buy one with plastic backing. Retailers with any stock that was produced to the old standard should make the safety of their customers the number one priority and take them off sale immediately.”
- Video – Fridge freezer safety – Which? investigates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hLg0-b2p7A
- Between 2017 and 2018, Which? carried out tests similar to those required by the new standard. The consumer champion found that plastic backing can be highly flammable, preventing it from being able to withstand a flame for 30 seconds. In contrast, no metal or aluminium laminate backed refrigeration products caught alight after the 30 seconds, with some samples able to withstand an open flame for a full five minutes.
- Which?’s free tool to check the backing material of hundreds of the most popular fridges, freezers and fridge freezers currently on the market and reviewed by Which?: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/fridge-freezers/article/fridge-freezer-safety
- People who already own a fridge freezer, fridge or freezer with a flammable plastic back should be reassured that the likelihood of a refrigerator fire is very low. Our March 2018 research analysing government fire data found that only 8% of fires caused by faulty household appliances were caused by fridge freezers, fridges or freezers.