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A burning issue: Which? calls for plastic-backed fridges to be removed from sale

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.

An industry-wide investigation of more than 500 of the most popular refrigeration appliances on the market shows that the backing material on close to half (45%) of all fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers tested is made of unsafe plastic that poses a potential fire risk.

Worryingly, the investigation also revealed that a number of models backed with plastic that manufacturers previously claimed was “flame-retardant” could also speed up the spread of a fire.

Which? has now labelled 250 models ‘don’t buys’ and is recommending consumers steer clear of buying plastic-backed refrigeration appliances.

Which? first highlighted significant concerns about the safety of some models of fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers on the UK market more than six months ago, but following a lack of government action is releasing the results of its comprehensive testing – the largest investigation in the UK – into safety of the backing material used in hundreds of the most popular fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers currently on the market.

Which? now believes all plastic backing material could be a fire risk in people’s homes due to the potential to accelerate the spread of flames in the event of a fire starting.

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.

Which? is now calling on manufacturers to make product safety a priority and immediately stop making refrigeration products with any plastic backing. Following this investigation a number of manufacturers have committed to replacing plastic backing, but this must be done immediately.

Retailers should 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.

The Government must also urgently set out an action plan for the Office for Product Safety and Standards to stop potentially unsafe products reaching consumers’ homes in future.

All plastic-backed fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers on the market pass existing safety standards but 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.

However, when conducting more stringent fire tests, Which? found that no plastic backing sample was able to withstand a flame for thirty seconds indicating that, in the event of a fire, it will not sufficiently prevent the flame from reaching the flammable insulation that’s used in all refrigeration appliances

In similar testing of metal and aluminium laminate backed refrigeration products none caught alight after the 30 seconds test. Samples of metal and aluminium laminate backing less than 1mm thick were also able to withstand an open flame for a full five minutes.

While the sector has already recognised the need to toughen safety standards, current plans mean any toughening of the requirements won’t be implemented until 2019. This delay will allow many more potentially fire-risk products on to the market in that time.

Which? has today launched a free tool to help consumers check the backing material of hundreds of the most popular fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers currently on the market and reviewed by Which?.

Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive of Which?, said:

“People will rightly be outraged to learn that manufacturers and retailers are selling potentially unsafe products that could be putting their lives at risk.

“If manufacturers and retailers fail to act and leave plastic backed fridges, freezers or fridge-freezers on sale the Office for Product Safety and Standards must step in and take action.”

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