The consumer body Which? has described 250 of the most popular fridges and freezers on sale in the UK as “potentially unsafe”, adding that they could be putting lives at risk.
The organisation demanded that retailers immediately stop selling the models it had identified after an investigation showed that the backing material on almost half of all the fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers tested was made of an unsafe plastic that posed a fire risk.
Its list of the 250 “don’t buy” models includes appliances made by most if not all of the leading manufacturers, including AEG, Kenwood, Hotpoint, Smeg, Candy, Hotpoint, Zanussi, Indesit, Whirlpool, Hoover, Bush and Ikea.
The Which? warning comes after the London fire brigade (LFB) said that even though there was on average one fridge or freezer fire a week in the capital, it believed most manufacturers were still dragging their heels on making fire safety improvements.
The LFB said doors and side panels of most fridges and freezers were usually covered in metal but many still used a flammable plastic backing which offered very little protection against the highly flammable foam insulation contained within the appliance catching alight if a fire started.
Which? said the industry-wide investigation – the largest of its kind in the UK – looked at more than 500 of the most popular products on the market, and said it was releasing its findings now because of “a lack of government action”.
The organisation said it accepted that fires due to refrigeration faults were rare, with its own research showing that fridge-freezers, fridges or freezers were to blame in only 8% of fires caused by faulty appliances. It also said the plastic backing material did not in itself cause fires but rather accelerated them, which was why it was not demanding a product recall but for retailers to immediately stop selling these products.
Asked whether a homeowner who had one of its “don’t buys” should unplug it, a spokeswoman said: “You can’t really do that with a fridge-freezer – it will ruin your food.” She said the advice to people who had such an appliance was “not to panic – the risk is low”.
UK safety rules require 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 whether it catches alight. However, when conducting more stringent tests, Which? found that no plastic backing sample was able to withstand a flame for 30 seconds, indicating that, in the event of a fire, it would not sufficiently prevent the flame from reaching the flammable insulation inside.
In similar testing of metal and aluminium laminate backed refrigeration products, none caught alight after the 30 seconds test.
A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman said: “Manufacturers selling white goods in the UK must meet some of the strictest safety laws in the world and we are working with Which? and other parties to see whether standards can be made even more stringent.”
• Consumers can use Which?’s new tool to check the backing material of hundreds of the most popular fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers currently on the market.