Consumer advice body Which? has reclassified all plastic-backed refrigeration appliances as ‘Don’t Buy’ following its testing of the flame retardance of the products, and claimed an absence of action from Government has sparked the move.
On its website, Which? noted: “Our tests have revealed that plastic backing is highly flammable compared with aluminium laminate and metal. We are therefore not recommending any refrigeration appliances with flammable plastic backing. All plastic-backed fridge freezers have been made Don’t Buys, regardless of how else they performed in our chilling and freezing tests.
“In September 2017, we called on manufacturers to immediately stop producing refrigeration appliances with flammable plastic backs. Since then, and in the apparent absence of any action from the newly created Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), we’ve been conducting fire testing on refrigerator backings.
“So far, we’ve tested backing samples from more than 80 refrigeration appliances, across every refrigeration brand that we have on our website. We applied an open flame to each sample, and any product that was unable to withstand the flame for 30 seconds has been deemed unsafe and has been made a Don’t Buy. Hundreds more products have also been made Don’t Buys because the manufacturer either confirmed, or our own research indicated, that the backing on these products was identical to a product we tested and found to be unsafe.”
The consumer advice body did note that consumers who already own a fridge freezer, fridge or freezer with a plastic back should be reassured that the likelihood of a refrigerator fire is very low, but is advising against purchasing any models with a plastic back.
Which? has also included a ‘backing checker’ for consumers to find out if their fridge freezer, fridge or freezer has plastic backing, and includes appliances from a host of leading manufacturers.
However, the publication by Which? could cause unnecessary panic, according to industry body AMDEA.
A spokesperson for AMDEA said: “Consumers should be re-assured that all appliances on the market have to be safe and tested to the rigorous safety standards prevailing at the time. These standards are continuously revised or improved, but this does not mean that a previous generation of products is unsafe.
“The aim of the latest revision in relation to refrigeration, now being rolled out around the world, is to improve fire retardance in case a fire starts elsewhere in the home. It is an additional safeguard. Fires starting in a fridge are extremely rare.”
Electrical Safety First has also commented on the demands for plastic-backed fridges to be removed from sale. Electrical Safety First chief executive Phil Buckle said: “Electrical Safety First has long argued for manufacturers of plastic backed fridge freezers – which can pose a significant fire risk and lead to large, rapidly developing fires – to use safer materials. Non-combustible backs provide better containment of fire, whether that’s from ignition within the product or from an external source.
“However, for many people – particularly those in vulnerable groups – getting rid of their old fridge freezer and buying a new one simply isn’t economically viable. To provide immediate support for consumers, we have established a microsite (www.whitegoodsafety.com) to offer advice and help in using fridges and freezers safely.
“The charity is also working with the London Fire Brigade to make white goods safer. Together we are developing a new ‘voluntary mark’ to be used by manufacturers of fridges and freezers to demonstrate that they have been made from fire-resistant materials.”