Consumer group Which? has called for plastic-backed fridge-freezers to be urgently withdrawn from sale after an investigation showed that almost half (45%) of the most popular fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers are backed with plastic that poses a potential fire risk.
The investigation also revealed that a number of plastic-backed models that manufacturers previously claimed to be “flame-retardant” could actually speed up the spread of a fire.
How do you know if you are affected?
Which? has labelled 250 models as ‘don’t buys’ and is recommending consumers steer clear of buying plastic-backed refrigeration appliances. The full list of ‘don’t buys’ can be found here.
It’s important to note that this list is not comprehensive – if your fridge-freezer is an older model, it may not have been tested so Which? is advising people to check with the manufacturer if they are in any doubt.
In addition, you can check your fridge-freezer – and any other electrical appliance – to see if it has been recalled by the manufacturer at Electrical Safety First’s microsite. Worryingly, only 10-20% of recalled products are ever returned to the manufacturer, leaving potentially millions of recalled electrical items still in use and risking electric shock or fire.
What should you do if you have a plastic-backed fridge-freezer or recalled appliance?
If your product has been recalled
Leading safety charity Electrical Safety First recommends you stop using the appliance immediately and check the details of the recall notice for instructions. You should then contact the seller or Citizens Advice on 03444 111 444 or at www.citizensadvice.org.uk.
If your product is on the Which? ‘don’t buy’ list
The products highlighted by Which? products are legal and, at the time of writing, have not been subject to a product recall. The plastic backing does not cause fires, but it does enable fire to spread.
It is also important to note that fires due to refrigeration faults are rare, representing only 8% of fires caused by faulty appliances. However, when they do occur, the results can be devastating, as highlighted at Grenfell Tower last June.
Not everyone is in a position to replace their plastic-backed appliance. As Phil Buckle, chief executive of Electrical Safety First, says: “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.”
However, you can find advice and support at Electrical Safety First’s micro-site, www.whitegoodsafety.com, which also features advice on using other appliances safely.
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What should you consider if you are buying a new fridge-freezer?
When investing in a new fridge-freezer or any other appliance, it’s a good idea to follow these tips from Electrical Safety First and Which?
Always buy from a reputable dealer/manufacturer;
Avoid the products on the Which?‘ don’t buy’ list;
Always register the appliance with the manufacturer – this means they can notify you quickly if there is a problem;
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
What are campaigners doing?
Phil Buckle added: “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.”
Electrical Safety First are also working hard to make white goods safer, by working closely with the London Fire Brigade.
Mr Buckle added: “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.”