Public urged to stop buying fire-risk fridges and freezers

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Consumer affairs Public urged to stop buying fire-risk fridges and freezers

Which? calls for plastic-backed appliances to be taken off sale as tougher safety tests come in

It has yet to be confirmed whether retailers will be able to keep selling the fire-risk fridges until they have sold out. Photograph: Alamy

A consumer group is urging Britons not to buy potentially flammable plastic-backed fridges and freezers as stringent tests that effectively ban new ones from being manufactured come into force.

Which? has campaigned for a change to the safety standard for the appliances since 2017 after its testing found the plastic backing can be extremely flammable and, in the event of a house fire, can accelerate the spread of flames.

The Grenfell Tower fire started in a fridge freezer with flammable plastic backing, and an electrical fire expert said in a report for the inquiry that plastic casing was combustible and would contribute to the spread of a blaze.

The more stringent standards require a fridge, freezer or fridge freezer to withstand a naked flame for 30 seconds and prevent flames from reaching the flammable insulation as a result.

Testing previously involved putting a hot wire through a sample of the backing material and seeing if it caught alight. Because the plastic melted, rather than ignited, it was deemed safe.

However, Which? said the Office for Product Safety and Standards had yet to confirm if any measures were in place to stop retailers selling existing plastic-backed products until they were out of stock. The consumer group believes this is unacceptable due to the safety risk the products potentially pose, and retailers should remove any remaining models from sale immediately.

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 the charity Electrical Safety First have also warned about the dangers of the backing material.

Natalie Hitchins, the head of home products and services at Which? 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.”

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