Flammable fridges still on sale in UK despite safety fears

Consumers have been urged to avoid buying flammable plastic-backed fridges and freezers as new tests that ban their manufacture come into force.

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

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

However, consumer group Which? said the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) was yet to confirm if any measures were in place to stop retailers from selling existing plastic-backed products until they were out of stock.

The watchdog has campaigned for tougher safety standards since 2017, when its testing found plastic backing could be flammable and dramatically accelerate the spread of flames in the event of a house fire.

It reported one plastic-backed model it tested becoming 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 Electrical Safety First have also warned about the dangers of the backing material.

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

Which? said it believed that retailers should remove any remaining models immediately, warning that a lack of restrictions on how long old products could remain on sale meant consumers could continue to be exposed to them for months to come.

It urged consumers to check before they buy.

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

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: “This worrying revelation highlights the government’s utter complacency on fire safety.

“The government has repeatedly said it is learning the lessons from Grenfell, but two years on it has done nothing to prevent the sale of the same hazardous appliances that started that fire.

“Tens of thousands of people still live in buildings covered with flammable cladding, while countless other fire safety failings go unnoticed.

“Cuts to our fire and rescue service have continued, subjecting residents to a postcode lottery of safety when a fire starts.

“The government needs to get serious about fire safety before it’s too late.”


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