Which? calls for plastic cooling appliances to be scrapped

Consumer buying guide Which? has urged retailers to remove all plastic-backed refrigerators from sale.

Its latest industry wide investigation looked at over 500 of the most popular refrigeration appliances on the market, with Which? claiming that almost half (45 per cent) of all fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers on the market are made from plastic, which pose a fire risk.

Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of Which? said: “People will rightly be outraged to learn that manufacturers and retailers are selling potentially unsafe products that could be putting their lives at risk.

“If manufacturers and retailers fail to act and leave plastic-backed fridges, freezers or fridge-freezers on sale, the Office for Product Safety and Standards must step in and take action.”

Which? also named 250 ‘Don’t Buys’ of refrigerators that featured plastic backing, which has been shown by the London Fire Brigade to speed up the spread of a fire, compared with metal backed appliances.

Brands in the ‘Don’t Buys’ list included AEG, Gorenje, Hisense, Hotpoint, Indesit, Smeg and Zanussi.

However, Electrolux, which owns AEG and Zanussi, Gorenje and Whirlpool, which owns Hotpoint and Indesit, have all recently announced that they would cease production of plastic-backed refrigeration appliances and replace these with metal backing.

German brands Bosch and Liebherr also featured on the ‘Don’t Buy’ list, but were only found to have one refrigeration appliance with plastic backing on the market.

According to Which?, Bosch claimed that its plastic-backed chest freezer was discontinued in November 2017 but was still available to buy from some retailers as of March 2018.

Which? also highlighted brands that only feature metal backing on their appliances, with these including Beko, Miele, Samsung and LG.

According to Which?, other brands that have confirmed that they are in the process of discontinuing plastic-backed appliances include Bush, Currys PC World, which owns Currys Essentials, Kenwood and Logik, Hisense, Hoover Candy, Ikea, Lec and Smeg.

Manufacturers had previously hit out at a Which? product safety report in February, which claimed that more than 60 fires a week were caused by faulty white goods.

Suppliers claimed that the report was based on inaccurate data and was misleading, and couldn’t be relied upon to make judgement calls on the safety of a brand’s product.

As part of its research, Which? said it tested backing samples from over 80 different refrigeration appliances across every brand it reviews. It applied an open flame to each sample for 30 seconds and any product that failed to withstand the flame, which would leave the flammable insulation exposed, was deemed unsafe and was made a ‘Don’t Buy’.

A spokesperson for white-goods trade association Amdea said: “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.

“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. Fires starting in a fridge are extremely rare.”

Phil Buckle, chief executive of Electrical Safety First, 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.”

Retra chief executive Howard Saycell urged retailers to liase closely with suppliers over any concerns and to direct consumers in using the products correctly. 

“Consumer safety and their confidence in the product is the number one priority for our industry as a whole,” he said. “Retra’s advice to members is to liaise closely with their suppliers and follow any guidance given. There are changes planned globally for revisions to the fridge safety standard, which come into force in January 2019.

“The changes include a requirement for additional flame resistance tests on the casing material. This is an upgrade to the current standard but does not mean that existing products are dangerous. The main issue is not the safety of the appliance itself, but how long it resists the spread of a serious kitchen fire , started elsewhere. There are over 43 million fridge-freezers in use in the UK and fires are extremely rare. Retailers should encourage consumers to always refer to the correct use of the product as outlined in the instruction manual supplied.”

  • Main image: screenshot from Which? video on flame retardant test