Fridges posing fire risk still on sale
A WHICH? investigation has found that retailers including AO, Argos, Currys PC World and John Lewis are still selling fridges with plastic backing ‘that can be flammable’.
Last April, Which? named 250 fridges and freezers described as ‘potentially unsafe’, and demanded UK retailers ‘immediately stop’ selling the specific models, after an investigation found that the backing material ‘on almost half of all’ tested ‘was made of an unsafe plastic that posed a fire risk’.
Models included appliances from: AEG; Kenwood; Hotpoint; Smeg; Candy; Hotpoint; Zanussi; Indesit; Whirlpool; Hoover; Bush; and Ikea. This came on the back of LFB stating that ‘even though there was on average one fridge or freezer fire a week’ in London, it believed that most manufacturers ‘were still dragging their heels on making fire safety improvements’.
The industry wide investigation was the ‘largest of its kind in the UK’, with data released due to what Which? called a ‘lack of government action’. While it accepted that refrigeration fault fires were rare, with only 8% of fires caused by faulty appliances, it noted that the plastic backing material ‘did not in itself’ cause fires but ‘accelerated them’.
It was not demanding a product recall but for retailers to ‘immediately stop selling these products’, though the public was ‘not to panic – the risk is low’. Tests found that no plastic backing sample could withstand a flame for 30 seconds, so in a fire they would ‘not sufficiently prevent the flame from reaching the flammable insulation inside’, while no metal or aluminium samples caught alight.
In May 2018, the Hotpoint FF175B fridge freezer linked to the Grenfell Tower fire was investigated, with the finding that ‘there is no need for a national recall’. The investigation was ordered by Business Secretary Greg Clark after the unit was ‘identified by the Metropolitan police as being involved’ in the Grenfell fire.
Independent experts tested the remains of the appliance alongside others of the same model, and consumers using the devices were advised to contact Whirlpool, which owns Hotpoint, but the review found that the product ‘met legal safety requirements and that the risk associated with the model is assessed as low’. A secondary investigation by Whirlpool’s product safety experts also found no evidence of a fault with that model or the sister model FF175BG. Which? urged Whirlpool to clarify whether the model had a flammable plastic backing, however.
Now, The Guardian has reported that ‘hundreds’ of such units are still ‘on sale’ via UK retailers, with Which? calling on the retailers to remove the goods from sale ‘as a matter of urgency’. It had researched how many were on sale across the four largest fridge freezer retailers, and stated its belief that tests for such products are ‘not fit for purpose’, demanding a ‘more rigorous standard’ be introduced for building appliances with non flammable backing materials.
However, the organisation said that it ‘does not expect to see this come into force for several more months’, with its study finding that on 21 January AO’s website had 173 plastic backed models, while Argos’ had 137, Currys PC World’s 56 and John Lewis’s three. All four retailers responded by noting that they had ‘fewer’ such products on sale than on 21 January, because products listed on their sites ‘were incorrectly listed as plastic when they were actually metal-backed’.
Which? pointed out however that even with updated listings ‘it is estimated that there are still between 148 and 241’ such products available, with AO having ‘the largest number on sale’. That retailer ‘committed to stop selling’ such models by July when presented with the data, while Currys PC World and Argos ‘did not commit to a date for removal from sale’.
An Argos spokesperson stated: ‘As we have made clear to Which?, we offer a small range of plastic-backed lines and the vast majority are metal-backed. Some of these were incorrectly labelled as plastic and we are updating our website to make sure this is clear for customers.’
In turn, a John Lewis spokesperson added: ‘Ahead of the upcoming changes to safety standards, we have not sold any plastic-backed fridges since April .’
Alex Neil, managing director of Which? home and product services, commented: ‘We’ve repeatedly asked manufacturers and retailers to stop making and selling these potentially unsafe products, which could put people’s lives at risk. It’s a big win for consumers that some manufacturers and retailers have acted, but some are still dragging their feet.
‘Responsible retailers need to put the safety of their customers first. They need to take immediate action to remove these products from sale, rather than allowing products to enter people’s homes that could pose a fire risk for many years to come.’