FREEZERS and tumble dryers are catching fire daily resulting in nine fatalities and 298 injuries. In fact, this figure does not include the Hotpoint fridge freezer which sparked the fire at Grenfell Tower, resulting in the deaths of so many men, women and children.
Consumer group Which? warns that safety checks are inadequate. The current safety standard for fridges, freezers and fridge freezers is deficient and is allowing manufacturers to sell products that are a potential fire risk, Which? has warned in its report published on Thursday as it calls for immediate action to toughen safety standards on refrigeration products.
While non-flame-retardant plastic-backed fridges, freezers and fridge freezers pass existing safety standards, Which? is warning that these safety tests are inadequate, not fit for purpose and do not come close to replicating the source of a real house fire.
The current British Standard requires refrigeration appliances to pass a glow wire test to assess their fire resistance. This involves putting a hot wire through a sample of the fridge or freezer backing material and seeing if it catches alight. All fridges, freezers and fridge freezers on the UK market currently pass this test.
However, when conducting more stringent fire tests, Which? found that two separate samples of non-flame-retardant plastic backing set alight after just ten seconds. In order to pass this test, they should be able to withstand an open flame for at least 30 seconds.
In similar testing of metal and aluminium laminate backed refrigeration products neither caught alight after the 30 seconds test, or following a full five minutes of being subjected to an open flame.
Almost half (46%) of the most popular fridges, freezers and fridge freezers on the market have non-flame-retardant plastic backing and will have been subject to the deficient current method of fire safety testing, deemed inadequate by Which?
Which? is now calling on manufacturers to put consumer safety first and implement this tougher safety standard immediately and voluntarily.
Worryingly, the sector has already recognised the need to toughen safety standards, but the current plans mean any toughening of the requirements won’t be implemented for at least 12 months, allowing many more potentially fire-risk products on to the market in that time.
The findings come as Which? undertakes an extensive programme of fire tests across the whole market. Results of the investigation are expected to be released next year. Which? has previously highlighted significant concerns about the safety of some models of fridges, freezers and fridge freezers on the UK market which could create a fire risk in people’s homes due to the potential to accelerate the spread of fire.
As such, Which? has stopped recommending the purchase of any fridge, freezer, or fridge freezer with non-flame retardant plastic backing. Advice to consumers who already own one of these models, is that refrigerator fires are rare and as such Which? isn’t calling for a full product recall.
Which? research in July 2015 into government fire data found that 7% of fires caused by faulty appliances were caused by fridge freezers, fridges or freezers. Which? believes that non-flame retardant plastic backing material presents a safety risk due to its potential to allow an existing fire to spread – it isn’t the cause of fire itself – and future models should not be made in this way.
Which? is now calling on the government to urgently set up a new national product safety regulator to take responsibility for ensuring manufacturers keep households safe and get dangerous products out of people’s homes quickly before there is further tragedy or loss of life.
Alex Neill, Managing Director of Which? Home and Product Services, said: ‘Manufacturers must put consumer safety first and immediately stop making fridges, freezers and fridge freezers to a standard that is clearly deficient and could potentially be putting people’s lives at risk. This once again shows that the UK’s product safety regime is simply not fit-for-purpose and the government can no longer continue to allow it to fail.’
• UK householders remain at risk of injury and even death from potentially dangerous domestic white goods such as tumble dryers unless the government takes urgent action to improve safety standards, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) warns. After last year’s serious blaze caused by a faulty Indesit tumble dryer that ripped through several homes in a tower block in Shepherds Bush, west London, the government has yet to implement any of the safety recommendations made by the brigade following the fire, which was attended by 20 engines and 110 firefighters.
The LFB is calling for a government-backed single register for UK product recalls readily accessible to consumers online, and better regulation of secondhand appliances. The brigade, the mayor of London and other campaigners have together written to prime minister Theresa May to demand action to stop further fires. Although nobody was killed in the Shepherds Bush blaze, more than 100 families were evacuated with 26 being found temporary accommodation in hotels owing to the extent of the damage.
Nearly one fire a day in London involves white goods, the LFB said, with a Hotpoint fridge-freezer identified as the initial cause of the Grenfell Tower blaze in June. Between 2010 and 2016 there have been nine fatalities and 298 injuries as a result of fires involving white goods in London.
The figures do not include those who died in the Grenfell fire as the causes of these fatalities are subject to an inquest. Hotpoint urged owners of its fridge-freezers to check their model numbers for safety reasons immediately after the fire. MPs are demanding to know why the white goods’ manufacturer Whirlpool ended a product replacement scheme for dangerous tumble dryers.
The Commons Business Committee says one million of the defective machines remain in UK homes. A coroner blamed a fault in a Whirlpool dryer in the 2014 fire that killed two men in north Wales. The firm says it is still offering free repairs, but ended a £50 offer for a replacement machine after demand fell. The affected machines include dryers manufactured under the Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan or Proline brands between April 2004 and October 2015.
After problems with the machines first emerged, Whirlpool initially told customers that the dryers were safe to use but should not be left unattended, but later said the machines should be unplugged until they could be repaired. With growing waiting lists for a repair, the company then said it would allow customers to purchase a replacement dryer for the reduced price of £50.
The Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has written to Whirlpool, asking why it has now chosen to end this replacement scheme. Committee chairwoman Rachel Reeves accused the US manufacturer of ‘falling significantly short of their responsibilities’.
The coroner from the inquests into the deaths of Doug McTavish and Bernard Hender in Llanrwst, north Wales, told Whirlpool that it had to ‘take action’. He said the fire was caused ‘on the balance of probabilities’ by an electrical fault with the door switch on the dryer.
He described evidence presented at the inquest by Whirlpool as ‘defensive and dismissive’ and said the company’s approach was an ‘obstacle’ to finding steps to prevent future fires. His final report has been sent to the company, which has until 26th December to respond.
Consumer group Which? criticised both Whirlpool and the government, which it called on to step in. The company’s managing director of home products and services, Alex Neill, said: ‘It is completely unacceptable that Whirlpool has shut down its replacement scheme for these dangerous tumble dryers.
‘It is irresponsible that despite one million households potentially still using an affected machine, Whirlpool seems unwilling to do everything possible to deal with this issue. The government must step in and force Whirlpool to fully recall the remaining tumble dryers.’