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Fridge makers accused of complacency

UK: A new government select committee report questions whether the domestic fridge standards process is “fit for purpose” and accuses manufacturers of complacency.

The report by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee pinpoints what it sees as “a significant risk” associated with plastic-backed fridge freezers and calls for manufacturers to take action now to use safer materials in the construction of these products.

The committee’s report looks at the safety of electrical goods generally following their identification as the cause of several recent high-profile fires, such as Grenfell and Shepherd’s Bush Green. In particular, the report highlights what it sees as specific problems with tumble dryers and fridge freezers.

In spite of improving technology and an evolving regulatory regime, the number of fires involving faulty electrical appliances and leads in England has stayed fairly constant, at between 4,300 and 5,000 a year. Between 2010 and 2016, there were 1,598 fires in England caused by fridge freezers alone.

While the BEIS committee recognises the risk from fridge freezers is not as great as that posed by tumble dryers, its argues that Electrical Safety First still found that in 2015/16 there were 214 fires in England involving these appliances, which resulted in a total of 27 serious injuries or fatalities.

However, it is the specific risk that plastic-backed fridge freezers pose which has become a focus of organisations like Which? and the London Fire Brigade (LFB). There are concerns that such appliances do not shield flammable insulation from failures of electrical parts which, if ignited, can cause large, rapidly developing fires that spread quickly, giving off highly toxic gases. The Grenfell fire is thought to have started in a defective Hotpoint fridge freezer.

The report points out that fridge freezers standards have not changed despite these concerns and asks whether the standards process is “fit for purpose” and capable of responding adequately when safety risks emerge.

Complacent

A response from manufacturers’ association AMDEA that one of the reasons why change was slow was because the number of fridge freezer fires was “actually very low” was described by the committee as “complacent”. Further, it argues that the injuries and deaths associated with these appliances leads it to question what risk analysis is being used by manufacturers to inform standards and what is deemed an acceptable level of risk for their products.

“The fact that this issue has been known for some time and has not been addressed indicates that it can take too long for safety standards to be updated,” the report states. “We are particularly concerned as to how risk assessments are used by manufacturers to inform standards and what steps are taken to communicate to consumers information about safety and levels of risk.”

In response AMDEA chief executive Douglas Herbison said: “All products sold in the UK are designed to comply with rigorous, scientifically defined, internationally agreed, safety standards.

“The sixty-page safety standard for fridge-freezers specifies that the casing materials must be tested for fire retardance, by prescribed and objectively established methods. These standards are constantly reviewed and updated to reflect the latest advances in technology. Any changes are then implemented throughout the complex production processes to ensure that each generation of products is even safer than the last. Many products now being placed on the UK market already meet and exceed the enhanced test in the most recent revision to IEC 60335-2-24 and others will follow shortly.”

He repeated that fires starting inside the 43 million fridges and freezers in use in the UK are extremely rare and argued that the purpose of strengthening the fire resistance of the backing is to increase protection against a fire started elsewhere in the home.

Related stories:

Which? calls for tougher fridge tests now8 December 2017
UK: Consumer group Which? has called on manufacturers to implement tougher testing immediately and voluntarily on all new domestic fridges. Read more…

LFB sends fridge concerns to fire inquiry22 November 2017
UK: The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has repeated calls for improved refrigerator manufacturing standards following the Grenfell Tower fire. Read more…

Fridge freezer caused Grenfell fire – 23 June 2017
UK: The UK government has ordered an immediate examination of the fridge freezer confirmed today as the source of the Grenfell Tower fire in London earlier this month. Read more…

Fridge safety standards “inadequate” – 21 September 2017
UK: Consumer group Which? has called for an end to fridges using non-flame retardant plastic backs and describes current safety standards as “inadequate”. Read more…

LFB demands action on fridge standards – 21 August 2017
UK: The London Fire Brigade has demanded action on manufacturing standards for fridges and freezers following the Grenfell Tower fire in June. Read more…

Study pinpoints fridge fire hazards – 5 March 2017
UK: A number of components and flammable materials used in domestic refrigerators are identified in a new study into the reported 300 fridge fires a year in Great Britain. Read more…

LFB calls for end to “dangerous” fridges – 24 February 2017
UK: The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has warned that new safety proposals designed to reduce the risk of potentially deadly fridge and freezer fires, have a “gaping hole” in them. Read more…

Fridge freezer delay puts lives at risk – LFB – 3 March 2015
UK: The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has accused fridge freezer manufacturers of dragging their heels on making fire safety improvements. Read more…

 

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