Modern fridges and freezers are the ‘most dangerous household appliance when involved in a fire’, according to a new report from the London Fire Brigade (LFB).
The report looks at fires that were started by electricity or in electrical appliances and follows a fire in Neasden last year that was started by a chest freezer and which resulted in the deaths of six people. Fridges and freezers are of particular concern to LFB because they contain large amounts of plastic and highly flammable insulation, which can cause big fires that spread quickly. This insulation also produces highly toxic gases when involved in a fire.
According to the report the way fridges and freezers are built and the materials used to make them have changed over recent years to include more plastic. These changes have increased the risk to people if a fire starts because the highly flammable insulation is not separated from parts of the fridge or freezer where a fire can start. If this insulation catches light a fire can develop quickly.
The report goes on to say that when fires involving fridges or freezers in the UK are compared with those in the USA, where standards are different, it is more likely that people in the UK will be injured. According to LFB estimates, in the USA there is an average of one injury for every 25 fires involving fridges, freezers or fridge freezers. However, in the UK, according to figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government, one in every five fires in fridges or freezers result in someone being injured. In the UK, there is an average of 336 fires involving fridges or freezers each year, injuring 69 people.
Tougher safety standards mean that in the US, the flammable insulation in fridges and freezers is far less likely to be involved in a fire. However, UK safety standards mean the highly flammable insulation does not have to be protected by a fire proof material.
London Fire Brigade wants to see tougher standards so that the highly flammable insulation used in fridges and freezers is made safer from fire. This could involve separating the insulation from the electrical parts with a fire proof material and, in case a fire starts outside of the fridge or freezer and spreads to it, totally encasing the insulation. The Brigade says that this will reduce the number of injuries, and potentially deaths, caused by fires involving fridges and freezers.
Rita Dexter, Deputy Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, said:
“Almost every home in Britain has a fridge or freezer and the chances are, it will be plugged in and working safely for years. Unfortunately, on rare occasions problems do occur and the result can be a big fire with potentially tragic consequences. This is why it’s so important to make sure that if a fire involving a fridge or freezer does start, it doesn’t spread.
“London Fire Brigade wants to see tougher standards so that the highly flammable insulation in fridges and freezers is better protected from fire. In the meantime, our advice is that if people notice any strange noises coming from their fridge or freezer, they should call the manufacturer or an electrical repair expert immediately.”
Notes to editors:
Faults in appliances could also be due to misuse or bad maintenance, or a malfunction in an appliance.
Comparisons between US and UK based on a five year average of fires involving fridge/freezers and resultant injuries between 2005 and 2009 using figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government in the UK and the National Fire Protection Agency in the USA (Home Structure Fires Involving Kitchen Equipment Other Than Cooking Equipment by John Hall Jr.)