London Fire Brigade

Fridge freezer delay putting lives at risk

03 March 2015

We are calling for fridge freezer manufacturers to act now to make their products safer.

More than one fridge freezer fire a week

Despite seven deaths and 71 serious injuries in London since 2010, we believe most manufacturers are still dragging their heels on making fire safety improvements. 

There is, on average, one fridge freezer fire a week in the capital and we have been lobbying the industry to make their fridges and freezers more fire resistant for the last three and a half years.  

What’s the problem with them?

Fridges and freezers are of particular concern to us because they contain large amounts of plastic and highly flammable insulation, which, if ignited, can cause large, rapidly developing  fires that spread quickly, giving off highly toxic gases.

The doors and side panels of most fridges and freezers are usually covered in metal but we are concerned that  many still use a flammable plastic backing which offers very little protection against the highly flammable insulation catching alight  if a fire starts.

What we want to see happen

We are calling on the industry to ensure the backs of fridge freezers are made of non combustible or fire retardant materials as standard.

What we say

London Fire Brigade Deputy Commissioner Rita Dexter said: "Every home has a fridge or freezer and the chances are it will be plugged in and working safely for years but it is no exaggeration to say that they are potentially the most dangerous household appliances if they are involved in a fire.

"They contain large  amounts of highly flammable foam insulation, often only protected by a thin plastic covering. This can be a recipe for disaster if a fault occurs or if a fire spreads from somewhere else to the fridge or freezer. They are also one of the few electrical items in your home to be always left on and these fires pose an even greater risk if they start when people are sleeping.

"Putting a simple non-combustible or fire retardant covering at the back of appliances is a relatively simple change that manufacturers can make and one that we believe would  reduce the number of injuries, and potentially deaths, caused by fires involving fridges and freezers."

The tragic death of Santosh Benjamin Muthia

The issue hit the headlines in September last year at the inquest into the death of Santosh Benjamin Muthiah from Harrow who lost his life in a house fire which originated in a fridge freezer. After the hearing, following a submission  from London Fire Brigade, the Coroner reported on the serious risk posed to the safety of consumers by the lack of any requirement to use non-flammable materials to protect the highly flammable insulation from ignition.

Shocking footage

Shocking footage filmed by the Brigade at the BRE testing facility clearly shows the dangers of having a fridge or freezer with a flammable plastic backing.

In a controlled burn test the plastic backed  fridge freezer was well alight after just 90 seconds and  had to be extinguished after just two and a half minutes as the fire was starting to overwhelm the testing room, while the fire set in the metal backed appliance, never really took hold, and burned for about 20 minutes before self extinguishing.

Here's how a metal backed fridge performed in comparison

If you think there may be a problem with any of your refrigeration appliances our advice is to always unplug it and to contact the manufacturer or a qualified repair technician. You can also check if an electrical product is subject to a recall by looking at this data base.

Finally ensure you have a smoke alarm, check regularly that it works and plan how you would get out in the event of a fire.