“Which fridges-freezers have metal backs?” I asked the shop assistant in the department store.

The shop assistant squinted his eyes and looked quizzical. “I’ve never been asked that before.”

“Less fire risk, I’ve read.”         

“Oh. Because of Grenfell Tower? But that was a faulty fridge.”

Of course the fridge, if it started the fire, was faulty. Everyone knows that a fridge that’s working properly doesn’t spontaneously burst into flames. One can make similar statements about most health and safety concerns – under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, a business’s duty is to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its employees and not to expose members of the public to unnecessary risk. When all goes to plan, people are not routinely put at risk. Response to faults is crucial.

As the London Fire Brigade (LFB) explain here, a fire in a fridge with a metal case is unlikely to spread beyond the fridge; but on most fridges, the insulation is plastic-based material that ignites rather easily. The LFB made this very same point in a very similar article in March 2015 following which a Watchdog programme on the BBC brought attention to the matter.

Returning to the story, the shop assistant peered round one fridge at end of a long line and inspected the back. “Plastic.” We inspected a few more accessible ones, and moved many more fridges. We discovered that most fridge-freezers still have plastic backs. From this very limited research, two brands, Samsung and Beko used predominantly metal backs. Incidentally, Beko received negative press due to a fault that caused a fire a few years ago, as explained in this article.

There is no regulation specifically requiring metal casing. Does that mean businesses in this trade need not care about the issue? Clearly not. As summarised above, all businesses have a duty to limit health and safety risk.

Evidently the LFB’s lobbying has changed little in the industry. Obviously I have not become an expert in fridge fires in two weeks. It’s conceivable that the extra risk from plastic backs is negligible and that manufacturers are responding to their various demands entirely appropriately. However, it is just as possible that the responsible thing for all manufacturers to do is ensure all fridge-freezer casing is metal. And if they did know of the risk, then using flammable materials is quite possibly a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act.

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