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Important advice when buying a fridge/freezer

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) has issued advice to residents about the safety of some fridge/freezer units, following research advice published by the Consumer Group Which?

RBFRS has been working with Which? to demonstrate the significant fire risks posed by fridge/freezers with a plastic backing.

As domestic fridge/freezer units are usually switched on at all times, they can pose a higher fire risk than other electrical appliances. If a fire was to break out in a unit during the night while people are asleep, they may have less time to react and escape.

RBFRS is firstly advising residents to buy safer appliances which do not use a plastic backing, instead, they should look to buy one which has either metal or a fire resistant backing. A backing which is not metal but is marked as fire resistant or retardant, still may not be as safe in a fire as it could be, so they would recommend checking the Which? guide.

Once a fridge/freezer has been purchased, RBFRS recommends registering it online which means you will be the first to know about any safety repairs or recalls while being kept informed about upgrade news.

To minimise the risks posed by a fire breaking out in a fridge/freezer it is essential to have an escape plan and working smoke alarms that are regularly tested. Smoke alarms can provide a vital early warning in the case of a fire breaking out in the home. RBFRS has also urged people not to keep domestic appliances on escape routes and ensure that room doors are closed, especially overnight or when the house is unoccupied.

Advice from the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is that people do not need to remove these fridge/freezers from their home unless they were intending on replacing them anyway, but they would advise that people take the following precautions to minimise the risk of fire:

  • Register your appliances and check that you update your details if you move – this will allow you to be notified of urgent safety information if an issue arises
  • If your fridge/freezer is ‘gifted’ or second hand, you can still register them, always check to see if they are subject to a safety recall notice
  • Remember that your fridge/freezer runs 24/7 and fires can start at any time. If you’re sleeping, you will have less time to react, so it is essential that your home has working smoke alarms. A smoke alarm will wake you up. You should fit a minimum of one smoke alarm per floor and fit enough alarms to cover all areas where a fire could start, making sure they are tested regularly. 
  • Fit a heat alarm in your kitchen – this will give you early warning of an increase in temperature caused by fire but won’t be set off by cooking fumes.
  • Keep room doors closed where possible, especially overnight or when the house is unoccupied
  • Keep room doors closed where possible, especially overnight or when the house is unoccupied. This will reduce the risk of a fire spreading.
  • Refer to your appliance manual to ensure that recommended distances are kept between your refrigeration appliance and the wall, and to ensure there are no other obstructions that can restrict airflow.
  • Make sure vents are not blocked and the area around your appliances are kept clean to prevent the build-up of dust and grease. 
  • Plug your refrigeration appliance directly into the wall rather than using an extension lead, and ensure the sockets are not overloaded with too many plugs. 
  • If your white goods start making a strange noise such as sparking or crackling, or if you smell burning, don’t ignore it. If you suspect there might be a problem, always unplug it immediately and contact the manufacturer or a qualified repair technician. 
  • Don’t be tempted to put that fridge freezer in the hallway – if a fire does break out in your home, you need all escape routes to be clear. 
  • Be careful with refrigerant. Refrigerant is used in fridges, freezers and fridge freezers to extract the heat from the device. In modern appliances, it’s used in very small quantities, but it is highly flammable and so needs to be treated with care. With this in mind, be careful when transporting a refrigerator and don’t plug it in if it looks damaged in any way. To reduce risk of refrigerant leaks, don’t defrost the appliance using anything sharp. 

To view the article and video, filmed at our Firehouse at Whitley Wood, click the video link above, or visit the Which? website.