Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Safety warning over fatal fires and clothing

East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service is highlighting how the accidental ignition of clothing has been identified as a factor in a number of fatal fires.

Approximately 50% of the fire deaths in East Sussex are linked in some way to the kind of clothing the victim was wearing.  A number of fatalities have involved the elderly or immobile – people who are at increased risk of igniting clothing from open flames (for example open fires, barbecues, gas hobs and candles) and if they smoke.

The warning follows a recent inquest into a fatal fire in East Sussex, where the Coroner raised his concerns about the frequency of deaths linked to the accidental ignition of clothing. 

ESFRS Business Safety Manager Mark Hobbs, who investigated the fire and attended this recent inquest, said:

“Depending on the type of fabric, its textile construction, its weave, weight, and finish, as well as looseness of fit, clothing can pose a serious risk of burn injury if these properties cause clothing to ignite quickly and burn rapidly.

“While there is a mandatory standard to reduce the risk of burns from children’s nightwear (the Nightwear (Safety) Regulations 1985), there are currently no compulsory safety requirements for other children’s clothing or for any adult clothing.

“Burns from clothing fires are a significant cause of serious injury and death – particularly in older age groups, where incidents are mainly related to robes, pyjamas and nightgowns. Whilst most fabrics used in clothing can burn, some materials are much more flammable than others.”

Clothing that fits tighter to the body or is made out of tightly woven fabric is safer than loose-fitting clothing. It should also be noted that:

•    Wool burns very slowly and is difficult to ignite.
•    Cotton burns easily and quickly.
•    Rayon ignites easily, but burns slower than cotton.
•    Silk is much less flammable compared to rayon.
•    Nylon is less flammable as well, but melts and can adhere to the skin.

Based on the analysis of previous incidents, which has resulted in injuries and fatalities of people who are chair-bound or bed-bound and who smoke, we commissioned a company to develop a flame-retardant lap blanket to help reduce the risk of fire.
As a result of this latest inquest we will continue to work with partners and investigate further ways to reduce the risk.

East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service will, where appropriate, provide a free flame retardant lap blanket for vulnerable smokers. A free Home Safety Visit can be requested from East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service. Contact: 0800 1777069 or write to:

East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service
20 Upperton Road
East Sussex
BN21 1EU.

Advice if your clothing catches alight

•  Don’t run around as this will only fan the flames and make them burn faster

•  Lie Down:  This makes it harder for the fire to spread and will reduce the effects of flames on the head and face (flames burn upward)

•  Smother the flames:  Cover the flames with a heavy material, like a coat or blanket, which will block the supply of oxygen to the fire

•  Roll around:  Rolling smothers the flames

Editor’s notes: Please note that the family of the victim referred to in the recent Coroner’s case has requested they are not contacted by the media at this distressing time.

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