Slashing the Risk of Fire in Your Home: A Home Safety Guide

Our homes are, without doubt, the most expensive asset that any of us will ever own and although we can insure against the financial damage caused by fire, the real value in most of our properties is in the people that occupy them.

In 2017, there were a total of 30,340 incidences of fire in the home with a total of 256 fatalities and a further 5,316 casualties. Fire can not only cause unimaginable tragedy with the loss of loved ones but can also destroy irreplaceable belongings. Whilst most fires are accidental (89.32%), the majority of these accidents can be avoided with proper fire safety assessments. Coupled with pro-active and up to date fire alert system and escape plan, you can help reduce your family’s risk of becoming another statistic.

In this feature, we look at how to assess your home for fire risks, avoid common causes of fire and ensuring you have reliable smoke detection and a safe means of escape.

Common Causes of Fire in the Home

According to data analysed by the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service the most common causes of fire in the home are distraction and having dangerous or unsuitable equipment in use.

Distractions occur naturally during our day to day lives and usually result in nothing more than an annoyance or minor accident. However, when cooking or using heaters, distractions such as answering the door or telephone, getting waylaid by children or other family members can be extremely dangerous.

home fire safety kitchen fires

Kitchen fires are a common way that domestic fires are started and can happen quickly. Image via Flickr.

Ill-maintained or unsuitable equipment can have electrical faults and are at risk of overheating. Coupled with other dangers such as equipment being left on charge and using too many plugs in extensions cables run from one socket, our modern lives can pose a real threat.

Assessing Fire Risk in the Home

You can reduce the fire risk in your home by performing some basic checks:

Cooking with Oil

You should never fill the pan you are using more than one third full of oil and always keep a close eye on the pan; over half of all fires are caused by cooking accidents with a fair majority of these being related to cooking with oils.

If your oil does catch fire then never use water to try to douse the flames as this can cause a fireball. If it is safe to do so, turn off the heat and get out, stay out and call the fire brigade out. Few of us are organised enough to have an appropriately rated extinguisher for oil fires so it is best to take your safety seriously and call the fire and rescue service.

Candles and Oil Burners

If you are a family that uses candles or oil-burners in the home then consider the risk that these pose and ensure that you follow the safety guidance issued by the Fire and Rescue Service:

  • Never place tealights on flammable surfaces or objects as the aluminium base can get extremely hot.
  • Likewise, never place candles or burners underneath flammable surfaces and objects such as shelves or near curtains.
  • Always ensure that all candles and exposed flames are fully extinguished before going to bed.
  • Never leave a naked flame unattended, particularly if you have small children and pets.
home fire safety candles

Candles should never be left unattended or near flammable materials or surfaces. Image via Max Pixel.

Portable Heaters

If you use portable heaters around your home then you should ensure that they are kept well away from flammable material whilst they are in use and switched off when unattended.

As with other electrical equipment, the cables should be maintained in good condition and be switched off before you go to sleep (see below).

Never dry clothes near portable heaters.

Electrical Safety

Take the time to visually inspect all of your cables, extension leads and plug sockets. Any damage such as cracking, scorching or visible wires should mean that this component is scrapped or not used. All extension cables and plugs should be checked to ensure that they are not supporting more than their maximum load (usually 13 amps) with high-powered items such as washing machines, dishwashers and tumble dryers having their own socket.

Extensions leads should not be plugged in to each other and reeled extension cables should always be fully unwound to prevent overheating of the cables.

Extension cables should never be run into damp rooms such as washrooms, bathrooms or even the kitchen where water could get in to the sockets causing a risk of electrocution.

It is also worth inspecting your mains electrical box to ensure that there are no visible signs of overheating such as charring or scorch marks. Combustible materials should also be stored well away from the mains intake position.

Unplugging appliances at night is recommended, particularly with older machines; washing machines, tumble dryers and dishwashers account for 20% of fires started in the kitchen/utility room. This should also be applied to devices left on charge including e-cigarettes, some types of which are known to have volatile batteries.

fire safety in the home electrical safety

Ensure that your electrical appliances aren’t overloading a socket or extension lead. Image via Pixabay.

Electric Blankets

Though not as common as they once were, some households still use electric blankets to warm the bed at night. They should be regularly checked for:

  • Signs of scorching
  • Exposed elements
  • Fraying fabric
  • Damp patches
  • Loose connections
  • Worn leads
  • Creasing and folding

You should never use an electric blanket that has any of the above signs of deterioration. You should also unplug these before you go to bed unless you have a device that is fitted with a safe all-night thermostat.

Even if your blanket looks okay, you should still have it checked every three years and replaced every ten years.

Smoking and the Home

If you smoke inside your property you should always make sure that you have fully extinguished your cigar or cigarette and matches. Never smoke when you are sleepy or in bed.

home fire safety cigarettes and smoking

If you smoke indoors then always make sure cigarettes are extinguished properly and never left burning unattended. Image via Pxhere.

You should always keep your matches and lighters away from children and ensure that your ashtray is cold before tipping the contents into a bin (preferably an outside one).

Fires started by cigarettes are the most common cause of fatalities with one in three deaths being started this way.

Making an Escape Plan

Always make sure that you and your family have at least two escape routes planned for an emergency situation, including a fire. They should take in to account the possibility of your main route of entry/exit to your home being blocked by fire as well as consider the eventuality that you are trapped on a level above the ground floor.

Escape routes should be easily accessible and kept clear; a back door (however infrequently it is opened and closed) should not be used as a storage area. Security is important but consider how you would open a locked back door in the middle of the night in a house that is rapidly filling with smoke.

Always take your mobile to bed with you so that you have a method of contacting the emergency services and remember that the number to dial from a mobile is 112.

Every member of your household should know the escape routes and it is worth having a regular check to ensure that children can follow this routine.

Remember, if you discover a fire the advice from the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service is simple; Get Out, Stay Out and Call the Fire Service Out.

fire safety in the home

If in doubt, get out and call the fire services out. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The Importance of Smoke Alarms

The simple fact is that you are twice as likely to die in a fire if you do not have a smoke alarm fitted in your property.

All homes should be fitted with a smoke alarm, one per floor and fitted to the ceiling in either the middle of a room or on a hallway/landing. With most fires starting at night, they need to be positioned somewhere that the alarm will wake even the deepest of sleepers.  Never fit an alarm in a kitchen where it is likely to go off regularly as this may cause you to take the batteries out or remove the device entirely.

These simple, cheap and easy to replace alarms are a vital early warning device designed to give you the best chance to escape from an emergency situation.

Not only should your home be fitted with smoke alarms but they should be tested weekly, the batteries should be replaced regularly and the alarms themselves replaced every ten years. Did you know that 20% of fires that start in the home occur in properties that have smoke alarms but where the batteries have been removed or have run down?

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Featured image via Pixabay.