Rising electrical fire danger in West Sussex sparks official warning

The Electrical Safety Council and West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service are urging the public to think about safety as ‘blunder fires’ increase, fuelled by public naivety and the growing number of high risk electrical items in homes, for during Electrical Fire Safety Week, running from Monday September 24 to 29.

Alarming new research from the Electrical Safety Council shows a rise in fires caused by the misuse of appliances in the home. Appliance misuse is already the top cause of all fires in West Sussex homes with millions of people committing everyday safety ’blunders’ without realising the risk of fire. The Charity, whose campaign is supported by the Chief Fire Officers Association, has issued guidance, top tips and a Facebook application to help combat these easily avoidable safety mistakes.

The West Sussex’s biggest blunders, and the percentage of public in West Sussex committing them, include: creating a fire hazard by using the microwave as an additional surface and blocking air vents (36 per cent), increasing the risk of serious fire spreading by leaving the tumble dryer running unattended or overnight (11 per cent), blocking air vents by failing to clean behind their fridge/freezer (49 per cent), overloading adaptor sockets, causing an unsafe rise in temperature (17 percent), and leaving an electrical appliance on while unattended, only to be alerted by a burning smell (9 per cent).

Overall, over three quarters of adults in West Sussex confessed to committing at least one simple safety blunder or misuse of an electrical appliance. The Electrical Safety Council believes that there is a clear link between this lack of understanding and the surge in ‘blunder fires’.

Fires caused by misuse of appliances have increased by over a third since 2009, despite there being an overall decline in house fires, with chip pan fires plummeting by two thirds, and fires started through smoking dropping by a third.

On average, fires caused by misuse of appliances kill 22 people, seriously injure about 2,500 and cost tens of millions of pounds in damage each year. In the last year alone, there were 14,700 fires of this nature.

Concern is heightened by the fact that there has been a considerable increase in the number of higher risk appliances in our homes – since 2004, the number of microwaves has increased by 1,457,000 and tumble dryers by 2,148,000.

To help the public test their own knowledge and become more aware of fire safety blunders, the ESC has created a Fire Blunders game, hosted on Facebook, which helps identify mistakes and improve safety. People can also download the free ‘Home Electrical Safety Check’ Smartphone app, a simple tool to check homes for electrical danger, or visit the ESC’s dedicated webpage, which contains top tips for avoiding simple blunders.

Phil Buckle, director general of the Electrical Safety Council, said: “People think that they are behaving safely but the majority of people we surveyed had put themselves at risk by unknowingly making a safety blunder. Fires caused by misuse of appliances – the vast majority of which are electrical - are so easy to prevent but they will keep increasing unless people understand the simple things that can and do cause fires.

“Today we are issuing a warning to consumers: make sure you’re informed about electrical safety to avoid the increasing risk of injury or death by electrical fire. Most accidents are preventable and the ESC is here to help you. Protect yourself, your home and your family by following our simple tips, installing RCD protection in your fuse box or testing your current knowledge in our Facebook blunder quiz.”

Vij Randeniya, president of the Chief Fire Officers Association, said: “We support the ESC’s campaign and the partnership with local Fire and Rescue Services around the country. A house fire can have devastating and long term effects, not only losing belongings, memories and possibly lives, but also in terms of mental scars and trauma. Thankfully, many fires can be prevented by taking a few simple safety steps, but the ESC’s research has exposed a shocking lack of public awareness in this area.”

Community fire safety officer for West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, Jackie Boyle, added: “In 2011 electrical fires accounted for more than a quarter of the house fires our crews attended, which is a worrying statistic. Whether it’s essentials like heating and lighting to specialist beauty items or audio visual equipment it’s really important to be sure that it is all in good working order and is operated properly. Most electrical fires start in the kitchen, so be extra careful with cooking equipment

“Appliances, plugs and cables that are old, or poorly wired, can be a danger. Try and look out for the warning signs - hot plugs or sockets, scorch marks, fuses that continually blow, a burning smell coming from the appliance or wiring, flickering lights - all these can be signs of loose wiring or other electrical problems.

“It’s so easy to think it’s not going to happen to you, but people really can’t afford to be complacent where electrical safety is concerned. By following some simple steps, you can help keep you and your loved ones safe from fire. Don’t forget we can help reduce the risk of a fire in your hone by carrying out a free home fire safety check. Simply call 01243 642878 or visit our website to find out if you are eligible.”

To learn how to protect yourself, your home and your family from house fires take the Facebook Blunder quiz by searching ‘Electrical Safety Council’ on Facebook, or follow our top tips on their website.