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Home » News & Events » 2020 » July » HWFRS joins in with warning of fire risk when using emollients

HWFRS joins in with warning of fire risk when using emollients

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Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service is supporting the National Fire Chiefs Council’s warning after research showed that people who use emollients and smoke are at greater risk of setting themselves on fire, due to the flammable residue that may be left on clothes, bandages and bedding.

Emollient products, which include creams, ointments, sprays and body wash formulations are used by millions of people every day to manage dry, itchy or scaly skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and ichthyosis. They may contain paraffin or other ingredients such as shea or cocoa butter, beeswax, lanolin, nut oil or mineral oils which can leave a flammable residue.

Commonly prescribed by GPs, nurses and other clinicians - as well as being available in chemists and supermarkets - emollients are not flammable in themselves. The risk occurs when they absorb into fabrics and are then exposed to naked flames or heat sources resulting in a fire that burns quickly and intensely and can cause serious injury or death.

“Flammability increases each time the fabric is contaminated with emollient and the risk is greater when applied over large parts of the body,” said Group Commander Mick Cadman of the HWFRS Community Risk department. “Repeated washing of clothing, bandages and bedding at any temperature does not remove the fire risk.

“Over 60s who smoke and have reduced mobility are those most at risk and we urge them, their families and carers to be alert to the inherent fire risk and to be mindful if smoking or using sources of heat and flame such as lighters, matches, electric/halogen heaters, gas hobs and candles.”

The NFCC is aware that there have been 56 deaths confirmed as involving emollient in England since 2010. In addition, six of the 44 fire deaths reported in Scotland in 2018/19 involved emollient products.
Chris Bell, NFCC’s Emollient Lead, said: “This new fire safety advice is based on scientific evidence that confirms for the first time that non-paraffin emollients pose the same fire risk as those containing paraffin.

“If you use an emollient skin product, or care for somebody who does, stay away or be extra careful when near to naked flames or potential ignition sources, for example, lighting a cigarette. People need to be aware that washing does not remove the risk.

“We want to do all we can to prevent another tragedy from happening and if you have any concerns or want further advice, please contact your local Fire and Rescue Service.”

People who use emollient products are advised not to:

  • Smoke, if there is any risk that their clothing, dressings or bedding are contaminated with emollient.
  • Use gas or electric hobs when wearing clothes contaminated with emollient
  • Sit too close to sources of heat such as open flames or gas fires, electric or halogen heaters if there is any risk that their clothing or dressings may be contaminated with emollient.