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Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service warns of fire risk when using emollients

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, warns Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service (BFRS).

The warning comes after research from the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), Anglia Ruskin University and De Montfort University, confirmed that both paraffin and non-paraffin emollients can act as an accelerant when absorbed into clothing and exposed to naked flames or other heat sources.

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 to purchase 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.

Testing confirmed that the flammability increases each time the fabric is contaminated with emollient and the risk is greater when applied over large parts of the body.

Repeated washing of clothing, bandages and bedding at any temperature does not remove the fire risk.

Over 60’s who smoke and have reduced mobility are those most at risk and the NFCC is urging them, their families and carers to be alert to the inherent fire risk and updated fire safety advice. BFRS urges people in this group to be mindful if smoking or using sources of heat and flame such as lighters, matches, halogen heaters, gas hobs and candles.

The NFCC is aware there have been 56 deaths confirmed as involving emollient use since 2010 in England, but there could be many more and is therefore working with fire and rescue services to ensure the fire risks associated with emollients are understood.

Joanne Cook, BFRS Community Safety Manager, said: “Scientific evidence confirms for the first time that non-paraffin emollients pose the same fire risk as those containing paraffin.

“If you use emollient skin products, or care for somebody who does, we want you to be aware of the risks and exercise caution when close to naked flames or potential ignition sources, for example cigarettes, open, gas or halogen fires, or gas hobs.

“Our Service is committed to improving the safety of those in our community and want to do all we can to prevent a tragedy from happening.

“While working smoke detection will provide an early alert to a fire which has already begun, implementing preventative measures to reduce the risk of a fire starting is even better.

If you or a family member use emollient skin products and you have any concerns or would like to request a free Fire and Wellness visit to receive fire safety advice in your home, please contact 01296 744477 or email centraladmin@bucksfire.gov.uk.


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