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Which appliances cause the most fires at home?

One of the greatest fears homeowners have is a house fire. In a matter of minutes belongings and lives could be lost. However, government fire statistics have shown that almost 1 in 10 households in England do not have a working fire alarm. This doesn’t sound like much until you realise that is actually 2.2million houses without an alarm (based on the current England housing figure of 24.2 million). 

In 2019/20 there were over 25.5k accidental fires in homes throughout England. Of these, cooking appliances were the largest ignition category, accounting for nearly half (48%). 

But it seems that electricals in general are a leading cause of many accidental fires, with 34% being caused by “misuse of equipment or appliances”, no change from 2018/19. The second largest cause was “faulty appliances and leads” which was responsible for 15% of all accidental household fires.

Appliances caused 15k accidental fires in England in 2019/20, but which are most to blame?

The majority of people will use some form of an electrical appliance at some point during their day, whether it is to help make a meal, clean the house or get ready. Modern man (and woman) have become reliant on these conveniences, but which ones pose the greatest risk of a fire?

Using government fire statistics we have analysed the number of fires caused per appliance, and whether or not the figure has improved compared to the previous year.

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It will probably come as no surprise that the top five fire starting appliances are all high heat producers. Cookers’, including the oven, came in first, being the cause of 8k accidental fires and accounting for 53% of all appliance fires in England. ‘Ring/hot plate’ (1.6k) came in second making up 10.5% of all appliance fires, and ‘Grill/toaster’ (1.4k) came in third with 9% of appliance fires. Thankfully all of these appliances have caused less fires than the year previous, suggesting advanced safety features or improved knowledge. 

What may be shocking to some is that ‘washing machines’ came in 6th, being responsible for over 600 fires in 2019/20. What’s worse is that this is nearly 7% more than the year before.

So, what causes washing machine fires? Common causes include:

  • Heater control relay fault: a fault within the heater control relay can cause it to be stuck in the ‘on’ position, causing the element in the drum to overheat. When the drum is empty of water this can cause a fire. 
  • Capacitor failure: similarly, if the starter capacitor has a current that's weak but not dead, the machine may start to work but will overheat and potentially cause a fire.
  • Printed circuit board (PCB) fault: poorly designed or manufactured PCBs, possibly as a result of cost-cutting and cheaper materials, can result in electrical failures originating at the PCB with fire spreading from that location.
  • Motor and other part failure: any damage or blockages to motors, belts and associated moving parts can cause frictional heat build-up and eventual fire.

15 quick tips on how to avoid electrical fires 

  1. Always check that you use the right fuse to prevent overheating. 
  2. Make sure an electrical appliance has a British or European safety mark when you buy it. 
  3. Certain appliances, such as washing machines, should have a single socket to themselves, as they are high powered. 
  4. When charging electrical goods such as smartphones, look for the CE mark that indicates chargers comply with European safety standards, particularly when replacing the original branded charger. 
  5. Look out for signs of dangerous or loose wiring such as scorch marks, hot plugs and sockets, fuses that blow or circuit-breakers that trip for no obvious reasons, or flickering lights. 
  6. Check and replace any old cables and leads, especially if they are hidden from view, behind furniture for example, or in a place where they could be easily damaged, under mats/rugs. 
  7. Unplugging appliances helps reduce the risk of fire. 
  8. Make sure new appliances are registered so that manufacturers can contact you in the event of any problems. It is easy to do and just takes minutes, just visit registermyappliance.org.uk
  9. Clean your tumble dryer filter after every load.
  10. Take extra care with second-hand appliances, ensure they have been safety checked and are not listed on the product recall register. A list of recalled products is available on the gov.uk Product Recall page.
  11. Keep electrics (leads and appliances) away from water. 
  12. Check toasters are clean and placed away from flammable materials such as curtains, tea towels and kitchen roll.
  13. Be sure to regularly clean the oven, hob and grill and ensure they are in good working order. A buildup of fat and grease can easily ignite a fire. 
  14. Don’t put anything metal in the microwave.
  15. If an appliance has stopped working, seek a professional to take a look. Do not try and open and investigate appliances as this could lead to electrocution and/or a fire.

Top tip An extension lead or adaptor will have a limit to how many amps it can take, so be careful not to overload them to reduce the risk of a fire. Appliances use different amounts of power – a television may use a 3amp plug and a vacuum cleaner a 5amp plug for example.

What should I do if a household appliance starts a fire?

What to do if your appliance causes a fire entirely depends on the type of appliance and the severity of the fire. 

The best solution is prevention. Making sure you have working fire alarms that are checked regularly will go a long way to improving the safety of your home.

It may seem like common sense, but make sure never to try and put out an electrical fire with water. If it is safe to do so and the fire is small, switch off the plug and unplug the appliance - cutting off the power is sometimes enough to stop small fires from getting any worse. 

Particularly prepared and cautious people should invest in a powder fire extinguisher which can be used on electrical fires. 

However the main thing is to ensure you and your family get out as soon as possible. Fires only take five minutes to engulf a house meaning that timing is everything.

Do not wait around to collect belongings. Get out through the nearest exit, call 999 and ask for the fire service, and stay out.

How long does it take for fire services to arrive?

The time it takes for the fire services to arrive at your house differs by county. The fire services with the fastest response times are in Tyne and Wear (5m 55s), Cleveland (6m 09s) and the West Midlands (6m 14s).

The slowest however takes a whole 5m 9s more than the quickest response. The response time in Cornwall is 11m 04s making it the slowest in England, followed by Northumberland (10m 35s) and Hereford and Worcester (10m 23s). Cornwall’s fire response time has actually improved by 2.14% year on year.

However, over half have experienced an increase in response times in 2019/20 compared to 2018/19, Warwickshire experiencing the greatest increase of 7.39%.

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If you think an electrical appliance is faulty, make sure you call a professional to take a look as soon as possible. 

At ElectricalDirect we have a vast range of fire safety equipment. This includes domestic fire equipment, such as smoke detectors and fire alarms and also commercial fire equipment, including fire safety signage and fire extinguishers.

Methodology

Data was sourced and analysed from government fire statistics by ElectricalDirect.


Thursday 18 February, 2021
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