Government statistics show that the largest number of accidental reported fires caused by electricity in the home is due to people misusing electrical cooking appliances, including microwaves. So just what should you do to protect you in your home?
Over 20,000 cases of accidental fires in UK homes each year are caused by electricity, with nine out of ten of those being the result of electrical products, rather than faults in installations or user error.
The five products that are said to cause the most electrical fires in UK homes are electric cooking appliances, such as cookers and microwaves (but not deep fat fryers), washing machines/tumble dryers, electrical lighting, portable heaters and TVs.
However, Electrical Safety First – a UK charity dedicated to reducing deaths and injuries caused by electrical accidents – says that by having the electrics in your home checked regularly and by taking some simple precautions with your electrical appliances, you can reduce the risk of fire.
Residual Current Device (RCD)
Get an RCD fitted; this is a life-saving device which is designed to prevent you from getting a fatal electric shock if you touch something live, such as a bare wire. It provides a level of protection that ordinary fuses or circuit-breakers can’t. Similar to a smoke detector, an RCD installed in your fusebox could actually save your life.
If a fire starts in your home, a smoke alarm will be able to provide you with an early warning signal, giving you valuable time to escape. And they don’t cost the earth either. Modern alarms are neat and tidy, and cost under £10. Many local Fire and Rescue Services will come to your home and carry out a Home Fire Risk Check to help keep you and your family safe. For more information contact your local Fire and Rescue Service on their non-emergency contact number (not 999).
Using electrical appliances
Always remember to take care when using electrical appliances. Never allow leads from other appliances such as kettles or toasters to trail across the cooker. And never use the area on top of the microwave for extra storage.
And it may seem a simple point – but always remember to turn the cooker off when you have finished using it. It’s all too easy to be distracted by life’s busy tasks so it’s always worth a check once you have finished using it.
Don’t store combustible materials such as clothes, papers, cleaning materials etc close to your service head (cutout fuse), electricity meter or fusebox, particularly if these are under the stairs – which is your means of escape from upper levels in an emergency.
There have been a number of serious fires in homes where a fault in such electrical equipment has caused adjacent stored materials to catch fire – whereas the effects of the fire would have been contained if they were in fact, not there.
Employ the services of a qualified electrician
Homeowners should have their electrical installation checked by a registered electrician at least every ten years and when you move home. The easiest way to find out when the last check (known as a periodic inspection or condition report) was carried out and when the next one is due is by locating the label fixed on or near your fusebox.
For tenants, simply ask your landlord for a copy of the certificate or report confirming that the electrical installation meets the UK national standard BS 7671 and is safe to use.
Check your sockets regularly. If you see burn marks on the sockets or they feel hot, get a registered electrician to check if they need repairing or replacing. Plugging in too many appliances into one socket, especially appliances with a high electrical current rating such as kettles, irons and heaters, is a big no-no.
Turn off any electrical appliances not in use
Aside from doing this to keep down the risk of fire, it will also help with keeping your electricity bills down.
If you’re not using them – especially at night when a fire can quickly spread unnoticed and cause more danger and damage – turn it off!
Always ensure that you never use a bulb with a higher wattage than that recommended on the light fitting or lamp shade you are using.
Be careful when using hand-held electrical appliances such as hair dryers and hair straighteners, and make sure that you switch them off and unplug them when you have finished. These can get very hot in normal use and, if you leave them on, can easily cause any combustible material that they are in contact with to catch fire.