LFRS warns over cream fire hazard

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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 Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service.

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.

Fire Services have been aware of the fire risk of creams containing paraffin, but we now know the issue extends to non paraffin containing products, so a switch to lower or non-paraffin based products does not remove the risk. Furthermore, washing fabric although will reduce the build up it will not remove all residue and therefore will not remove the risk.

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.

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 NFCC is urging them, their families and carers to be alert to the inherent fire risk and updated fire safety advice. Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service urges people to be mindful if they use emolliants and are smokers or are using/are close to other sources of heat and flame such as lighters, matches, halogen heaters, gas hobs and candles.

NFCC is aware that there have been 56 deaths confirmed as involving emollient use since 2010 in England (@Scottish FRS may wish to ref 6 of 44 deaths in 2018/19 in addition to England figures), 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.

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 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, lighting a cigarette.”


Read more safety information here.