Fire risk warning for emollient users

West Midlands Fire Service is warning people across the region of the fire risk associated with the use of skin emollients.



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Published on 30 July 2020

West Midlands Fire Service is warning people across the region of the fire risk associated with the use of skin emollients.

Those who use non-paraffin or paraffin emollients and who smoke are at greater risk of setting themselves on fire, due to the flammable residue that may be left on clothes, bandages and bedding.

The warning comes after research from the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), Anglia Ruskin University and De Montfort University, confirmed that all emollients can act as a fire accelerant when dried into clothing and exposed to naked flames or other heat sources such as lighters, matches, halogen heaters, gas hobs and candles.

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.

People who are aged over 60, who smoke and have reduced mobility are those most at risk and West Midlands Fire Service is urging them, their families and carers to be alert to the fire risk and fire safety advice.

Jake Tinsley, Fire Investigation Officer from WMFS’s Fire Investigation and Prevention Section (FIPS), 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 when lighting a cigarette.

“As a fire service, we want to do all we can to prevent another tragedy from happening.”

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.

NFCC is aware of 56 deaths confirmed as involving emollient use since 2010 in England – but there could be many more, so the organisation is working with fire and rescue services to ensure the fire risks are understood.