Safety in the home
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You should have working smoke alarms fitted on every level of your home. They give you vital time to ‘get out, stay out and call 999’ if ever you’re unlucky enough to have a fire.
And it’s crucial that you test them regularly – we advise once a week. You can use the ‘follow’ button to get our Twitter #TestitTuesday reminders.
A smoke alarm with the batteries missing is useless. If you must take the battery out, make sure you replace it there and then.
Every six months you should open the alarm case and gently vacuum inside to remove dust from the sensor. If the smoke alarm doesn’t open, vacuum through the holes.
Change the battery every year (unless it’s a ten-year alarm) or when you need to. Alarms give out an intermittent bleep to let you know the battery’s running low.
If you don’t have a smoke alarm, we may be able to fit them for you during one of our Safe and Well visits.
Kitchen fires account for nearly two thirds of accidental fires at home, but many can be easily avoided.
Always remember to ‘Watch what you heat’:
- make sure you don’t get distracted when you’re cooking
- take pans off the heat, or turn the heat down, if you need to leave the kitchen
- make sure handles don’t stick out, so pans don’t get knocked off the hob
- take care if you’re wearing loose clothing, which can easily catch fire, and keep tea towels and cloths a safe distance away from the cooker
- never leave children alone in the kitchen
- double check the cooker is off when you’ve finished
- don’t cook if you’ve been drinking alcohol or taken medication that makes you drowsy.
Deep fat frying
- use a thermostat-controlled deep fat fryer – they stop the fat getting too hot
- don’t fill a chip pan or other deep fat fryer more than one third full of oil
- make sure food is dry before you put it in hot oil, to avoid it splashing
- if a pan catches fire, never use water on it – it will cause a fireball
- never tackle a pan fire yourself
- Get out, stay out and call 999.
Having a smoke alarm is the first crucial step to protecting yourself from fire. But what would you do if it went off during the night? A well-practised escape plan could be a life-saver if you have a fire.
Make sure you have an escape plan involving everyone who lives in your home, and share the plan with any visitors.
Our video on this section covers the important information, but here are some top tips to keep you safe:
- the best escape route is the normal way in and out of your home
- make sure everyone knows where your door and window keys are kept.
- think of any difficulties you may have getting out, e.g. at night you may need a torch
- keep the route and exits clear of obstructions
- think about how children, older or disabled people or pets will get out
- choose a second escape route, in case your first choice is blocked.
- NEVER be tempted to tackle a fire yourself, however small it appears. ALWAYS get out, stay out, call 999.
If you can’t escape, you’ll need to find a room to take refuge in. This is especially important if you have difficulty moving around on your own.
When you’re asleep, it takes longer to sense a fire and escape safely. It’s really important to check your home for fire hazards before you go to bed:
- close inside doors at night to stop a fire spreading
- check the cooker’s off, and don’t leave the washing machine, tumble dryer or dishwasher on
- turn off and unplug electrical appliances (unless they’re meant to be left on, like a freezer)
- don’t leave mobile phones, electric cigarettes or gadgets charging overnight
- keep a phone close to your bed, in case you need to call 999, but make sure there are no trailing wires
- put candles and cigarettes out properly
- turn heaters off and put up fireguards
- make sure exits are kept clear
- tell everyone in your home the escape plan and where the keys are kept.
You can’t see it, taste or smell it – but it can kill you quickly, with no warning.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a highly-poisonous gas. It’s created when fossil fuels such as natural gas and solid fuels like charcoal and wood fail to combust fully, because of a lack of oxygen.
It can come out of gas appliances and chimney flues, and even barbecues – which is why you should never take a smouldering or lit BBQ indoors, or into anywhere like a tent or caravan. Even if you’ve finished cooking, your BBQ will give off fumes for hours after use.
You can buy detectors and alarms which measure the CO at home and warn you if it’s too high. You can also get portable, battery-powered ones to use if you go camping, caravanning and travelling.
Always buy from a reputable store, or your energy provider. The detector should be marked EN50291 and have the British Standards Kitemark or another European approval organisation’s mark on it.
If you have work done in your home involving gas appliances such as boilers or cookers, they should always be carried out by a gas engineers who is on the Gas Safe Register, it’s the law.
You can find registered gas engineers, or check their credentials on the Gas Safe Register website.
Electrical goods are used all over the home. Most home gadgets have rechargeable batteries. Knowing how to look after these items properly, following manufacturers’ instructions and staying safe is more important than ever.
- Phones and Gadgets
- Electric Blankets
- Small electrical goods
- E-cigarettes and vaping
- Large electrical goods
- Register your goods
Phones and Gadgets
Mobile phones, tablets and laptops – just some of the ways we communicate. Looking after and charging them properly is important.
- NEVER leave items charging under pillows or on/in your bed
- don’t overcharge items. Once they’re charged, unplug them
- don’t use fake chargers – always use branded, genuine plugs and cables
- if cables become broken, frayed or damaged, stop using and replace them
- check that the output voltage and current ratings marked on the charger and your electrical device are the same
- always buy goods from reputable retailers and check they meet British safety standards
Microwaves are very handy, but can be dangerous. Many fires can start in microwaves if they’re not used properly.
- never leave cooking items unattended
- never use metal or non-microwave containers in a microwave
- be very careful with non-food items like wheat-based hand/body warmers. They can continue to heat after the microwave stops, causing a fire
- Only place containers, plates and bowls that are certified to be safe for use in a microwave.
Age UK say that damaged electric blankets cause more than 5‚000 house fires a year, and people aged 65 or more are at greatest risk. Danger signs include: fraying fabric, scorch marks, exposed elements, a worn flex.
- never use an electric blanket if it’s wet, and never switch it on to dry it
- never use a hot water bottle and an electric blanket together
- make sure the power’s turned off at the wall and the blanket’s unplugged when not in use
- always spread the blanket out flat – never use it folded
- store the blanket carefully when it is not in use
- always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your particular blanket.
Small electrical goods
Kettles, toasters, blenders and more. Small electrical items make our kitchens. Here are some tips on using them:
- never leave them unattended when in use
- always ensure wiring is in good condition and sockets aren’t overloaded
- if you spill water or other liquids over them, switch them off at the wall and have an electrician test them before using them again
- don’t overfill things like kettles and blenders
- always follow manufacturers’ guidelines.
E-cigarettes and vaping
You should always follow the manufacturers guidelines when using an e-cigarette or vape unit. Ensure you carefully read and adhere to any warnings supplied with the product such as battery capacities, charging voltages and using the correct charger.
- Do not change or modify your e-cigarette or vape, and if you are replacing parts ensure you only use approved replacement ones
- Make sure your e-cigarette or vape isn’t left charging beyond when it’s full
- Never leave your e-cigarette or vape charging unattended, either overnight or when you’re out of the house
- When purchasing a new e-cigarette or vape make sure all the parts are from reputable retailers and that they comply with European Safety standards – they should display the CE mark
- Never keep your e-cigarette or vape batteries loose in your pocket, particularly next to keys or coins. They can short or heat up and could cause burns or fire.
Large electrical goods
They help us to keep our clothes clean and dry and our food fresh. Here are some key tips to keeping your large electrical goods safe:
- don’t leave them on overnight or unattended
- remove the lint and fluff from filters on tumble dryers and washing machines
- keep appliances ventilated and use correct wiring and venting pipes (where appropriate)
- purchase goods from a reputable dealer and follow manufacturers’ instructions for installing, using and cleaning
Whenever you purchase a new product, especially electrical goods, you should register it with the manufacturer.
Registering your product makes it possible for the manufacturer to easily get in touch with you if there are issues with the product or it is identified as faulty or dangerous.
To register your goods you can look up the manufacturer yourself and check with them, or alternatively, take a look at our page which has many of the major UK electronics brands and links to their registration pages!
Used carefully, open fires can make your home warm and welcoming. Most chimney fires are preventable, and there are lots of things you can do to stay safe.
Chimneys that aren’t swept regularly will have soot deposits which may fall back down the chimney, setting fire to carpets and furniture. Clean chimneys are the safest ones. They should be swept regularly to avoid the build-up of soot, as well as debris and obstructions such as birds’ nests, according to the fuel:
- smokeless/oil/gas – at least once a year
- bitumous coal – at least twice a year
- wood – quarterly when in use
Don’t overload the fire with fuel and avoid burning inappropriate waste, like food, green timber, plastic and MDF. Flammable liquids such as petrol or paraffin should never be used to light the fire.
Sparkguards or fireguards can prevent sparks or embers igniting carpets or furniture. Always use a fireguard in front of the fire if there are children in the property and never dry anything on your fireguard.
Candles can create a relaxing or special atmosphere. They also bring fire into your home. So treat them carefully. Be sure to keep a burning candle in sight, and extinguish them before leaving a room or going to sleep.
- never burn a candle on, or near, anything that can catch fire
- keep them out of the reach of children and pets, and away from anywhere they might knock them over
- place burning candles at least three inches apart so they don’t melt one another or create draughts that can cause the candles to flare
- always use a sturdy, heat-resistant candle holder on a heat-resistant surface that’s big enough to contain drips and melted wax
- keep burning candles away from draughts, vents, ceiling fans and air currents. Draughts could also blow light-weight items into a flame where they could catch fire.
Putting them out
Extinguishing candles with water could be dangerous. It might cause hot wax to splatter, which could cause a glass container to break. Instead, use a metal spoon or a snuffer. Make sure a candle is completely extinguished and the wick is no longer glowing before leaving the room. Never use a candle as a night light. Never touch or move a burning candle when the wax is liquid.
Fires caused by smoking materials (including cigarettes, roll-ups, cigars and pipe tobacco) result in more deaths than any other type of fire. But smokers can take some simple steps to stay safe.
- Make sure your cigarette is fully extinguished: Put it out, right out!
- Take extra care when you’re tired, taking any sort of drugs or have been drinking alcohol. It’s very easy to fall asleep while your cigarette is still burning. Never smoke in bed. If you need to lie down, don’t light up
- Never leave lit cigarettes, cigars or pipes unattended – they can easily overbalance as they burn down
- Use a proper, heavy ashtray that can’t tip over easily and is made of a material that won’t burn
- Tap your ash into an ashtray, never a wastebasket containing other rubbish – and don’t let the ash or cigarette ends build up in the ashtray
- Do not empty the hot contents of an ashtray into a bin. A drop of water in the ashtray will help to make it safe, then leave it to cool down fully
- Keep matches and lighters out of children’s reach. Ideally, buy child-resistant lighters and matchboxes.
People who live in a high-rise are at no greater risk of having a fire because of the type of building in which they live. All high-rise buildings are designed and built to ensure that a fire is contained to the flat where it starts and should not spread to other flats for 60 minutes. This provides time for the fire service to deal effectively with incidents, and should ensure that other residents are not affected.
Evacuation procedures vary from building to building, depending on their design. If you live or work in a high-rise building, the owner or landlord must have an evacuation policy in place specific to that building, so it’s important they share it with you.
If a fire’s happening, our advice will take account of the information we have and of the fire safety measures that should already be in place.
If there is a fire inside a flat or maisonette, the advice is to alert everyone in that particular flat, leave the building by following its evacuation plan and close all the doors. Then call 999.
If there’s a fire in your building, but not your particular flat, you’re usually safer to stay there unless you’re being directly affected by heat or smoke.
If the advice you are given, by your landlord or building owner, is to ‘stay put’, still call 999 immediately for advice and to check that the emergency services know what’s happening. By their very nature, fires are extremely dynamic incidents. Once firefighters arrive and have assessed the situation, the advice to stay put may have to be repeated or changed – but it will depend on several factors, including the nature and spread of the fire, and the building.
But we all know that the ideal situation is to avoid a fire starting in the first place, which is why our prevention work with residents is also extremely important.
High-rise specific safety advice:
All our home safety advice provided on this page applies in the home, whether you live in a high-rise block or not. If you do live in a high-rise block or tower, though, here are some specific tips:
- make sure you know the escape plan for your particular building– your landlord has a legal duty to give you a copy, so ask for one if you haven’t had it
- keep exits clear – in your own flat and in shared areas
- never wedge a fire door open
- don’t make changes to your flat’s front door without seeking advice from the managing agency
- keep corridors and stairwells clear and sterile, eg do not dump rubbish or old furniture there
- if you have any concerns, raise them as soon as you can with your landlord.
Petrol and other fuels, particularly when stored at home, present a potential hazard. They can give off highly flammable vapours. You need to inform your local Petroleum Enforcement Authority if you store above a certain quantity (see below).
How much can you store at home?
You can store up to 30 litres of petrol at home (or in other non-workplace places such as a motor vehicle, boat or aircraft) without the need for a licence or to inform your local Petroleum Enforcement Authority.
You can store it in:
- A maximum of 2 suitable, purpose-made, portable metal or plastic containers, such as those purchased at a fuel filling station
- one demountable fuel tank
- a combination of the above as long as no more than 30 litres is kept in total
It is illegal to store any quantity of petroleum in a flat or apartment.
If you plan to store more than 30 litres (to a maximum of 275 litres), you must apply to your local Petroleum Enforcement Authority (PEA) in writing. In the West Midlands, West Midlands Fire Service is the PEA.
For any other storage, such as at petrol stations or workplaces, or to store more than 275 litres in non-workplace premises, you require a petroleum certificate. Please see our Petroleum Certificates page.
Where can you store petrol at home?
Petrol and other fuels should never be stored in living areas, which includes living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, under stairs and similar. Any storage should be suitably secured to protect against possible theft, vandalism or arson.
You should take all possible steps to ensure that the storage area is free of potential heat or ignition sources for the fuel vapours.
The storage area for petroleum spirit should be in a fire separated storage area – for example in an attached garage with a block or brick wall between the accommodation and garage areas.
Other tips for safe storage:
- don’t fill a container more than the capacity printed on the label
- petrol is highly flammable and extremely corrosive, which is why it needs to be kept in an appropriate container
- always decant fuel in the open air
- never smoke or have a naked flame near the fuel
- never use petrol or fuel directly on a BBQ or bonfire at home.
You should not use petrol in the same area you’re storing it for any purpose other than:
- in the fuel tank of an internal combustion engine such as a vehicle, petrol lawnmower or similar
- in quantities not exceeding 150 millilitres at any one time) for cleaning or as a solvent for repair purposes.