Official statistics from the Home Office reveal that in the year from April 2015 – March 2016, there was an increase in primary fires. For the first time in 14 years, this statistic increased; from around 71,100 in the previous year to 73,400. That’s a 3% jump.

These primary fires account for 45% of all fires attended – meaning that nearly half of all fires attended in the year 2015/16 caused either harm to people or damage to property. It is also alarming to know that 11% of these primary fires were set deliberately.

Common Causes of Fire

Common causes of fire, for either commercial or residential premises, can include:

Electrical fires

  • Appliances left on / unattended
  • Faulty or old wiring
  • Faulty sockets
  • Lights and light fittings
  • Extension leads and overloading
  • Portable electric heaters

Cooking-related Fires

  • Burnt food
  • Unattended cooking
  • Grease / fat build up
  • Faulty appliances
  • Flammable objects being left too near the cooker

Flammable and combustible materials

  • Incorrect storage
  • Incorrect usage
  • Leaving spillages of flammable or combustible materials

Smoking

  • Smoking around flammable or combustible materials
  • Incorrect disposal of cigarette butts
  • Smoking in non-designated areas
  • Candles
  • Children playing with lighters / matches etc.
  • Direct sun rays on reflective surfaces such as mirrors
  • Chimney fires
  • Spontaneous combustion
  • Arson
  • Lightning strike

Electrical fires

With our busy lives and so many electronic devices sharing the same plug adapters, it is very easy to reach for the closest charger and use that, rather than trying to decipher which one came with which device. It is also very easy to leave our devices charging while we sleep to ensure a full battery for when we leave for work in the morning. But both using the wrong charger and prolonged charging are actually common causes for electrical fires in domestic settings.

Damaged wiring, whether the result from an inquisitive pet, age, or even the hoover, is another common fault that most of us are willing to overlook. However, the risk of fire should not be ignored.

Electrical fires are one of the most common, most expensive yet some of the most easily prevented fires. Ignition sources can include anything from using the wrong charger for the wrong device to the overloading of sockets and using the wrong voltage bulb in a light fitting, plus a long list of many more.

For commercial premises, it is essential that all electrical equipment is correctly PAT tested – it only takes one appliance to cause a catastrophic disaster. It is also vital that all electrical equipment is used as intended. Incorrect usage – whether by intent or ignorance – can cause devastating fires. The association of British Insurers has reported that around 60% of private businesses never recover from a fire.

It’s not just your workplace that’s at risk from faulty or misuse of appliances either. Electrical equipment which heats up, such as hair straighteners and irons, are also big risk factors. Always ensure that they are never left unattended when on and always turn them off before leaving a room, preferably by the plug.

Interesting fact: 36% of accidental dwelling fires during 2014/15 were caused by the misuse of electrical equipment and appliances.

Is this the generation of multi-tasking? Let’s admit it, we all do it. How many times do you cook with the hob on and pop in to the other room to watch the TV? It’s okay, because “we’re keeping an eye on it”. But how often do you hear that alarm beep and ignore it? 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 2 minutes… Just to find the pan over boiling as you run back into the room. It’s all too easy to be distracted while cooking.

How many times have you heard the phrase “it cooks itself” about certain foods and meals? Implying that you don’t actually need to oversee it at all. Or what about those times when you have something cooking away in the oven and then realise you need an ingredient from the shop? So you leave the oven on while you go as you’ll “only be five minutes”.

It is easy to envision these scenarios, yet we are all guilty of doing something similar to the above at least once, which has the potential to end in a fire. It is easy to assume the attitude of “it won’t happen to me” but accidents are just that; they are not planned and they can creep up on us at the most unexpected time.

Whether it’s a buildup of grease and grime in the microwave or an over-boiling pan on the stove, cooking-related fires are still the leading cause of domestic blazes. Over 50% of accidental dwelling fires in 2014/15 were cooking related. And, unsurprisingly, the kitchen is the most likely place for a domestic fire to start, followed by the living / dining room.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that your office kitchen is safe from fire either. While all appliances should be PAT tested, there is still the risk of human error. Placing the wrong materials in a microwave (such as tin foil or cans) or leaving flammable materials (such as the photocopying you’ve just spent an hour doing) near a heat source can have equally damaging results.

Interesting fact: 46% of all fires happen between 4pm – 10pm, with the peak being 7pm – 8pm. A coincidence perhaps, that it coincides with the time that a vast majority of people are cooking.

Flammable and Combustible Materials

We have all done it at some point. We pick up a new product, be it a new kitchen cleaner or paint thinner, and place it straight in our cupboards at home without even looking at the storage instructions. We then open the container and perhaps we do not close it fully before placing it back with all the other similar products. But what we don’t consider is any potential chemical reactions that may be going on between several half-open containers or how close the cupboard is to a heat source.

The incorrect storage and usage of flammable and combustible materials is a major risk of fire. Whether it’s ignorance or plain outright ignoring safety rules at work by smoking in undesignated areas, the risks are the same.

Leaving materials such as paper next to a source of heat, or ignoring a spillage which then has machinery that’s sparking used near it, can both lead to dire results. It is vital that storage and usage instructions are followed on any and all flammable or combustible materials.

Interesting fact: Skin creams containing paraffin are causing people to accidentally set themselves alight – in some cases, the results have been fatal. Six fire brigades in England have reported 37 deaths linked to the products since 2010.

Smoking

We all do it. It’s getting late, we’re tired and should have gone to bed half an hour ago. But we decide in our wisdom to “just do this” before we retire for the night. For some people, it’s one more cup of tea. For some people, it’s just one more episode of the series you’re binge watching on Netflix. And for some people, it’s just one more cigarette. While falling asleep and leaving half a cup of tea or falling asleep during the final episode is annoying, falling asleep and leaving an unextinguished cigarette is far more dangerous.

According to official statistics released by the Home Office, 6% of accidental dwelling fires are caused by smoking and/or its related materials. However, fires caused by smoking is the largest cause of fatalities in accidental dwelling fires, with a staggering 36% share.

Whether it’s falling asleep with a lit cigarette, the improper extinguishing of a cigarette, the use of an inadequate ashtray or combining smoking with the use of alcohol or drugs, a fire started by smoking has the potential to spread rapidly. They are also more likely to happen between the hours of midnight – 6am; the same time period when most fatalities happen (25%), despite only 13% of all fires happening during these hours.

Your commercial premises are also at risk of fires caused by smoking. Ensure that you have designated smoking areas away from flammable or combustible materials and ensure that proper disposal is possible. While you may not be able to completely stop smoking at work, you can take precautions to avoid accidental fires.

Interesting fact: A third of all fire deaths in the country are attributed to cigarettes, making the proportion of fatalities staggering.

Some Interesting Statistics

There were 162,000 fires attended in 2015/16 – a 5% increase than the previous year. Despite this small increase, the number of total fires is still 52% lower than a decade ago. Dwelling fires are the most common type of primary fire, accounting for 43% of primary fires in 2015/16 and almost a fifth of all fires. The increase in primary fires to non-dwelling buildings saw a 3% rise – making a total of 16,000 incidents.

Now we are aware of the common causes of fire, we explore the health and structural risks of fire in our next blog post.