SafeGroup has put together a 10 point guide of things you can do right now and steps you can take to safeguard your nearest and dearest.
1: Install and Test a Smoke Alarm
We all have at least one smoke detector, but how do we know how effective they are? Testing your smoke alarm and installing it correctly can make a huge difference to the safety of your home.
No matter what type of alarm you have, you need to test it every six months by pressing the test button. If you have a battery operated alarm, you should also change the batteries when you test it.
It may not seem important, but there a few things to bear in mind when installing your alarm. You should place them far from any source of ventilation, such as doors, windows, fans or air vents. They are also ideally placed in the centre of your ceiling, at least two feet away from the corners of the room. If you need to place your alarm on the wall, it should be installed between 6 and 30 inches away from the ceiling.
2: Work Safely in the Kitchen
Too often it is the case that house fires begin as the result of a mishap in the kitchen. Luckily there are a number of ways you can avoid such incidents.
Simple common sense suggests that you should stay in the kitchen whenever you are cooking. If you do have to leave the kitchen even for a minute then turn off any burners – you can easily turn them back on when you return and resume cooking. If you are making any meals which require that you cook with oil, keep a large oven tray nearby so that you can suffocate any flames or fires that start in the pan. Never move the pan and do not try to put the fire out with water as a disaster will ensue.
It should also go without saying that you should never operate anything in the kitchen when under the influence of drink, drugs or lack of sleep.
3: Avoiding Fires Caused by Smokers in the Home
Smoking cigarettes inside the house is currently one of the single biggest causes of house fires. If there are cigarette smokers living at home, there are various precautions which should be taken in order to limit the fire risk associated with smoking.
Most houses contain many flammable items and materials. As a result, if at all possible, it is recommended that all smoking is limited to outside of the confines of the house.
If you do decide to smoke inside, it is important to make sure there are no flammable materials nearby. If you choose to smoke near a window, take care to ensure that your cigarette does not come into contact with the curtains.
When smoking outside the house, it is still important to make sure there is nothing around which could catch light, such as debris.
In addition, the unsafe disposal of cigarettes poses a huge fire risk. Therefore, particular attention should be paid to ensuring that cigarette butts are disposed of in a safe manner.
4: Check Your Appliances for Fire Risks
A fault with a home appliance is one of the most common causes of house fires. Follow these tips to monitor appliances and help make your home safer.
Remember to regularly check the condition of plugs and cables on your electrical items. If you notice any defects you should repair the damage right away.
Keep your oven and vent hoods clean, regularly monitoring grease build-up. If your oven has an exterior vent it should also be checked regularly for blockages.
The most important step you can take to prevent fire caused by dryers is to clean out the lint filter after each use. Make sure you have a smoke detector and fire extinguisher within close reach of the dryer and try to stay close while the dryer is on. Remember to also make sure the outside vent is kept clean and have the dryer checked out by a professional if it isn’t running correctly.
5: Check Your Home’s Electrical System
Poorly installed electrical wiring or wiring that’s become damaged isn’t just unreliable — it can also be a cause of house fires. Checking your home’s electrical system from time to time can help you spot potentially dangerous damage before any harm is done.
Check wall sockets for signs of heat damage. Your first clue that there’s a problem may be that the plastic of your sockets becomes melted and discoloured.
Look in your loft, stair cupboards and any other spaces where you might find exposed wiring. Check the wires to make sure that the plastic insulation hasn’t been nibbled or pulled away by mice, rats or other pests.
Check your fuse boxes to make sure they have been installed properly and are not overloaded. Older fuse boxes may need to be replaced.
Be aware of any flickering or dimming lights, as well as dips and surges in power. The more often they occur, the more likely it is that faulty domestic wiring is the culprit rather than an external issue.
6: Check Your Gas Fittings For Fire Safety Risks
An essential factor when thinking about fire prevention in your home is the safety of your gas fittings and gas appliances, as un-checked fittings could leak dangerous carbon monoxide fumes. Loose fittings, faulty appliances and leaks can all go unnoticed to the average householder, but can be fatal and result in tragedy.
Appliances should be checked once a year by a Gas Safe registered engineer, however you should also be on the lookout for signs that there is a problem with your fittings in between services. Indications that your gas fitting may be hazardous include a pilot light that regularly goes out, yellow, brown or black marks around your appliances, an increase in condensation and an appliance generally not working as it should.
By ensuring your appliances are checked every 12 months, remaining vigilant and calling a Gas Safe registered engineer if you see any of the signs that suggest your gas fittings are faulty, you will be maintaining the safety of your home and family.
7: Maintain and use Your Wood/Gas Fireplace Safely
Any open flame is a fire hazard, so it is important to maintain and use a fireplace properly. A gas system should always be fitted by a certified installer and should be serviced annually. Whether you have a gas or a wood fire, the flue or chimney should be cleaned annually. Ensure that ventilation is adequate and that dampers and flues are working correctly.
Any unattended fire should be protected with a fireguard or screen. With a wood fire, minimise sparks and soot by burning dry, seasoned wood and avoiding woods that tend to spark a lot, such as cedar. Firelighters can help get a fire started, but you should never use lighter fluid or petrol. A clean fireplace is safer. Use metal utensils and containers to clear ashes, and check the fireplace for cracks in the hearth or the firebox.
As always, you should fit a smoke alarm, preferably one with a carbon monoxide detector, and check its batteries regularly. Do not burn charcoal, which can generate carbon monoxide.
8: Buy a Fire Extinguisher for your Home
It is estimated that there are around 60,000 house fires each year in the United Kingdom, leading to property damage, injury and even death. When used alongside other fire prevention tools, such as smoke alarms and sprinklers, a fire extinguisher can help minimise damage and stop a small fire from becoming a large one.
However, different types of extinguishers are designed for different types of fires, so it’s important to choose the right one:
- Foam – Can be used on soft furnishings, carpets and flammable liquids.
- CO2 – Suitable for electrical fires.
- Water – Free of harmful chemicals and designed for fires involving furniture and carpets.
- Powder – Tackles the widest range of fires, but the most difficult to clean up afterwards.
- Wet chemical – Designed for fighting kitchen fires involving hot cooking oil.
Used correctly and placed in an easy-to-reach location, a fire extinguisher is an invaluable household tool for keeping your loved ones and your property safe.
9: Consider Installing a Sprinkler System in Your Home
House fires can be devastating; even if everyone escapes unhurt and the only damage is to property, the emotional and financial impact – even with insurance – can be colossal.
Making every effort to prevent a fire will do much to help you sleep at night. For example, never leave unattended pans on the stove, get your electrical fittings and appliances checked regularly, and take care never to leave a cigarette or candle burning after everyone has gone to bed.
However, if you have open fires, wood-burning stoves, or range cookers, you may wish to consider a sprinkler system. The advantage over a simple smoke or fire alarm is that not only will you be alerted to impending danger, but the sprinkler system will jump into action to limit damage – ideal for extra peace of mind if you are also away a great deal.
Whilst a sprinkler system might seem like overkill at first glance, it could be the difference between a minor fire and extensive damage.
10: Prepare an Escape Plan for Your Family
Because of how quickly fire can sweep through a building it’s vitally important to have an escape plan in place. Here are some of the most important things you can do to safeguard your family from fire.
Smoke detectors should be installed on each floor of the family home and a list of exit routes should be drawn up for each room in the house. Test these exit routes, especially at night, as no electric light may be available if a fire occurs.
Ensure that everyone is aware that they need to evacuate if either a fire alarm goes off, or someone calls out ‘fire’. Have a meeting place in mind outside of the home, which can act as a safe haven.