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Firefighters raise concerns over flammable skin products

13 February 2018

NEW STATISTICS released by London Fire Brigade (LFB) show that 15 people have died in fires in the last three years where it’s believed that a flammable skin product was being used.

Firefighters are warning that this figure may rise unless people using these products take greater care. Many commonly used moisturising products, or emollient skin products, contain ingredients like paraffin or petroleum and are highly flammable. These products are widely used by elderly people and those with mobility problems, and help with conditions like eczema, or to prevent bed sores.

LFB group manager Mark Hazelton said: “It’s a real issue that people simply don’t realise that these skin products are in fact highly flammable. You’ve got elderly people, or those with mobility problems, using them liberally on their skin, which is fine, until a flame is introduced into the mix.
“These soak into dressings, clothing and bedding, which makes the fabric flammable. And the problem is, it’s really difficult to wash the product out, even on a hot wash.

“We are really concerned about smokers, and those using candles. If a flammable skin product is being used, a small spark can quickly lead to a serious blaze. This is a real concern for elderly people and those less able to escape if a fire takes hold.”

Emollient skin products are used to manage skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, meaning sufferers wear the product over large areas of their skin - increasing their risk of harm. The Brigade said it wants to make health care professionals and carers aware of the fire risks associated with emollient products, especially when the patient is known to smoke and has mobility issues.

The Brigade is also asking manufacturers to clearly label flammable products. LFB has offered the following advice:

  • Speak to a GP and/or pharmacist about possible alternative products that may be more suitable for the patient’s circumstances;
  • Carers should discourage users of emollient products from smoking unsupervised, especially if they could become confused or fall asleep while smoking;
  • Never smoke in bed;
  • It’s very difficult to wash the product out as it seeps into material so clothing and bed linen should be washed daily on a hot wash to prevent a potentially hazardous build up of paraffin or petroleum. If dressings are used with an emollient, they should be changed daily. Washing doesn’t always remove all of the product;
  • Be aware of the risks for people who also have an airflow mattress. When the mattress comes into contact with a flame, the mattress can act as a blow torch, intensifying the fire;
  • Seek a home fire safety visit from your local fire service. Firefighters can identify fire risks and offer advice on staying safe. The need for safety equipment such as flame retardant bedding/apron, deep ashtrays and water misters/sprinklers will be assessed;
  • Quitting smoking is the best option but switching to vaping poses a much reduced fire risk; and
  • Use fire retardant bedding and night clothes