People who use emollients and smoke are at greater risk of setting themselves on fire, due to the flammable residue that may be left on clothes, bandages and bedding, warns the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).
The warning comes after research from Anglia Ruskin University, De Montfort University and the NFCC’s Emollient Group confirmed that both paraffin and non-paraffin emollients can act as an accelerant when absorbed into clothing and exposed to naked flames or other heat sources. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has partnered with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), Fire and Rescue Services and health charities in a new campaign to raise awareness of the fire risk and the precautions that need to be taken by users of skin creams.
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.
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.
Over 60’s who smoke and have reduced mobility are those most at risk and NFCC is urging them, their families and carers to be alert to the inherent fire risk and updated fire safety advice. The NFCC urges they are mindful if smoking or using sources of heat and flame such as lighters, matches, electric/halogen heaters, gas hobs and candles.
NFCC is aware that there have been 56 deaths confirmed as
involving emollient in England since 2010. In addition, six of the 44 fire deaths
reported in Scotland in 2018/19 involved emollient products.
The NFCC is working with Fire and Rescue Services to ensure
the fire risks associated with emollients are understood by staff and discussed
during home fire safety visits.
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service have produced the below leaflet and 7 minute briefing to provide more information about the fire risk associated with emollient creams:
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