'Blunders' with electrical appliances put lives at risk
Firefighters have urged the public to take measures to improve their own safety after three quarters of South West residents admitted to appliance blunders which could spark flames.
Appliance misuse is already the top cause of fires in the region, and now research by the Electrical Safety Council shows the vast majority are leaving themselves open to risk.
The charity, whose campaign is supported by the Chief Fire Officers Association, has issued guidance, top tips and a Facebook application to help combat easily avoidable safety mistakes.
Group manager Alan Coxon, Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service community safety prevention manager, urged people to protect their families against the "devastating" effects of fire.
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He said: "Electrical fires account for around half of all house fires in the UK, but the Electrical Safety Council has found many of these are caused by common blunders that could be avoided."
In the South West, a third of respondents admitted creating a fire hazard by using the microwave as an extra surface and blocking air vents, while 8 per cent confessed they left the tumble dryer on overnight.
Just under half owned up to blocking air vents by failing to clean behind their fridge or freezer, while 15% said they overloaded adaptor sockets, causing an unsafe rise in temperature. Nearly one in ten said they had left an electrical appliance on while unattended, only to be alerted by a burning smell.
Fires caused by appliance misuse have increased by over a third since 2009, despite an overall decline in house fires.
On average, "blunder" fires kill 22 UK people, seriously injure about 2,500 and cost tens of millions of pounds in damage each year. In the last year alone, there were 14,700 such fires nationwide.
Meanwhile, there has been a considerable increase in the number of higher-risk appliances in homes – since 2004, the number of microwaves has increased by 1,457,000.
Despite the increased risk, many South West adults do not have proper protection from electrical fires. Less than half have a Residual Current Device in their fusebox, a vital safety device which minimises the risk of fire by cutting off the power in the event of a fault. However, more than four out of five believe their homes are electrically safe.
Phil Buckle, director general of the Electrical Safety Council, said: "People think they are behaving safely, but the majority of people we surveyed had put themselves at risk by unknowingly making a safety blunder."
The charity has created a Fire Blunder game on Facebook, which helps identify mistakes and improve safety. People can also download the free Home Electrical Safety Check smartphone app or visit the ESC's website for tips.