Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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Safer houses - fire deaths halved in UK - but 2 out of 8 homes still need a smoke alarm say Ministers

Safer houses - fire deaths halved in UK - but 2 out of 8 homes still need a smoke alarm say Ministers

COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT News Release (283) issued by COI News Distribution Service. 25 November 2008

Furniture is safer and smoke alarms are now in 80 per cent of homes - these are just some of the reasons for the halving of the numbers of accidental fire deaths in peoples homes.

Great reductions in fire deaths and fire in the UK were marked today as Ministers from Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), and Communities and Local Government met representatives from industry, charities and the fire and rescue service.

In 1988, there were 731 dwelling fire deaths in the UK. Since then the number of dwelling fire deaths in the UK has fallen below 350 - the lowest for nearly 50 years. The fire statistics for accidental fire deaths in England also show a downward trend: the number of lives lost in preventable dwelling fires in 2006 was down to 233 from 509 in 1986. The provisional figures for 2007 are encouraging indicating an 18 per cent reduction to 190 fire deaths in the home.

This reduction in fire deaths is down to a number of factors, most notably the fire furniture regulations, the Government's ongoing media campaign, and innovative prevention activity by local Fire and Rescue Services.

2008 marks the twentieth anniversary of the ground-breaking Furniture and Furnishings Fire Safety Regulations. These were brought in to reduce the then rising numbers of deaths and injuries suffered in fires started in upholstered furniture in the home often through a dropped cigarette.

Similarly, 2008 also marks the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of the national media campaign to promote fire safety messages. In more recent times, since 2002, £31.3 million has been put into the fire safety media campaigns, advertising in print and broadcast media, and £36.4 million has been invested in direct grants to Fire and Rescue Service Authorities to support local community fire safety initiatives. Elements include:

* 2.4 million smoke alarms funded by the Department have been distributed by Fire and Rescue Services to vulnerable people in England;

* 1.9 million free home risk fire check will have been carried out by the fire and rescue service;

* Over 60 student ambassadors have spread the fire safety message to student in over 60 colleges over the last 3 years;

* Celebrity Julie Walters fronts the current TV advertising campaign which promotes smoke alarm maintenance messages;

* Tailored advertising has been broadcast in Sylheti and Urdu on 4 Asian digital TV channels widely watched in England by the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.

* Campaigns have also been run to raise awareness of key fire safety messages with the Somali and Polish communities;

* Education activity by the FRS aimed schools, youth groups and young people.

Meeting representatives from the Fire and Rescue Services in England, Trading Standards, and key charities at an event to celebrate the reduction in deaths and dwelling fires Gareth Thomas, Minster for Trade and Consumer Affairs at Business Enterprise and Regulation, and Sadiq Khan, Fire Minister within Communities and Local Government spoke about the combination of work and strategies that have brought this about.

Consumer Minister Gareth Thomas said:

"Statistics show that the Furniture Regulations have been a great success and saved many lives over the last 20 years. The government, industry, the fire services, consumer groups, enforcement bodies and test laboratories have all worked together to achieve a safety record that's the envy of the world. "But, now we need to ensure that the Furniture Regulations are keeping pace with the latest manufacturing processes. I'll be having a look at the effectiveness of these Regulations so they continue to provide the best protection for consumers."

Also speaking at the event Fire Minister Sadiq Khan said:

"The fact that fire deaths are at their lowest level in nearly fifty years is due in large part to the work of the fire and rescue service, in partnership with the Government.

"But I ask: Has your home got a working smoke alarm? If not, get one now, your safety and the safety your family depends on it.

"We must not be complacent; there is still much work to be done. There are still vulnerable people in our communities who do not know the benefits of smoke alarms, do not check they work regularly and are not careful enough when cooking or smoking. The drive to reduce fire deaths will continue and includes our push to introduce fire safer cigarettes throughout Europe."

Notes to editors

1. For fire safety advice and to book a home risk fire check contact your local Fire and Rescue Service or http://campaigns.direct.gov.uk/firekills/

2. Chronology

During the 1960s the number of domestic fire-related deaths in the UK rose from around 400 at the start of the decade to almost 700 by the end. In the 1970s the numbers of deaths continue to rise passing 800 by the end of the decade.

In 1987, half of the deaths caused by house fires occurred because people were already trapped by the time they knew there was a fire. Just 9 per cent of homes had a smoke alarm in 1987.

In 1988 deaths in the UK were 731 even though fire safety campaigns had started.

1988 and 1993 regulations brought in to cover furniture filling materials and second hand furniture.

2002 Smoking related fires also fell by 25 per cent after the first national media campaign in 2002.

2008 Smoke alarm ownership is now as high as 80per cent following regular advertising campaigns and FRS local initiatives this century.

3. Cigarettes

Ordinary cigarettes are will usually burn themselves down to the filter, whether they are being smoked or not. They can burn for several minutes, starting potentially devastating fires. These are particularly prevalent in the home.

The UK is at the forefront of EU efforts to introduce a standard for fire safer cigarettes.

Fire safer cigarettes are a potential way of reducing accidental fire deaths in the home. These are designed to go out quickly if they are not being smoked for example if dropped. Fire safer cigarettes have stemmed bands in the paper which cut the airflow to the tip of the cigarette and thus it will go out quickly if not regularly inhaled. In 2004, and 2005, New York State and Canada passed legislation for lower /reduced ignition propensity (RIP) cigarettes, based on the New York American Society of Testing and Materials Standards. These are currently the norm in parts of the US, including New York State, as well as all of Canada, and evidence suggests they have resulted in a reduction in home fire deaths.

The introduction of fire safer cigarettes has been championed in Europe by the UK Government and by Fire and Rescue Services. The Chief Fire Officers' Association together with individual fire authorities, the Fire Brigades Union, Fire Officers' Association and other organisations interested in fire safety have come together to lobby under the banner of the RIP coalition.

On 29 November 2007, the EU member states endorsed the European Commission's plans to draw up proposals for a European standard for fire-safer cigarettes. The process of creating a European standard will take up to three years, and will use the existing American standard as a starting point. The UK Government, through the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser's Unit, will be heavily involved in this work.

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