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By Damian Brady
20th February 2012


“Sure it’ll never happen to me”.  That’s an expression we have all used subconsciously.  We are unaware that we are wasting money and potentially causing fires.  As smart savvy people we all know not to leave a chip pan unattended, let a child play with matches or leave a lighted candle in a window with a curtain. However, how many of us have left appliances plugged in when they are not in use?

We are looking at both commercial and domestic situations.  Did you ever notice that when your phone charger is plugged in it gets hot?  Check it out the next time you charge your phone.  After a few hours plugged in put your hand on the charger. Be careful here, you don’t want to burn your house down!   When an appliance is warm the heat builds up gradually and can go on fire.  “Not to me” I hear you say.  Unfortunately, it can.

Remember in order for something to have combustion, you need three elements of the “fire triangle”, which are heat, fuel and oxygen. With an appliance, the electricity doesn’t burn.  The wiring and plastic casing is the fuel.  The air that we breathe contains 24% oxygen and the heat is introduced by the electrical current.

Not everything is built perfectly. Excess heat can build up and cause fire not only to itself, but also everything around it.  Even if the charger doesn’t go on fire, the excess heat can cause combustion to items beside the charger which are called class A materials.  Class A materials include anything made from paper, wood and textiles.

Jim Dunphy, chairman of the Chief Fire Officers Association, warned that there was a risk of a house fire from phone chargers if the heat that built up inside them was unable to escape."Mobile phone chargers and televisions on standby are a risk. They have caused fires," said Mr Dunphy at the Fire Officers Annual Conference in Killiney, Co Dublin.  "Don't leave them plugged in. If they overheat the plastic can start to melt and set fire to clutters of paper."

We all use laptops today.  I’m sure you have noticed that when your laptop is plugged in and sitting on your lap, it gets warm.  You decide you want a cup of tea.  You place the laptop on your seat.  The seat is made from fabric, a class A material.  While making the tea, the phone rings and you go and talk to someone. You have forgotten about the laptop on the cushion.  Heat builds up and causes a fire.  Poof!

Hair straighteners are something commonly used and highly dangerous.  I don’t have to use them, if you know what I mean.  In general, girls use hair straighteners.  When your daughter is getting dolled up to go out on Saturday night has she ever left the hair straightener switched on and lying on the bed?

Factory runs for example, [one shift, 5 days per week], items should not be plugged in when not in use because they generate heat and can cause a fire.  You waste money because the heat being generated wastes your electricity and can in fact wear out the appliance.  How? Because as it heats, it can wear out electrical parts and fracture solder points.  This in turn creates a spark, called arcing, which can cause a fire.

Relative to businesses, you are governed by The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and The 1981 Fire Services Act.  Sections 8, 9 and 10 of The 2005 Act require that “sufficient information, training and supervision is provided to ensure the safety of employees, and also that such instruction, training etc. must take account of any employees with specific needs, to ensure their protection against dangers that may affect them. This includes fire safety management and the use of fire extinguishers. There is also a requirement to prepare an emergency plan that outlines how the workplace will be evacuated in the event of a fire outbreak. The employer must appoint a responsible person known as the Fire Safety Manager to ensure emergency plans are prepared and that training takes place. This includes training in the use of fire extinguishers and training in emergency evacuation. This training is usually in the form of fire warden training”.

Some items need to be left plugged in 24/7, such as some computer equipment, security equipment and some equipment that needs to be kept warm.  Even something that is creating cold, like a fridge, generates heat (check out the compressor, normally at the back).  Common sense, which unfortunately isn’t very common sometimes, says that those appliances should be in a well ventilated area, as per manufacturer’s guidelines.

In one recent fire, a family were forced to flee their home when their television burst into flames and burnt the house to the ground. Late-night chip pan fires, [often after alcohol has been consumed by the homeowner], lit cigarettes, children playing with matches and electrical faults continue to be the main causes of fatal house fires. The vast majority of fatalities happened in houses or apartments where there were no working smoke alarms present. Smoke alarms are proven to increase survival rates.

We have all been guilty of some of these things in the past.  Never give fire a chance.  Fire does not discriminate.  Being aware of some simple basic facts can keep you safe. The life you save may be your own!

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