Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service

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Electric blankets


Introduction


What are the main causes of electric blanket fires?

Old and damaged electric blankets have caused thousands of fires. Faulty blankets are also responsible for deaths and injuries. Some blankets become faulty because they have been used other than in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions, others because of their age.

Who is most at risk?

Older people aged 65 years or more are at greatest risk, with six times the national average of fatal injuries and twice the national average of non-fatal injuries.

Accident statistics

Many electric blankets are potentially lethal. DTI research shows that in 1996 faulty electric blankets caused more than 5,000 fires:
  • There were 19 deaths (compared with 32 in 1985).
  • There were 91 non-fatal injuries (compared with 438 in 1985).
  • The majority of non-fatal injuries (76%) are minor in nature, usually involving smoke inhalation, and do not involve admittance to hospital.
  • At least 99 per cent of electric blanket fires are believed to involve blankets that are more than 10 years old.
  • 89 per cent of the people who died were over 65.

In tests carried out on over 50,000 electric blankets, 70 per cent failed safety tests, and 40 per cent were found unsuitable for further use.

Ownership
  • Sales of electric blankets have fallen from over 1 million in the early 1980s to nearer 800,000 from 1990 onwards, mainly because many people have invested in central heating and double glazing.
  • There are in the region of 10 million blankets in use in the UK. About 30 per cent of these are more than 10 years old (including around 500,000 over 20 years old).
  • Older people and those on low incomes are much more likely to have an electric blanket.

Do you have an electric blanket in the household?
  Total all ages 18-34 years 35-59 years 60-69 years 70 +
Yes 21% 14% 19% 25% 41%
No 78% 85% 80% 75% 8%
Don't Know 1% 1% 1% - 1%
Not Stated 1% 1% 1% - 1%

 

Safety Awarenes


What sort of things can you do to make sure you are using the electric blanket safely?
What sort of things can you do to make sure you are using the electric blanket safely?

Accident Statistics

Fatal accidents by age
Fatal accidents by age

Types of Accident (non-fatal)
Types of Accident (non-fatal)

The nature of minor injuries

The majority of injuries (76 per cent) are minor
The nature of minor injuries

Key safety messages: the danger signs

Have your blanket checked or replaced if it shows any of the following danger signs:
  • It displays the old BEAB safety mark (below)
    (if it carries this mark it will be more than 10 years old and will not comply with the latest safety standard).
BEAB

 

 
  • The fabric is worn or frayed.
  • There are scorch marks anywhere.
  • The tie-tapes (where originally fitted) are damaged or missing.
  • The flex is worn or damaged.
  • Any connections at the plug or controls are loose.
  • The heating wires have been damaged or displaced. To check, hold the blanket up to the light - the wires should be evenly spaced and not touch each other anywhere.
  • Or if you are in any doubt whatsoever!

Good practice guidelines

Choosing your blanket
  • Always buy new. Second-hand blankets may not be safe.
  • Look out for a European Certification Mark, such as the new BEAB safety mark (below), on the blanket and packaging. This will mean it conforms to the latest European safety standard.

  • Make sure your blanket has an overheating protection system - this cuts the power off if the blanket starts overheating. All new UK blankets now have this feature.

Using your blanket
  • Always read the manufacturer's instructions carefully - and follow them.
  • Make sure that the switch/heat control hangs freely, and that the electric flex is not twisted across the blanket or tucked under the mattress or covers.
  • Switch your underblanket off before you get into bed, unless it is of the type that can be used at night.
  • Make sure your underblanket is kept flat.
  • Tie the underblanket to the bed or mattress. This stops it slipping and creasing. Check that the head of the blanket is not at the foot of the bed.
  • Never use an underblanket as an overblanket, or an overblanket as an underblanket.
  • Never plug an electric blanket into a light fitting - it may be switched on unintentionally.
  • Do not fit the blanket to an adaptor or multi-socket block with another appliance plugged in.
  • Never use the blanket if it is wet, soiled, creased or rucked-up. Never switch it on to dry it out.
  • Never use a blanket with scorch marks or exposed elements.
  • Do not use a hot water bottle and an electric blanket together.

Storing your blanket
  • An underblanket can be left tied to the bed all year round if you wish.
  • To store a blanket for the summer, roll it or fold it with as few creases as possible, and keep it in a dry place.
  • Store separately from other bedding, if possible, or keep on top to avoid bedding pressing down on the blanket.
  • Or store it by putting it on a spare bed - but make sure it stays dry and flat.

Old and damaged blankets cause more than 5,000 fires a year.

If your blanket is more than 10 years old, or if it shows signs of wear and tear, the best advice is to get a new one.

Routine checks
  • Have your blanket checked by an expert once every three years, or as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Check frequently for the danger signs, listed on p. 29.
  • Return the blanket to the manufacturer if there are signs of wear or damage.
  • If the blanket has a PVC overheat protection system, as do some older blankets, check that the PVC material has not deteriorated over time.
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