Fire Facts and Statistics
Risk assessment - the kitchen
as a hazardous environment
The causes of fires, and the way they
can start in kitchens are not difficult to identify with a little
thought about your own daily experience. Although there are a
number of publications with different objectives, which therefore
concentrate on different information.
Sources of ignition
There are many different kinds of cooking appliances - different
in design, in size, and using a range of fuels: gas, solid fuel,
liquid fuel or electric power. The UK Fire Statistics do not
show incidents from solid and liquid fuelled appliances, which
implies that they do not cause a signifcant number of problems.
(US statistics for fires starting in different types of cooker
bear this out.)
UK Fire Statistics classify the most important sources of ignition
as electric cookers and gas cookers.
Most electric cookers are freestanding units
combining oven and hob, or separate oven and hob units, but electricity
is also the fuel for: portable plug-in cooking rings; food warmers;
microwave ovens; self-contained slow cookers; and deep fat/oil
Gas cookers also include combined and built-in
hob and oven units, portable rings and appliances fuelled by
mains or cylinder or tank gas supplied.
Some cookers use a mixture of fuels - for example, an electric
oven with gas rings on the hob.
Statistics show that electric cookers cause more than
twice as many fires as gas cookers. However, this probably
does not suggest that they are twice as dangerous, but rather
reflects the fact that there are far more of them.
- More than 70% of items ignited are cooking materials.
- Most of the remaining 30% are caused by placing items too
close to the source of heat, for example tea towels, oven gloves,
wastepaper, electric flexes left over the cooker top, or curtains/wallcoverings. A
number of serious accidents are also caused by clothes catching
fire while using the cooker.
- Only a small number of fires result from other causes: gas
leaks, food/fat etc from previous meals deposited in the oven,
cooker hoods and ducting systems, or electrical faults igniting
wiring, insulation or timber.
Causes of accidents and fire
The main (and most easily avoidable)
cause of fire is leaving cooking unattended (for
example, leaving the kitchen while a pan is still on the heat).
This is believed to be the cause of more than 50% of
fires. The US findings published in US Home Cooking Fires estimates
that 66% of all cooking fires start within 15 minutes of starting
to cook and that 75% start when no-one is in the room.
Other causes include:
- turning cooking appliances on by mistake, or not turning
them off after cooking;
- damaged components in the cooking appliance;
- appliances misused or becoming faulty due to lack of understanding
- children or pets in the kitchen - or even on cooking appliances
or work surfaces - cause many burn or scald incidents.
of death and injury
UK Fire Statistics for 1998 show that 70
people died and 7,000 were injured in cooking-related incidents,
with a high proportion of these caused by chip pans. The statistics
give only limited detail of the particular circumstances
of these deaths and injuries. More detail is available
through brigades' own fire investigation reports (and sometimes
through eyewitness reports or an injured person's own description
of an incident.)
UK Fire Statistics for 1997 show that the number of chip pan
fires rose by 5%. Statistics support the wealth of anecdotal
evidence that many chip pan fires are caused by late night cooking,
particularly by men, under the influence of alcohol. 43% of chip
pan casualties took place between 8pm and 4am, and more than
30% between 10pm and 4am.
A 1999 DTI report on Burns and Scalds Accidents in the Home shows,
in detail, the relationships between cooking and the degree of
injury. Home Cooking Fire Patterns and Trends draws the same
conclusions for the USA in April 2000. (See the Resources section
of this module for details of both these publications.)
UK information for fires attended by brigades do record some
of the circumstances of deaths and injuries. A check in 1998
showed that the highest percentage for both fatal and non-fatal
casualties were in discovering the fire (26%) and
fighting the fire (10%). Separate details of whether
this is less, equally, or more true in cooking fires than other
kinds are not available. In the USA, the percentage of people
injured when fighting fires was the highest, at over 30%.
The British Crime Survey for unreported fires showed that most
of these fires were put out by the householder: 41% used cloths
or blankets to smother the fire; 22% used water (so clearly these
were not chip pan fires); 3% used a fire extinguisher. 12% of
these fires went out on their own. The 14% who dealt with a fire
by 'putting the burning item outside' the flat or house may be
a cause for concern. In raising fire safety awareness, messages
may need to be included to discourage this.
HASS figures for 1998 show the three main causes of burns and
scalds to be kettles/steam, hot oil or fat and hot drinks. Irons
and cookers, hobs and hotplates also cause a great many accidents.
The DTI information shows that almost 75% of injuries
are to children under five.