Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service

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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 fryers.

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.

Items ignited

  • 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 or care;
  • children or pets in the kitchen - or even on cooking appliances or work surfaces - cause many burn or scald incidents.

Causes 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.

 

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