Health and Safety: Fatalities and Injuries from Fire in Scotland

After reading an excellent article in the UKFIRE magazine Feb 2020 edition it led me to discover a recently published BRE paper released in December of 2019. The Building Research Establishment released a briefing paper called ‘The causes of fire fatalities and serious fire injuries in Scotland and potential solutions to reduce them- Phase 1: IRS review.’

This document was the first phase of an investigation looking into the underlying conditions surrounding fire deaths and serious fire injuries. The investigation period covered April 2013 to March 2017 and focussed on domestic dwellings in Scotland. The data used for this research was gathered using the Incident Recording System (IRS) provided by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS). It comprised 19,645 accidental domestic fire incidents in which there were 147 serious injuries and 126 fire fatalities.

In this blog I will be providing an overview of this document to set out the findings that I found interesting and the recommendations that stem from the report. I would encourage you to read the paper which is only 22 pages long, I will leave a link to it at the end of this blog.

IRS

Before I go on to speak about the BRE paper its worth touching on the IRS. The IRS or Incident Reporting System was created to collect data in relation to collect information on all incidents attended by the Fire and Rescue Service. There are a number of reasons for collecting this data such as; assessing the effectiveness of fire safety regulations, information on compliance with building regulations, to assist with fire safety campaigns and to record incidents of attacks on fire officers.

There are tons of questions listed in the IRS and I can imagine this is a very time-consuming process for the fire commander to properly investigate and gather the information to record incidents. Out of the over 150 questions listed in the IRS, the BRE paper focusses specifically on 38 to identify the key factors and common conditions under which fatalities and serious injuries were occurring.

Scottish Fires

Scotland has a higher fire fatality rate in proportion to its population than England and Wales. There will be a number of reasons for this including a seemingly higher prevalence of smoking, alcohol consumption and mental health illnesses. Whether it is lifestyle choices or health issues these will all contribute to an increased risk of fire.

Some of the interesting findings that I took away were as follows:

  • November to March has a comparatively high percentage of fatalities
  • Incidents seem to peak around 5pm and dip at 5am but fatalities and serous injuries are not less likely through the night
  • Flats and single occupancy houses are the most likely to see an incident with tenements, sheltered housing, HMO’s, bungalows and caravans less likely (HMOs were the only dwelling type in which no fatalities or serious injuries were observed)
  • The fatalities and serious injuries are proportionately higher for smoking related and heating equipment sources of ignition
  • Both fatalities and serious injuries are proportionately higher when the location of the fire origin is the living room or the bedroom
  • The vast majority of incidents and the greatest number of serious injuries occur in the kitchen
  • The vast majority of fatalities and serious injuries occur to those living alone

fire damage

Analysis

For me most of the findings are what I would have expected with exception to the low incidence of fires in tenement buildings and self-contained housing. In regards to age it does not surprise me that fatalities are more likely for people 60 and above with serious injuries being most prevalent in the 31 to 60 age range.

It seems to me that it would go without saying that fire fatalities and serious injuries would be more likely to happen to people who are asleep or to have medical conditions or illnesses. Also, it seems obvious that the likelihood of fatalities and serious injuries will increase when there is suspicion of impairment due to drugs or alcohol.

What to do Next?

The BRE paper also lists a bunch of recommendations, some of which are as follows:

  1. Using mobile phones to provide text warnings from smoke alarms
  2. Incorporate a smoke alarm night mode which increases the sensitivity of smoke alarms
  3. Text message low temperature warnings which could be sent to carer or neighbour
  4. Link high-risk domestic premises to an Alarm Receiving Centre
  5. Promote use of watermist systems
  6. Develop a code of practice for watermist systems to reduce false alarms and unwanted water mist activations
  7. Use video analytics technology for zone monitoring to enhance
  8. security, fire detection and safety;
  9. Electrical sources were potentially responsible for up to 42% of domestic fires in Scotland so further research is needed in this area to understand why
  10. Electrical Safety First and the Office for Product Safety and Standards could explore issues with fires from white goods with manufacturers
  11. BS 5839-6 recommended to be updated to consider fitting smoke or heat alarms to any utility space separate from the kitchen that contains electrical white goods
  12. Raise awareness of the need to fit any loft space containing parts of a solar photovoltaic system, or other live electrical items, with smoke alarms (see more info on this here in my previous blog)
  13. Recommend a government campaign at the start of winter to encourage the public to look out for neighbours and themselves

Conclusion

Personally, I think this paper misses a beat when it comes to IoT technology and how sensors could be used using this tech. I also think that this paper would have benefitted from having an electrical expert to explore in more detail issues such as fires due to electrical appliances and whether an Electrical Appliance Current Monitoring Device has any feasibility of success.

One recommendation is that online guidance is needed to assist IRS users to complete the incident reports especially in the free text areas. This already exists in the form of a 2012 document called Incident Recording System – Questions and Lists. I may be missing something in regards to this recommendation however but the 2012 government guidance document seems pretty comprehensive to me.

I also don’t agree with video analytics technology, it seems to be to be an intrusive method for domestic properties however I am happy to be convinced otherwise.

All in all I think the BRE paper was really interesting and I think there are a number of points that could easily be considered by social landlords in particular.

Well, those were my thoughts on the paper but what did you make of it? If you are looking to read more you can check out the full paper on the BRE website – http://www.bregroup.com/firesafetyresearch

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