Fire chief's safety message

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is one of SELECT’s most important partners. Here, the organisation’s Head of Fire Investigations, David Dourley, tells CABLEtalk about some of the essential work they carry out

When it comes to electrical safety in the home, overloading is Scotland’s most common fire risk. That’s the experience of firefighters who undertake thousands of free Home Fire Safety Visits across the country every year.

The warning comes from David Dourley, Head of Fire Investigation at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS). He said: “Overloading of electrical outlets is the issue that we see most in homes.

“Often, householders have a block adapter with a TV, satellite/cable box and DVD player plugged into it. In turn, that adapter is daisy chained on to another that feeds other devices. We are working hard to educate people about the dangers that set-up poses.”

Firefighters are able to gather this information, and details of other potential fire risks, thanks to the Home Fire Safety Visit programme, a free service that SFRS runs across Scotland.

“We have a comprehensive programme where we try to identify the most vulnerable and most at-risk people,” said David. “We provide them with a free Home Fire Safety Visit where, among other things, we look at lifestyle factors, the ways people can exit their home in an emergency and potential ignition sources.”

A thorough list of items is checked over during the visit, including cooking appliances, consumer units, leads and sockets. David added: “We give people advice on how to calculate overloading and, where it’s necessary, we recommend replacing items that present a potential hazard to them.”

Workmanship

The good news from an electrical contractor’s point of view is that David and his colleagues rarely see poor workmanship during the visits, and they’re active in making sure that remains the case.

He said: “We’re part of several working groups that help to highlight the risks posed by people who are not properly qualified to carry out electrical work.

“That approach feeds into our Home Fire Safety Visits. We advise people to make sure anyone they employ is fully qualified to carry out electrical work.”

The Service’s responsibilities are not limited to domestic advice; its remit also includes auditing the fire precautions in place at commercial premises. “We review the processes and procedures for risk assessment, electrical test certification, staff training, fire escapes, fire extinguishers and so on,” explained David.

“It’s our task to examine electrical safety to see if the appropriate testing has been done, what vital checks are being carried out and the company’s awareness of its electrical system.”

In the vast majority of cases, David and his colleagues receive a warm welcome. He said: “Most people are glad to receive fire safety advice.

“Those in commercial premises appreciate our help because they have legislative duties they need to be aware of, and need to comply with. However, while ours is an advice service first and foremost, we’re also ready to enforce compliance if firms are not meeting their duties.”

Consequences

Looking ahead, he predicted the new standard in smoke detection, which comes into effect from 2021, will have an impact on every property, domestic or otherwise. As a result, there will be a knock-on effect for the electrical sector. This will have an inevitable impact on the provision and installation of equipment, as well as subsequent testing and maintenance.

Meantime, SFRS continues to spread the fire safety message by participating in working groups that also include SELECT, Electrical Safety First, the Scottish Government and Trading Standards Scotland.

The working groups have helped to initiate and implement a series of campaigns focusing on issues such as the safe use of white goods. That specific campaign will soon be expanded to cover second-hand white goods and the group itself will see its area of responsibility extended to include all electrical appliances.

David said: “We’ll be able to look at the number of fire incidents associated with items such as hair straighteners, televisions and most other common electrical appliances.

“Every campaign is evaluated and it’s our aim to see an improvement in the relevant safety statistics by influencing and changing human behaviours.

“It’s vital for us to work in partnership groups that include organisations like SELECT. Different bodies have access to different types of information and by sharing our insights we can get the right messages out to the right people.”

Setting the standard

New safety standards on fire and smoke detectors come into effect during 2021.

Following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, the Scottish Government set up a ministerial working group to review Scotland’s building and fire safety regulations. Now, new standards have been laid out for people’s homes. They require:

  • one smoke alarm in the room most frequently used

  • for daytime living

  • one smoke alarm in every circulation space on each storey, such as hallways

  • and landings

  • one heat alarm in every kitchen.

  • All alarms should

  • be ceiling mounted

  • and interlinked.

  • Carbon monoxide detectors should also

  • be fitted where there

  • is a carbon-fuelled appliance (such as boilers, fires, heaters and stoves) or a flue.

How you can help

David had a message for SELECT Members about how they can help cut the risk of fire. He said: “If you’re working in a house or property and you spot an issue that makes you think your client would benefit from a fire safety check, please talk to them and direct them to our website.

“Look out for indicators such as the lifestyle choices being made, electrical faults caused by overloading, or a lack of smoke detectors, which provide the early warning to help save lives.

“Unfortunately, you can’t refer individuals directly, but you can have a word with the occupiers, give them initial advice based on your expertise and point them in our direction for a Home Fire Safety Visit.”

For information on fire safety, see the SFRS website: www.firescotland.gov.uk

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