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Flammable clothing

Flammable

While there is a mandatory standard to reduce the risk of burns from children’s nightwear, there are no compulsory safety requirements for other children’s clothing or for any adult clothing. Burns from clothing fires are a significant cause of serious injury and deathparticularly in older age groups, where incidents are mainly related to robes, pyjamas and nightgowns. While most fabrics used in clothing can burn, some materials are much more flammable than others.

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Possible hazards

Highly flammable fabrics

Materials such as cotton, cotton/polyester blends, rayon and acrylic are generally more combustible than 100 per cent polyester, nylon, wool and silk. The weave is also a factor in determining flammability. Fine threads with open weaves are more combustible than heavy, closed weaves of the same material.

Loose-fitting clothes

The design and fit of garments is also a critical element in the hazard. Loose-fitting garments with long, flowing design and billowing sleeves are hazardous anywhere near open flames. The garments most commonly associated with clothing ignition injuries are pyjamas, nightgowns, robes, shirts/blouses, pants/slacks, dresses and any sheer, flowing garments made from highly combustible fabric.

Burning cigarettes

Burning cigarettes, cigarette ash, matches or lighters are the major cause of clothing fires.

Other open flames around the home

Clothing fires are also caused by open flames from candles, gas cook tops, barbeques, open fires and space heaters. Home handypeople involved in grinding metal, welding or soldering are also exposed to sparks that can cause clothing to catch fire.

Reducing the risk

Some polyester fabrics are considered permanently fire retardant. This is because fire retardant properties are built directly into the molecular structure of the fibres. Many natural fibres, including cotton, can be topically treated with a chemical that reduces the fabric’s flammability to the extent that it becomes nearly non-combustible. Some synthetic fabrics may be topically treated with fire retardant chemicals after the manufacturing process (in the same manner as natural fibres such as cotton), or may be untreated (or untreatable) and therefore considered nonfire retardant.

When a fabric is designated as 'inherently fire retardant', 'permanently fire retardant' or 'durably fire retardant', the flame retardant properties will last for the life of the fabric. Fire retardant fabrics that have been topically treated with chemicals will lose the flame retardant properties over time, particularly with repeated cleaning.

Always follow instructions for washing and care of fabrics and clothing treated with fire retardant chemicals. Failing to do so can reduce their flame resistant qualities.

Statistics

Australia

  • 12 deaths resulted from clothing fires between 2000 and 2006.
  • 100 per cent of those who died were older Australians: 
    • 10 victims were over 65 years old
    • 1 victim was 60 years old
    • 1 victim was 54 years old.

USA

  • An average of 120 people died in the USA each year from clothing thermal burns between 1999 and 2004.
  • 75 per cent of these victims were 65 years old or older (USA National Centre for Health Statistics (NCHS)).
  • The annual USA average from 1997 to 2006 for clothing-related burn injuries treated in emergency departments was 4 321. Of these:
    • 3 205 related to daywear
    • 1 175 related to daywear worn by people aged 25 to 64
    • 801 related to daywear worn by people aged 14 to 24 (USA National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS)).

Britain

  • Around 80 people in Britain are killed each year after their clothing catches on fire.

Alerts

Stay safe as you keep warm this winter - see our top tips and video.

Myths

It is a myth that young children are the common fatalities from clothing fires.
It is a myth that residential fire data can tell us how many people suffer clothing fires.

Tips

The thought of having your clothes catch on fire is terrifying. These simple steps can greatly reduce the risk of this ever happening.
These tips will help you act quickly to minimise burns if your or someone else's clothing catches fire.

Legal cases and undertakings

Date commenced: 29th March 2010
Following a voluntary recall of 35 lines of garments from its Big W stores, Woolworths has provided an undertaking refrain from supplying children’s nightwear products that do not comply with the Standard. Woolworths will also make a $200,000 donation to the Sydney’s Children’s Hospital.

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