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 death—particularly 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 non–fire 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.
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.