Winter is here and that means products like heaters, electric blankets, hot water bottles and heat packs are coming out of storage or being purchased. These products don’t just pose a safety risk if used or stored incorrectly, they can become unsafe when used together, or with other products. These safety tips can help keep you and your family safe and warm.
Each year, more than 50 people across Australia die from house fires and many more are injured. Most of the homes do not have working smoke alarms. Only working smoke alarms can provide early warning and time to escape. You lose your sense of smell when you are asleep. A working smoke alarm reduces your chance of dying in a house fire by half.
- Test your smoke alarm is working every month.
- Replace your alarm battery every year.
- Replace your smoke alarm every 10 years. If you move to a new house, check the alarm — the date of manufacture should be displayed on the smoke alarm.
Children’s clothing can still be flammable, even if the item is considered low fire danger, so always keep children away from open heat sources, like fireplaces and heaters. Children’s nightwear, like pyjamas and dressing gowns, must display a fire hazard label, but even nightwear that is considered a low fire hazard is still flammable. Multiple children are admitted to hospital every year with burns sustained from their clothing catching fire.
- Be cautious of children’s clothing purchased online, on holiday or received as gifts from overseas. These may not meet Australian standards.
- Keep your child away from open flames and heaters.
- Avoid buying loose fitting sleepwear, dressing gowns and clothing which could easily catch alight.
If you remove your electric blanket once the colder months are over always store it rolled up, not folded. Inspect it before use and look for frayed fabric, exposed elements, damaged cords or scorch marks before using it again. If you notice any damage to your electric blanket, throw it away. Damaged or faulty electric blankets can cause an electric shock or fire hazard.
- Check before use each year — cords should not be frayed and the blanket covering the wires should not be worn out.
- Don’t sleep with your electric blanket on - warm the bed and then turn it off.
- Never place heavy items on your bed when the electric blanket is turned on.
- Seek advice about using an electric blanket if you have diabetes or are pregnant.
Hot water bottles
Hot water bottles are widely used for warmth or to help ease pain. They are manufactured from rubber or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and can deteriorate with age. Each year, 200 people in Australia are treated for serious burns from using hot water bottles.
- All hot water bottles are marked with a 'daisy wheel' date — check the daisy wheel to see when the water bottle was made and if it's more than three years old, don't buy it.
- Don’t overfill or use boiling water in your hot water bottle — use hot tap water.
- Once filled, avoid direct contact with your skin — use a fitted cover or wrap the bottle before use.
- Never leave on one body part for more than 20 minutes.
Video: Hot water bottles - The hidden dangers
Wheat and heat packs
If you purchase a wheat pack, follow the heating instructions and never heat more than instructed. Homemade wheat bags can pose a fire and injury risk because the moisture content and volume of these bags is not known so there are no heating times to guide you. Ageing causes the organic fillings inside wheat packs to dry out and become more combustible.
- Do not heat and place the wheat pack on or in bedding. Blankets trap the product’s heat and may cause it to ignite.
- Allow the wheat pack to cool completely each time before reheating.
- If you notice a burning smell, let the bag cool and then dispose of the bag — it is no longer safe to use.
Candles, matches and lighters
Candles make your home smell nice, but they are among the most common cause of fires in a home. Blow out a candle before leaving the room or before going to sleep. Ensure the wick ember is no longer glowing.
Never leave candles with multiple wicks or inset with decorations unattended as they have been known to cause a fire hazard with an increased flame.
Children are naturally inquisitive. Lighters and matches can be dangerous in the hands of children.
- Store matches and lighters in a safe place, out of reach of children.
- Never leave children alone with any open flame.
- Keep lit candles away from any combustible material, including curtains, bedding, clothing.
Heaters need to be checked every year, no matter how old they are. Make sure there are no exposed wires or loose connections on the cables. Only use one appliance per power point and switch each off when not in use.
Gas heaters must be vented adequately as the carbon monoxide produced when the gas is burnt is odourless, colourless and deadly. It is particularly important to have gas heaters serviced regularly by a qualified tradesperson to ensure that there are no carbon monoxide leaks.
- Heaters should be placed on a flat, level surface.
- Never use a gas heater or BBQ made for outdoor use inside your home.
- Always supervise children and pets when heaters are in use.
- Keep heaters well clear from items that might burn. A minimum of one-metre clearance from clothes, bedding, furniture, curtains and other combustibles is recommended.
- When using your outdoor heater, check for leaves or debris that may have accumulated.
Regular maintenance of fireplaces, combustion heaters, flues and chimneys must be undertaken by a qualified person a minimum of once a year (at the start of winter) to ensure that the heater or fireplace works properly and safely.
- Place a mesh screen in front of your fireplace to prevent sparks and wood falling out.
- If you have a fireplace in your home make sure the chimney is clean, and its properly ventilated.
- Never use petrol, oil or kerosene to help light the fire. They could cause an explosion.
Decorative alcohol fuelled devices
Decorative alcohol fuelled devices produce a flame using alcohol as fuel. They are also known as tabletop fire pits, ethanol fireplaces or ethanol burners. They are mainly used for decoration, but larger models may also be used for heating.
- If you have a smaller ‘tabletop’ style decorative alcohol fuelled device you should immediately stop using it. They are particularly dangerous.
- Make sure no flammable items, including aerosols, are close to decorative alcohol fuelled devices.
- Do not leave devices on overnight, or unsupervised.
- Only refill decorative alcohol fuelled devices once the flame is extinguished and the device is cool.
- Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions, including appropriate use of decorative alcohol fuelled devices.
Find out more
Heavy rainfall, cold temperatures and heaters all cause condensation that can lead to mould growth. Mould and dampness in homes can cause health problems. Any mould needs to be removed and the area kept ventilated to avoid regrowth.
Pregnant women, children and people with weakened immune systems or chronic lung diseases should not be present when mould is removed. Mould is not a major health hazard for most people — however, there are some important safety tips to follow when trying to remove mould and reduce the chance of mould regrowth.
- Open windows and doors each day to ventilate your house and reduce the growth of mould.
- Don't let it settle in — clean up mould as soon as you notice it.
- Scrub mould off hard surfaces using soapy water or a vinegar solution or diluted bleach solution. Make sure the area is well-ventilated while you are cleaning with bleach.
- The physical action of scrubbing is the most important component as all the mould must be physically removed to prevent regrowth.
- Make sure you scrub up to 50 cm from the edge of the visible mould as there may be new growth that is not visible to the naked eye.
- Clean up any mould residue caused by the scrubbing. Use a damp cloth or vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
- Dry the area and then find and fix the source of the moisture.