Older people at greater risk of electrical fires, charity warns

A recent report has highlighted some troubling statistics that expose just how prevalent electrical fires are in Britain, especially in the homes of pensioners living alone.

The charity Electrical Safety First (ESF) found that, in 2017, there were 4,426 electrical fires in the homes of over-65s who live alone, a figure that accounted for 22 per cent of all electrical fires during that year. As the charity points out, only 7% of the overall UK population are over 65 and living alone, therefore this group's risk is 'severely disproportionate.'

ESF pointed to social isolation as a key factor contributing to the number of incidents, and has urged family, friends and neighbours to check on electrical gadgets and appliances used by older people.

While we would endorse this message, we'd also urge anyone to consider contacting a professional electrical testing company to carry out inspections and portable appliance testing (PAT testing) in the home. It's true that some faults and potential hazards can be picked up visually, but only a fully trained electrician will be qualified to conduct a thorough test using specialist equipment. Although PAT testing is not a legal requirement for domestic premises (as it is in the workplace), it is the best way to ensure enhanced safety and peace of mind.


What causes electrical fires in the home?

A number of factors can spark an electrical fire, but the most likely include:

  • Old or faulty wiring. If a home's wiring is more than 20 years old, it's likely that it needs updating. If wiring dates back to the 1980s or earlier, it certainly won't have been designed to handle the amount of electrical appliances we use today. Protective coating on cabling can also deteriorate over time, increasing the risk of fire or electric shock.
  • No RCD in fuse box. A residual current device (RCD) uses switches to trip a circuit under dangerous conditions, instantly disconnecting the electricity. RCDs protect against electrical shocks and also electrical fires caused by earth faults. A modern fuse box (also known as a consumer device) with RCD will offer far greater protection than outdated units.
  • Using faulty equipment or appliances. Electric blankets, washing machines, fridges – any electrical appliance will deteriorate over time, and problems such as cracked plugs, perished wires, worn-out seals, or rust can present a hazard. As a rule, if an appliance is over ten years old, you should consider replacing it for a newer model.
  • Cheap phone chargers. Many cheap chargers do not meet British safety standards, and using them to charge your phone could lead to an electrical fire. These unauthorised chargers, usually bought online or from market stalls, fail to meet the requirements of the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations Act 1994. Branded chargers from your phone manufacturer may be more expensive, but for safety and peace of mind you should use these exclusively.
  • Overloaded extension cords. If a room has only a couple of wall sockets (especially likely in older homes) it's tempting to use extension cords to plug in a number of appliances. However, extensions should only be used as a temporary measure. Installing new power points is the answer, not another extension lead!
  • Heaters or light bulbs too close to flammable materials. Portable heaters or lamps should never be placed too close to combustible surfaces such as curtains, bedding, clothes or rugs. Ensure a safe distance at all times, allowing for the fact that bedspreads or blankets may fall off a bed during the night.

Harry Woodage, our Commercial Director here at Allsaved, said: "The report from Electrical Safety First makes sobering reading. It's a reminder that the modern appliances we take for granted can pose safety risks, especially if used in a home that does not have up-to-date wiring.

"Anyone who is worried about their wiring – either in their own property or in the home of an older family member or friend – should contact a registered expert to arrange an inspection. This is a service we are proud to provide for clients, many of whom are retired people in the Sussex area."

Competitive electrical safety checks in Sussex and across the South East

Our fully accredited electricians can visit your home or business to carry out a risk assessment and advise on any work that may be necessary to meet current safety standards. Please don't hesitate to get in touch and we will be happy to book an appointment at a convenient time. Our fees are highly competitive, offering great value and excellent customer service.