Fire safety

Fires can start suddenly and spread quickly. As we get older, we may become more vulnerable to fires due to reduced mobility and sensory impairments, such as loss of hearing, sight, smell or touch. Keeping up with home maintenance may become more difficult and our ability to detect fires can be reduced. Other risk factors include:

  • some medications
  • alcohol or substance misuse
  • smoking.

The main sources of fires in the home include cookers, faulty electrical appliances, fireplaces, heaters and candles. You can get safety tips from gov.uk/fire-safety-in-the-home or see our Home safety guide.

Getting help with fire safety

Most local fire stations offer free Safe and Well visits, also called home fire safety checks. If you’re eligible, they’ll assess your home for risks, help you work out an escape plan, and may also fit smoke alarms or test any that you have. You can find the contact details for your local fire and rescue service on the Chief Fire Officers Association website.

If you have sight, hearing or mobility issues or you use oxygen, you can register with your local fire service. In an emergency, the fire crew who attend will be told about your situation.

You can get special smoke alarms if you have sight or hearing loss. Your local fire service may help fit them. Contact RNID, Sense or the RNIB for more support with your specific needs.

What to do if there's a fire

Get out, stay out and call 999.

Try to stay calm and follow the fire service advice to get out, stay out and call 999. Don’t attempt to put the fire out – leave it to the fire service. And don’t go back in until you’ve been told it’s safe. You can also call if you can smell burning but don’t know where it’s coming from. Fire services have equipment that can detect sources of heat.

Gas and solid fuel

All your gas appliances should be installed, serviced regularly and safety checked every year by a registered gas engineer. If you’re renting, your landlord is responsible for this. By law, all gas engineers must be on the Gas Safe Register

You may be able to get a free gas safety check from your supplier if you’re over pension qualifying age and receive certain benefits.  Contact your supplier to find out if they provide this service and ask to be put on their Priority Services Register.

If your appliance uses solid fuel such as coal or wood, you should have it cleaned and serviced regularly by a HETAS registered installer. You can get more information about solid fuel safety from the Solid Fuel Association. If you use an oil appliance, contact OFTEC.

All gas appliances need enough air to work properly. Never block ventilation points, even if you feel they’re draughty, and make sure the appliance flue is kept clear at all times.

If you use a fireplace, get your chimney swept regularly so the fumes can go up and out. Contact the National Association of Chimney Sweeps.

Carbon monoxide

Unsafe gas, oil and solid fuel appliances can produce carbon monoxide which is extremely dangerous and can be fatal. It’s especially dangerous when you’re asleep and unaware of the early symptoms.

Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms are similar to a cold, the flu, a virus or food poisoning and may include headaches, stomach pain, tiredness and shortness of breath. You can’t see, smell or taste carbon monoxide but there may be some warning signs, such as: dark staining on or around appliances, or a pilot light that keeps going out. Your cooker may have a flame that is yellow or orange rather than blue, or you may have increased condensation inside windows.

If you rent, remember that your landlord is responsible for putting a carbon monoxide alarm in your home. If you don't have one, contact your landlord. If you have a hearing impairment, you could consider installing an audible carbon monoxide alarm. 

For more information about gas safety, contact hse.gov.uk/gas/domestic.

What to do if you suspect there’s a gas leak

If you suspect a gas or carbon monoxide leak, call the free national gas emergency number 0800 111 999. You need to act quickly:

  • get fresh air - open all the doors and windows to ventilate the area
  • if you know where it is, shut off the gas supply at the meter control valve
  • don’t use electrical switches as this can ignite gas
  • extinguish all naked flames
  • if you feel unwell, contact your GP or local hospital and tell them you may have been exposed to gas or carbon monoxide.

Electrical safety

Electricity can cause fires and electrical accidents can be fatal. You can avoid many risks by:

  • regularly checking your electrics for faults
  • using products safely
  • unplugging appliances when you're not using them, at night or when you go away
  • keeping all your gadgets and electrical appliances clean and in good working order
  • checking any cables for wear, especially if they're hidden behind furniture or under carpets
  • never taking mains-powered appliances such as heaters, hairdryers or radios into a bathroom. 

Never overload sockets, extensions or adaptors. Check you’re not going over the maximum load using Electrical Safety First’s online socket overload calculator tool. Register white goods and other electrical appliances, including second-hand products, with the manufacturer or registermyappliance.org.uk so you can find out if there’s a safety issue. 

It’s recommended that you get your wiring checked by a registered electrician within ten years of installation and every five years after that. You should also make sure you buy electrical appliances with a British or European safety mark.

If you use an electric blanket, get it tested every three years and look out for signs of wear, such as scorch marks, worn flex or frayed material.

Get more advice about electrical safety from Electrical Safety First.

Staying safe in the kitchen

Avoiding accidents

  • Rearrange your work surfaces so the things you use most are to hand to avoid unnecessary reaching or bending.
  • Clear a space on the counters near the cooker so you can put pans down easily.
  • Try to use the back rings on the cooker or hob when you’re cooking. Make sure pan handles don’t stick out from the cooker or hob so you don’t knock them.
  • Use a step stool or ladder with a handrail to reach things in higher cupboards. Never stand on a chair.
  • Try not to carry hot liquids too far and take care when you’re carrying food to another room - use a tray or a trolley. But don’t use a trolley as a walking aid unless it has built-in brakes.

Kitchen aids and adaptations

There are many small aids and gadgets that can help you stay safe in the kitchen, such as kettle tippers, tap turners and reaching tools. You can also get special equipment if you're living with sight or hearing loss – for example. Talking gadgets, special gloves, or tactile labels with raised bumps for marking equipment. You can get more information from Living made easy.

If you think you’d benefit from some home adaptations, for example, having your kitchen cupboards or work surfaces lowered, contact your local council for a free care needs assessment. See our factsheet Adapting your home to stay independent for more information.

Fire safety in the kitchen

The kitchen is the highest fire risk area in the home. More than half of accidental fires are started by cooking, often when cookers and grills are left unattended. When you’re cooking, set a timer to remind you when food is ready. Keep anything flammable, such as paper, tea towels and cloths, away from the cooker and hob.

If a pan catches fire, never throw water over it. Turn off the heat if you can, then leave the kitchen and close the door. Don’t take any risks if there’s a fire. Follow the fire service advice - get out, stay out and dial 999. A build-up of fat and grease on appliances is another cause of fires so keep them as clean as possible. Register your appliances with the manufacturer or on registermyappliance.org.uk to make sure you get any safety updates.

Smoke alarms

It can be annoying if your smoke alarm goes off while you’re cooking, but never take the battery out. If it keeps being activated, you may need to move the alarm. The fire service suggest installing a heat alarm inside your kitchen and a smoke alarm just outside it, for example, in a hall or dining room. Heat alarms detect the increase in temperature from a fire but they’re less sensitive to smoke and false alarm. They only cover a relatively small area though, so you may need more than one.

Using appliances to help with heating costs

Never use a cooker to heat a room. If you’re struggling to afford heating bills, you may qualify for Winter Fuel Payment and Cold Weather Payments or other benefits. Call our Helpline for a benefits check or try our benefit calculator. Our free guide Moneywise has more suggestions for ways to boost your income and save money.

Food poisoning

More people get food poisoning at home than anywhere else. We may be more vulnerable as we get older because our immune system can weaken with age. Washing your hands is one of the simplest ways to reduce the risk of food poisoning. It’s especially important before preparing food and after handling raw foods like meat. You can find more food hygiene advice on the NHS website.

Older people are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning caused by listeria bacteria. This may be found in chilled foods such as pre-packed sandwiches, pâté, soft cheeses like brie or camembert, or cooked sliced meat and poultry. You should eat these foods by their use-by dates, even if they look and smell okay. Don’t be tempted to keep them longer to save money.

Food poisoning can usually be treated at home. Rest as much as possible and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. When you feel up to it, eat bland food such as rice, toast and bananas. If your symptoms are severe or last longer than a few days, contact your GP or NHS 111. If you have a condition or are getting treatment that weakens your immune system, you should contact NHS 111 to get advice straightaway.

Water safety

indoor flooding

A bath or washbasin can quickly overflow if you leave it unattended. To prevent a flood at home, you could get devices that stop a bath or washbasin overflowing, or sound a warning alarm if you’ve forgotten to turn the taps off. You could also get a flood detector, which can also alert you to burst pipes and leaks, as part of a telecare package. This could be from your local council or bought privately. 

Make sure you know where your mains water stop tap (stopcock) is and how to use it. This turns off the cold water. Keep it clear so you can get to it easily in an emergency such as a burst pipe.

scalds

A scald may be caused by steam or hot water and the effects can be painful and long lasting. The ageing process, medications and some medical conditions may put us at more risk of a scald. 

In the kitchen, try not to carry hot liquids too far. Don’t overfill the kettle – only boil enough for your immediate use. You could also consider getting small aids such as a kettle tipper – visit Living Made Easy.

Water in your hot tank is usually stored at 60°C (140°F) to kill bacteria. But at this temperature it can burn, so it needs to be cooled before use. When you’re running a bath, always run the cold water before the hot.

A thermostatic mixing valve (TMV) accurately controls the temperature of water and can reduce the risk of scalding. You can find reliable tradespeople to help you fit one through TrustmarkBuy With ConfidenceCheckatrade, or a government-backed scheme.

A water bottle can be a good way to keep warm, but old or cheap hot water bottles can split easily. Only buy one that meets British safety standards. Check the bottle and stopper regularly for signs of wear and tear.

A scald is treated in the same way as a burn. If it’s not serious, you may be able to treat it at home.

  • Get away from the heat source to stop the burning.
  • Treat the area with cool or cold running water for 20 minutes.
  • Don’t use ice or iced water or any creams or greasy substances, like butter.

If you need advice about a burn or a scald, you can call NHS 111 or contact your GP or pharmacist. You could also go to an NHS walk-in centre or minor injuries unit (MIU). You can find more information on the NHS website.

Next steps

Find details for your local fire service to ask about a free Safe and Well visit.

For more information about aids and equipment that can help you in the kitchen, go to livingmadeeasy.org.uk or the RNIB.

Find contact details for your local council.

See our Home safety guide for more advice.

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