The latest research from power management company Eaton reveals that a lack of fire prevention technology and safety awareness, combined with the assumption that appropriate fire safeguards are in place, may be putting the British public at risk.

Fire fallacy – adequate fire prevention is not a given

The survey of 2,000 UK-based respondents revealed that many British adults take fire safety for granted. More than half (54%) of respondents confirmed that they never feel concerned that property – ranging from homes to offices and public spaces like hospitals – is not adequately protected against fires triggered by electrical faults. The reality is that electrically ignited fires are common in the UK. In fact, the UK’s leading charity on electrical safety, Electrical Safety First, reports that over half of accidental fires in British homes are caused by electricity.

This widespread complacency on fire safety was further reflected in British attitudes to fire exit strategies. More than one in four (27%) never try to spot fire safety routes and fire exits when in public buildings like shopping centres, stadia or hotels. A further 40% confirmed that they only look out for fire safety routes or fire exits sometimes or rarely – reflecting a supposition that they will be able to exit a building easily and quickly in the event of an emergency.

Lack of awareness Eaton online survey

The poll revealed that almost one quarter (24%) of British adults “have no clue” what electrical issues can cause a fire to start. While 61% believe that they do know what electrical issues can spark a fire, the reality is that many consumer campaigns have only raised awareness around visible issues such as overloading sockets – yet invisible threats such as arc faults are not understood, and often go unnoticed.

This lack of information is worrying given that current UK regulation remains below the level required to maximise protection against electrically-ignited fires. One improvement – the 18th Edition to the IET Wiring Regulations – will be published in July, including recommendations for the use of arc fault detection devices (AFDD) for the first time. The technology will be recommended for use in higher risk buildings, but the regulation stops short of any specific requirements, unlike countries such as Germany and the US where AFDD use can be mandated.

Prevention vs. cure

New technologies available today provide a further opportunity to prevent rather than just contain fires caused by electrical faults. The British public widely supports a greater focus on fire prevention, with more than half (59%) of the survey respondents confirming that building owners should place more emphasis on fire prevention rather than fire containment.

This appetite to implement new fire safety technologies is also reflected in fire evacuation strategies. British consumers are accustomed to “normal” fire escape apparatus, such as highly visible and illuminated exit signs, to escape a building in the event of an emergency but they recognise the benefits of new technologies to improve this process. One third (33%) see the advantages of a voice system which can alert and guide people out of a building, while almost one quarter (24%) would welcome exit signs that can clearly show which escape routes are clear or blocked to guide them out to safety more efficiently.

Marc Gaunt, segment lead, commercial buildings, Eaton, commented:

“In addition to an increasingly urbanised environment, building owners and managers must consider the rising diversity of safety threats. Evacuation strategies need to be able to adapt to differing circumstances based on the wide range of potential risks today – from fires and natural disasters to acts of terrorism. Faced with this new landscape, steps must be taken to re-evaluate the measures in place to protect both people and property as well as ensure business continuity."

“Building evacuation can prove challenging, particularly if visitors are not familiar with the layout and exit procedures. Large, densely-populated, high-risk or complex premises, such as shopping centres or stadia, can be an even more complicated challenge. New, adaptable technologies exist to help avoid congestion, delays or even people being guided towards unsafe places in the building when trying to evacuate the premises. As one example, adaptive signage enables building owners to direct people outside in the safest way, even when the location or nature of the threat changes. Building owners and facilities managers must undertake their due diligence to ensure the British public’s trust in them is not misplaced.”

Methodology

Eaton conducted an online survey of 2,000 adults aged 18 and over in the UK through Google. This survey took place between 2nd – 4th May 2018.

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