Apia research highlights lax attitudes to fire safety during winter

Leading national insurer Apia is urging Australia’s over 50s to take proper fire safety precautions during winter, with new research released today showing a concerning number of people are still exhibiting risky behaviours that can lead to house fires.

The research reveals that nearly a quarter (23%) of over 50s who have experienced a house fire say it was caused by a faulty appliance or accident with an open flame or appliance.

Despite this, almost one in five (18%) over 50s do not bother to check the safety of their heating appliances, such as heaters and electric blankets, during winter.

Furthermore, 21% of over 50s admit to sleeping with the heater on, while nine per cent leave candles or open flames unattended.

The research also sheds light on some other worrying behaviours. One in 10 (10%) Australians over 50 dry their clothes on heaters, while 11% leave heaters on when they leave the house.

“Winter is particularly notorious for home fires, with Apia’s 2015 data showing a 64% increase in home fire claims during winter compared to summer. These statistics show there is still a significant segment of Australians over 50 who exhibit complacent or dangerous attitudes to fire safety during these months,” said Apia spokesperson Michael Mills.

“The behaviours can lead to devastating and easily avoidable house fires, so it’s critical that over 50s take the proper precautions.

“Always check your appliances and heating equipment before you use them for the first time in winter. If they don’t appear to be working properly, get them checked by a professional or replace them.

“Likewise leaving heaters on, and fires and candles burning when you leave the house or go to sleep is extremely risky. It’s very important that over 50s are aware of these risks and take care, even if they are only stepping outside for a short time.”

Common causes of winter home fires and tips to avoid them

  • Electric blankets should be switched off while sleeping or when leaving the house. Blankets should also be inspected carefully for wear and tear at the beginning of winter.
  • Burning candles left unattended or left too close to flammable items such as books or curtains can easily burst into flames. Always place a candle on a fireproof plate and remember to blow it out before leaving the room.
  • Electric heaters often cause fires because they either have faulty wiring, or are left too close to lounges, curtains or other furnishings. Portable heaters should be placed at least a metre away from anything flammable.
  • Sparks and embers from open fires can float out of the fireplace after you’ve gone to bed. Never leave an open fire burning when you go to bed or leave the house and always place a mesh guard in front of open fires.
  • Cooking left unattended can cause a fire very easily so it’s important to always stay in the room, turn off the stove if you have to leave or ask someone to watch the cooking.

Many over 50s don’t have adequate fire safety equipment

Apia’s research also found that an encouraging three quarters (74%) of Australia’s over 50s would know how to use safety equipment correctly if a fire broke out.

However, a worrying 37% said they do not have enough equipment for dealing with a fire, such as fire blankets or extinguishers.

“It’s alarming that such a significant percentage of our over 50s community do not feel they are adequately prepared for a fire. While it’s comforting to know that so many know what to do in the event of a fire, it’s important they also have all the equipment they need.

“We are urging over 50s to think seriously about their fire safety measures and whether they are adequately equipped to handle a fire.”


About the research

Nature conducted an independent internet survey of 3,594 Australians, 18 years of age and older in May and June 2016. Data was collected in line with ISO 20252 – Market, Social and Opinion Research and has been weighted with current ABS population demographics to ensure any extrapolation of results is representative of age, sex and area.