Electrical appliances, plugs and cables that are old or poorly wired can be a real danger. Just because there’s no flame does not mean there’s no fire risk.
There are particular danger signs to look out for on all electrical items you have around your home. If you think something needs fixing or changing, do it immediately. Find out what to check for to ensure your appliances don’t put you, your family or housemates at risk from fire. Follow the guidelines below to make sure your electrical items are safe to use.
Plugs, sockets and cables
For plugs and sockets, keep an eye out for the following:
- Hot plugs or sockets, scorch marks, fuses that often blow, or flickering lights – they are all are signs of loose wiring or other electrical problems
- Badly wired plugs – any coloured wires sticking out could come loose and debris could also get into the plug
- Overloaded sockets – plugging too many electrical appliances into one socket can lead to overheating
The risks with cables and leads include:
- Getting frayed and damaged – make sure the outer covering of all power leads is in good condition and replace if necessary
- Being badly positioned – they shouldn’t be anywhere that they could be tripped over, or near water, cookers or other sources of heat
- Running them under rugs or carpets where they can wear through without anyone noticing – position them elsewhere
Plugs, sockets and cables also need to be used correctly, you should:
- Make sure you can’t see any coloured wires between the plug and the power lead – change the plug properly
- Make sure the wires are held firmly in place inside the plug
- Use sockets safely – it’s better to use a bar adaptor (multi board) on a lead than a block adaptor
- only use one adaptor per socket – don’t plug one adaptor into another and try to keep to one plug per socket
Electrical appliances, especially ones that run at high speeds and contain motors, like washing machines, should be serviced once a year by a qualified electrician. You should never:
- Get electrical appliances wet – this includes plugs and sockets, so don’t put a vase of flowers on top of the TV, for example
- Leave them on at night – unless they are designed to be left on, like freezers
- Put anything in the microwave that is made of metal, or has a metallic finish or parts
When you’re fitting or replacing a fuse, it’s important to use the right fuse for the appliance to make sure the fuse doesn’t overheat. Check the manual or look for a sticker on the appliance to find out its wattage and then use the correct fuse:
- for appliances up to 700 watts, use a 3 amp fuse
- for appliances between 700 and 1,000 watts, use a 5 amp fuse
- for appliances more than 1,000 watts, use a 13 amp fuse
Extension leads and adaptors have a limit on how many amps they can take, so be careful not to overload them, to reduce the risk of fire.
Dealing with an electrical fire
If there is an electrical fire, pull the plug out, or switch off the power at the fuse box – if it’s safe to do so. Sometimes this can stop the fire immediately. Never use water on an electrical fire, and don’t take any risks with your safety – get out, stay out and call 999.
You are around 10 times more likely to die from a fire if you don’t have a working smoke alarm in your home.
Test your smoke alarms at least once a month. Would your smoke alarm save you?
Get the facts:
- fit smoke alarms on every floor of your home, including in each bedroom
- working smoke alarms correctly positioned in your home can save your life
- have a plan for how you’d leave your home if your smoke alarms go off – make sure everyone in your home knows what it is
- do not put a smoke alarm in a kitchen or bathroom
- do not paint over a smoke alarm
- you need to replace smoke alarms every 10 years
Faulty electrical appliances cause over 3,500 fires in the home each year.
How to avoid electrical fires:
- Always check that you use the right fuse to prevent overheating.
- Make sure an electrical appliance has a British or European safety mark when you buy it.
- Certain appliances, such as washing machines, should have a single plug to themselves, as they are high powered.
- Try and keep to one plug per socket.
- When charging electrical goods, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and look for the CE mark that indicates chargers comply with European safety standards.
White Goods Wednesday
More than 28,000 house fires are reported in year as being caused by electrical faults, accidents or misuse. Keeping electrical appliances clean and maintained is not only safer but can keep them energy efficient and prolong their lifespan.
- Don't run appliances or charge devices when the household is asleep - you will have less time to react if a fire starts. Check your tariff - most homes don't get cheaper electricity at night
- Register your electrical products here; you will be informed if there is a problem. This doesn't just apply to new items - you can register older or second-hand appliances too
- Don't overload plug sockets as too many items can draw power from the one socket and can overheat - one plug, one socket. Appliances such as washing machines and electric heaters should be plugged directly into a wall socket as they are high powered
- Check cables to make sure they are not frayed or damaged and look for any scorch marks around sockets or plugs. If you think there might be a problem with an electrical appliance, don't risk it. Unplug it and contact the retailer, manufacturer or qualified repair technician. Use Electrical Safety First’s online product checker to see if has been recalled
- Turn off electrical items overnight that are not designed to be left on.
- Never leave appliances like washing machines, dishwashers or tumble dryers on whilst out of the house or overnight. Electric blankets should only be used to warm the bed and not left on whilst sleeping.
- Always buy electrical products - including chargers - from reputable retailers and manufacturers. Fake, counterfeit and substandard products are a fire risk. Electrical appliances should always have a British or European safety mark
- Don't use foreign appliances in UK sockets if they have not been converted for UK use
- When charging electrical goods, follow the manufacture's instructions and look for the CE mark that indicates chargers comply with European safety standards
- Always check that you are using the right fuse to prevent overloading
- Never use water on an electrical fire. Pull the plug or switch off the power if it is safe to do so. GET OUT, STAY OUT AND CALL 999.
Thursday - Check Your Sockets
Check if your sockets are overloaded using Electrical Fire Safety's socket calculator.
Most people have extension leads in their homes, using four-way bar adaptors to increase the number of appliances that they can plug into a wall socket.
However, although there is space to plug in four appliances, this does not mean it is always safe to do so.
You can avoid overloading sockets and risk of fire by following this simple advice:
- Check the current rating of the extension lead before plugging appliances into it. Most are rated at 13 A, but some are rated at only 10 A or less - the rating should be clearly marked on the back or underside of the extension lead. If not, refer to the manufacturer’s instructions
- Never overload an extension lead by plugging in appliances that together will exceed the maximum current rating stated for the extension lead. This could cause the plug in the wall socket to overheat and possibly cause a fire.
- Use our overload calculator (below) to check if you’re exceeding the maximum load
- For an indication only of the current ratings of commonly-used domestic appliances - check out our information about Home Appliance Ratings.
- Only use one socket extension lead per socket and never plug an extension lead into another extension lead
- Use a multi-way bar extension lead rather than a block adaptor, as this will put less strain on the wall socket. Some block adaptors do not have a fuse, which increases the risk of overloading and fire.
- Consider having additional sockets installed if you regularly rely on extension leads and adaptors - and use a registered electrician to carry out the installation work
- Check regularly for the following danger signs:
- a smell of hot plastic or burning near an appliance or socket
- sparks or smoke coming from a plug or appliance
- blackness or scorch marks around a socket or plug, or on an appliance
- damaged or frayed leads
- coloured wire inside leads showing at the plug or anywhere else
- melted plastic on appliance casings or leads
- fuses that blow or circuit-breakers that operate for no obvious reason
Click here for a helpful guide on extensions and leads.
In the last year, over 4 million UK shoppers bought a fake electrical product and a quarter of these were purchased from an online marketplace.
Did you know that when you buy from an online marketplace, you are buying from an unregulated third party seller? This lack of regulation means that it is easy for counterfeit and sub-standard products to be sold.
Compatible with Amazon and eBay, the Check It Out browser extension will remind you when you are not buying directly from the manufacturer or a retailer you know and trust.
There is growing concern over the rise in fatalities, injuries and devastating fires from electric bikes (e-bikes) and electric scooters (e-scooters). Tragically, in the first three months of 2023 alone, fires from lithium-ion batteries used to power these devices had already taken four lives in the UK, left others hospitalised or seriously injured and caused extensive damage to property.
What is the danger?
Lithium-ion batteries can pose a significant risk due to thermal runaway, which occurs when internal temperatures exceed safe limits. This can happen due to flawed design, low-quality components, or improper charging or discharging. If a fire occurs, it may reignite, making these fires particularly dangerous.
The primary risk associated with lithium-ion batteries is thermal runaway. Battery safety and stability depend on maintaining internal temperatures within specific limits. Poor quality and substandard components, flawed design, physical abuse and improper charging or discharging can all cause a battery to become thermally unstable and can lead to catastrophic failure. Even if a fire is extinguished, it is common for the fire to start again, highlighting the dynamic nature of lithium-ion battery fires.
Battery Breakdown - Safer Use
How owners of e-bikes and e-scooters can use them more safely
One of the primary risks related to lithium-ion batteries is thermal runaway. Thermal runaway is a major challenge in the lithium-ion battery field due to its uncontrollable and irreversible nature, which can lead to venting of toxic fumes, fires and explosions.
If you already have an e-bike or e-scooter, here are some safety tips that can help you keep you and your loved ones safe.
Tips for using e-bikes and e-scooters safely:
- Buy your e-bike or e-scooter from a reputable retailer that you know and trust.
- If you need a replacement charger or battery, get it from the original manufacturer – fake or substandard chargers can cause fires.
- Avoid buying from market stalls, or from third-party sellers on online marketplaces. There is no guarantee the product has been through product safety testing.
- To charge your e-bike or e-scooter safely, follow the manufacturer’s charging instructions.
- Once charged, unplug the charger – so you don’t leave the battery on a continuous charge.
- Avoid charging overnight. Fires occurring at night, when people are sleeping, are
particularly dangerous as your reaction time is massively reduced.
- Don’t charge your e-bike or e-scooter in an exit route like a hallway, landing or stairwell. If a fire breaks out it can block your ability to escape.
- Don’t try to modify your battery pack as these modifications can cause fires.
- Charge batteries in a safe place from a socket that is RCD protected and in an area with working smoke alarms.
- Charge preferably, outside in an enclosed space like a detached garage, shed or a designated charging area for high rise flats.
- Avoid charging batteries in strong sunlight or anywhere there is a high temperature or flammable
- If you want to convert your bike, go to a reputable retailer and have it fitted by a professional.
- If your battery catches fire, do not attempt to put it out yourself. Get out and call the fire service.
Spot of DIY Sunday
Did you know that DIY errors cause half of all serious electric shocks in UK homes?
Almost 50% of men admit that they feel they should try and tackle household maintenance and repair jobs themselves or ask a mate before calling in a professional.
But our survey discovered that nearly half of all severe electric shocks are caused by DIY attempts, with the main errors including cutting through power leads, drilling into wiring and repairing electrical items while they’re still switched on.
In addition, in a survey of registered electricians a third said they had seen or been involved with fixing electrical DIY mishaps that had resulted in fires, serious electric shock or significant repair costs.
Many people now turn to Google or YouTube to search for DIY tips. But you need to make sure you're getting guidance from a reputable source.
Our ‘Don’t Die for DIY’ campaign is drawing attention to the fact that you can’t always rely on the electrical DIY information and advice you find online.
- Locate cables in your wall. A common DIY error is accidentally drilling, nailing or screwing things into cables hidden inside your walls. A quality cable detector can help you to track buried cables before you start work and avoid the risk of an electric shock.
- Use an RCD (residual current device). An RCD can save your life by cutting off the power in the event of an electrical fault caused by a DIY blunder. Make sure you have one fitted in your fusebox (consumer unit), and where necessary use a plug-in RCD.
- Shut off the power. If you're doing any work near electrical wiring or power supplies, where possible, shut off the power in your fusebox and use battery powered tools. To be sure that power is off before beginning DIY, plug an appliance into sockets and try switching on the lights.
- Check power tools and watch out for the lead. Before using any power tools, check the lead and plug are in good condition. If you can see signs of damage (such as frayed wires) get the equipment repaired before using it. And watch out for the power lead at all times so you don't accidentally cut through or trip over it.
- Get advice from a registered electrician. The best way to avoid any electrical problems in the home is to seek the advice of a professional. If you’re not sure, don't DIY.
If you need any electrical work done in your home, the best option is always to get a competent person to do the job for you.
You can easily find a registered electrician here.