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Electrical fire safety at home

Electricity is often overlooked as a possible fire hazard. This may be because there is no flame. However, some 28,000 fires in the home are reported each year as being caused by electrical faults, accidents or misuse of electrical equipment.

Don't overload and know the limit! 5 amp + 5 amp + 3 amp = 13 amp - Illustration showing an overloaded plug socket and a 4 plug extension lead with 3 being used with the maximum amount of amps being used. Four holes doesn't necessarily mean four plugs

What to check for:

There are particular danger signs you should look out for on all the electrical items you have around your home:

  • hot plugs and sockets, fuses that blow frequently, flickering lights and scorch marks on sockets or plugs; these are all signs of loose wiring or other problems that should be fixed
  • badly wired plugs – if you can see the coloured wires sticking out, they can come loose and debris can also get into the plug
  • frayed power leads – the outer covering of all power leads should be in good condition and not damaged
  • repaired power leads – split or frayed leads should not just be taped over as this is not a secure repair; they should be replaced
  • overloaded sockets – too many electrical appliances plugged into one socket or adapter can overload it, which will lead to overheating
  • badly positioned cables – they should not be anywhere they could be tripped over, or near to water, or close to cookers or other sources of heat; and don't run them under rugs or carpets where they can wear through without anyone noticing
  • water near electrical items – cables and plugs should never be in danger of getting wet; so don't put a vase of flowers on the TV, for example.

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  • Washing machines and tumble dryers should have a single plug to themselves. Clean the filter in your dryer after every use.
  • One socket, one plug.
  • Make sure electrical appliances have a British or EU safety mark when you buy it.
  • Unplug appliances when you are not using them or when you go to bed.
  • Replace any old cables or leads.
  • Look for the danger signs in electrical equipment such as: scorch marks, over heating plugs, flickering lights,fuses or circuit breakers that trip for no obvious reason.
  • Keep portable heaters away from curtains and furniture
  • An extension lead or adaptor will have a limit to how many amps it can take, so be careful not to overload them.
  • Never leave the washing machine, dryer or dishwasher running overnight or while you are out.

Wiring a Plug

Image showing the correct wiring for a UK plug

Live Wire is the colour Brown, which is found to the right hand side of the plug
Neutral Wire is the colour Blue, which is found to the left hand side of the plug
Earth Wire has Green and yellow stripes, which is found in the centre of the plug


Image of the the types of Fuses available

The fuse does two jobs. It protects the wiring if something goes wrong, and it can also protect us. The fuse contains a piece of wire that melts easily. If the current through the fuse is too great, the wire melts and breaks the circuit.

Fuses in plugs are made in standard ratings. The most common are 3A, 5A and 13A. The fuse should be rated at a slightly larger current than needed for the device.

  • If the device works at 3A, use a 5A fuse
  • If the device works at 10A, use a 13A fuse.

Electric heaters

Plug-in heaters use a lot of electricity and generate a lot of heat. This means they can be dangerous if they are not used correctly. You should:

  • keep them clear of curtains and furniture
  • only sit at least three feet (one metre) away from them
  • buy them from reputable shops
  • never dry washing on or near them (or on fireguards)

Electric blankets

Image of the British Standard Kitemark

Electric blankets cause more than 5,000 fires a year. 99% of which are believed to be caused by blankets over 10 years old.

Your electric blanket should carry the British Standard Kitemark and the British Electrotechnical Approvals Board (BEAB) symbol on it, showing it meets safety and quality standards.

If in doubt, chuck it out!

If your blanket (or its flex) shows any of these danger signs, you should have it checked or replaced:

Image of the old BEAB safety mark (a round symbol, pictured) this means it's over ten years old and should be replaced

  • the old BEAB safety mark (a round symbol, pictured to the right)
    this means it's over ten years old and should be replaced
  • scorch marks
  • exposed elements
  • creasing or folding
  • soiling or damp patches
  • missing or damaged tie tapes
  • loose connections
  • fraying fabric or a worn flex

You should replace your electric blanket at least every ten years. Never buy one second-hand and always check for the British or European standard and the certification marks mentioned above. Also make sure it has overheating protection.

You shouldn't fold electric blankets to store them, as this can damage the wiring. It's better to roll them – or keep them on a spare bed. An electric underblanket can be left on your bed all year, whether you are using it or not.

Here are some further safety tips:

  • always follow the manufacturer's instructions
  • never use an underblanket as an overblanket (or vice-versa)
  • keep all electric blankets flat or rolled to store
  • tie electric underblankets to the bed or mattress as this stops them slipping and creasing, which could cause damage
  • only leave a blanket switched on all night if it has thermostatic controls for safe all-night use – otherwise, switch it off and unplug it before you get into bed
  • don't get blankets wet; and if your blanket does get wet, don't use it – never switch it on to dry it

Testing it

Make sure your blanket is tested by an expert at least every three years. You can ask the shop where you bought it about testing and servicing, or contact the Trading Standards department to see if they are holding a free event.

For more information view the Electrical Safety First website on electric blankets.

Dealing with an electrical fire

Only if it is safe to do so, switch off the power at the fuse box – sometimes this can stop the fire immediately. Never use water on an electrical fire and don't take any risks - get everyone out and dial 999.

View our information on Dialling 999 in an emergency.

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