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The E-cig fire hazard that Health & Safety must address immediately

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By November 2014, e-cigarettes were starting one fire per week. A fire risk assessment specialist has issued a stark warning to offices, commercial property managers and care home owners, as it launches its ‘E-cig to Overlook’ campaign.

Gauntlet Fire Risk Management says its experience suggests over 90 percent fire risk assessment documents include no mention of the dangers of e-cigarettes.  Those charged with health and safety management are finding it e-cig to overlook the risks associated with e-cigarettes, because current British no-smoking legislation does not include them, making them seem harmless. The company warns that, where there is no guidance given on the use of e-cigs in the workplace, there is a fire incident waiting to happen.

It is urging ‘responsible persons’ charged with overseeing health and safety practice to follow the Gauntlet Fire Risk Management acronym of: Establish; Control; Implement; Guard. This acronym encourages the responsible person to first establish who is using e-cigarettes in their workplace and how they are using them. It requires them to find out whether employees are charging e-cigarettes in the workplace and, if so, what devices they are using. It then makes the responsible person aware that they need to institute controls over the use of e-cigarettes and their chargers, ensure best practice is implemented, and then continue to guard the workplace through continuous monitoring.  They should also ensure all new employees are made aware of the e-cigarette procedures during their induction.

Gauntlet Fire Risk Management has taken a lead on this issue after a rapid growth in the number of fire incidents involving e-cigarettes. Whilst there were only eight blazes caused by e-cigarettes in 2012, there were 43 in 2013 and 62 in 2014. These figures are most probably highly conservative, as many fires caused by e-cigarettes go unreported.  There have already been two deaths in fires caused by e-cigarettes and serious incidents in August 2015 (house fire in Newport and fire in a locker at offices in Sutton Coldfield) and October 2015 (blaze at a student house in Bangor and a fire in hand luggage on board a Boeing 737).

Over two million Brits now use e-cigarettes and UK vaping sales are more than three times those of nicotine replacement sales.  The UK is the second largest market for vaping devices in the world and latest figures show domestic vaping sales increased by 75 percent in the UK (£459m)*. The fire risk surrounding e-cigarettes is significant, causing the Chairman of the Local Government Association’s fire services management committee, Jeremy Hilton, to urge users to be “vigilant at all times.” (July 2015). This same vigilance needs to be applied in the workplace and shared properties, says Gauntlet Fire Risk Management.  Fires are occurring where:

  • E-cigarettes are overcharged/left in the charger after charging
  • Left unattended whilst charging
  • A charger is plugged into a non-approved power source or transformer
  • E-cig batteries have been damaged, dropped or struck
  • E-cigarettes are not being charged in the original, manufacturer-approved charger, or are charged in a borrowed charger, or cheap replacement charger
  • E-cigarettes are used when wet
  • Atomisers have been over-tightened
  • E-cigarettes are charged on a USB hub plugged into a computer (and not supplied by the manufacturer)
  • E-cigarettes are not compliant with British equipment marks such as the CE Mark
  • E-cigarettes are left charging on flammable surfaces
  • E-cigarettes have switched themselves on within handbags and lockers
  • E-cigarettes have exploded and ignited other materials, such as bedding, oxygen supplies and aerosols

Gauntlet Fire Risk Management says those responsible for health and safety and fire risk assessments need to understand the issues.  E-cigarettes operate through a battery-operated heating coil that gently heats a nicotine liquid that then vaporises.  The batteries that heat the coil are rechargeable lithium ion batteries that catch fire when overheated, damaged and defective. Additionally, if you plug an e-cigarette, which doesn’t use much current, into a charger that uses a lot, the device will heat up and spurt harmful acid out of one end when the battery fails.

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