CFOA calls for safety standards for clothing

CFOA is calling for children’s fancy dress clothing to meet the same safety standards as children’s nightclothes, and for further research into the labelling of adult clothing.

The call comes as BBC TV’s Watchdog (to be broadcast 8pm, Thursday 14 May) features a segment on the fire risk posed by children’s fancy dress costumes, which can quickly burn if touched by a naked flame, potentially causing serious injury.

Avon Fire and Rescue Service flammability testing
© Avon Fire and Rescue Service

Former CFOA President, Paul Fuller, Chief Fire Officer at Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue service and a Trustee of the Children’s Burns Trust warns: “The safety standard for children’s fancy dress can be as little as a ‘keep away from fire’ label. This is not good enough and is putting children’s lives at risk.”

Currently, children’s fancy dress costumes are classified as toys, rather than clothes, and are not covered by the same safety regulations. There is no requirement for them to be fire proofed or fire retardant. Rather than introduce new legislation, CFOA and CFO Fuller are calling for this classification to be changed, so fancy dress costumes are subject to the same safety standards as children’s nightclothes.

Paul Fuller comments: “Fire safety for toys is based on the ability of children to drop a burning teddy bear or doll or to run away from a burning play tent or wigwam. You can’t drop a burning costume or run away from it.

“People do not realise just how quickly a princess costume will catch fire and the fire spread. The design of costumes, with flowing robes, capes or petticoats means they could easily catch fire from a candle or flame and swiftly engulf a child in flames.

“Burn injuries are difficult to treat and once a child’s skin has been burned it does not regain its flexibility and grow as the child does. This means a young burns survivor may have to endure years of painful surgery as they grow and develop.

Parents are warned that the clothes should be treated as high risk, particularly around the open flames which might be found at birthday parties, Halloween or barbeques. More expensive costumes are not necessarily safer: in tests carried out by Avon Fire and Rescue Service (Image 1) one of the most expensive costumes was the worst for flammability.

It is not only children’s clothing which can be at risk of catching fire, however. In a recent incident in East Sussex, a man tragically died when his clothing caught alight after coming into contact with smoking materials. In the incident, in November 2014 an elderly man suffered burns, and later died after accidentally setting his clothing alight when he attempted to smoke a cigarette. East Sussex Coroner, Alan Craze, returned a verdict of accidental death, and will be writing a “prevention of future deaths” letter to the appropriate minister in Government, highlighting the circumstances of the case, and asking them to consider the issues raised.

Mark Hobbs, who investigated the fire for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and gave evidence at the inquest said: “Over recent years we have sadly seen a number of people accidentally set themselves alight, often with smoking materials. If someone is unable to react quickly, perhaps because they are elderly or have reduced mobility, the consequences can be devastating.

“We know that some fabrics burn much more quickly. We also know it isn’t easy for people to check whether their clothes will catch light easily. There are no regulations – other than for children’s nightwear – for clothing to be labelled. We hope that this case will prompt further work in this area to help protect the public.”

More info

  1. The Children’s Burns Trust is a national charity dedicated to providing rehabilitation support for burned and scald injured children and their families, as well as prevention and awareness campaigns. http://www.cbtrust.org.uk/
  2. Paul Fuller is Chief Fire Officer of Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and was President of the Chief Fire Officers Association from 2013-14. https://www.bedsfire.com
  3. Further details of the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service incident and advice for those looking after vulnerable people who smoke at http://www.esfrs.org/news/2015-news/inquest-highlights-fire-risk-link-with-clothing-and-materials/
  4. Photo copyright Avon Fire and Rescue Service.
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