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Issue 3: Fire risk from use of emollient creams

  • Organisations we regulate

The unsafe use of emollient creams can result in serious or fatal injuries from fire.

When supporting people to use emollient creams, it is important to be aware of the risks. You might use emollient creams to help manage dry skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.

If people using a paraffin-based emollient product cover it with a dressing or clothing, there's a danger that smoking or using a naked flame could cause these dressings or clothing to catch fire. There may also be reactions between emollients and fibres of dressings, clothing and items such as towels when used to carry out personal care.

Issues notified to CQC

In May 2018, CQC was notified of a fire at a care home in Lancashire. Nine residents were evacuated and there were no injuries to staff or residents. The fire started in the laundry room after emollient creams reacted with cotton towels. The fire authority issued an enforcement notice requiring the provider to make sure:

  • all emollients are stored securely
  • risk assessments are updated to reflect the use and storage of emollients

The provider is taking steps to improve

The fire authority issued a notice requiring actions to be completed by 29 June 2018. CQC is working closely with the fire authority to ensure that people are safe and that improvements are made.

What can you do to avoid this happening?

Unfortunately, this sort of incident is not uncommon and has caused fatalities but you can do something to reduce the risk.

In 2008, the National Patient Safety Agency reported a fatal incident. A paraffin-based skin product was in contact with a person’s dressings and clothing. A naked flame ignited the clothing. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued a safety alert in 2008. The alert was updated in 2016: ‘Paraffin-based skin emollients on dressings or clothing: fire risk’. The 2016 alert reminded healthcare professionals to:

  • advise people who are using emollient creams of the risks the creams may pose, and:
    • not to smoke
    • not to use naked flames
    • not to go near anyone smoking or using naked flames
  • change people’s clothing and bedding regularly because emollients soak into fabric and can become a fire hazard

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has produced a video, aimed at care professionals, which demonstrates the potential fire hazards associated with paraffin-based skin products. It describes a house fire in 2015, which tragically resulted in the death of a 74-year-old woman who used this type of skin product.

Last updated:
08 January 2019


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