21 Jun 2021
Home fire safety: Is working from home increasing your fire risk?

Home fire safety: Is working from home increasing your fire risk?

  • The number of people working from home has almost doubled in the past 18 months
  • Spending more time in the home results in an increased risk of fire, which increases in winter
  • 73 per cent of people are engaging in at least one risky fire behaviour in the home, according to QBE research.

While the global pandemic forced many of us to work from home temporarily, those arrangements have continued now that we’ve all grown accustomed to living with COVID-19.

In fact, the number of people who now work from home has almost doubled since before the pandemic1,with 41 per cent of people working from home at least one day per week, compared with 24 per cent pre-pandemic. This tallies with recent research2 commissioned by QBEwhich found that 46 per cent of respondents were working from home.

Working from home has been a new phenomenon for a lot of us, and we’ve had to establish new ways of living and working in environments that usually were only ever meant for the former.

And that brings with it a whole new set of risks – one of them being an increased chance of fire.

QBE’s recent research3 revealed a number of key fire risks that those of us who work from home could be exposing ourselves to. Are you guilty of any of these? If so, by reducing the risk before something happens, you can save yourself a whole lot of heartache – and money.

Risk 1: Piggybacking power boards

You’ve got your laptop and monitor (or two), then your Bluetooth speaker, your charger and your portable heater – and you need them all running at the same time. Trouble is, there are only two powerpoints.

According to QBE research, a huge 95 per cent of us use double adaptors or power boards at home, but it’s important to not overload the power board (putting additional adapters into the power board) and to not have too many high-amperage appliances on the same board. A phone charger, for example, uses only a small amperage, but a kettle uses a lot.

In NSW alone, more than 350 domestic fires per year are caused by electrical faults4. Overloading power boards, dust in unused points, inadequate ventilation and overheating are common causes of power board-related fires5.

Fire safety tips:

  • Only use power boards with built-in safety switches or circuit breakers
  • Don’t plug multiple high-amperage devices into the same board
  • Never plug in additional double plugs.

Risk 2: Charging your phone or laptop on surfaces that don’t provide enough ventilation

Overhead view of a man working on a laptop from his bed at homeOur devices are in continuous use – and if they’re not, they’re usually being charged. The vast majority of us even sleep with them – 75 per cent of us have charged our devices on or next to our bed, with 62 per cent of us often or always doing so, according to QBE research.

This presents the potential for a spot of bother, especially if the device is in the bed, as it may not have the necessary ventilation and could overheat. The same goes for charging things on surfaces that could burn, such as couches.

Fire safety tips:

  • Always charge your devices in locations that allow for good ventilation
  • Only ever use approved charging devices and chargers that are in good working order.

Risk 3: Leaving the dryer running during the day or while you’re on your lunchtime walk

One of the perks of working from home is getting a few household chores done between tasks. A load of washing here, a load of drying there – it’s multitasking at its finest! However, that dryer can be a fire hazard in its own right, especially if you aren’t maintaining it correctly.

QBE’s research found about 28 per cent of us frequently or occasionally leave our tumble dryer spinning ’round when we leave the house. This can be a problem because 61 per cent of us don’t clean our lint filter as much as we’re meant to – which, by the way, is after every use. The lint produced can become a fire hazard if it’s allowed to accumulate and cause overheating.

So if you’re in the habit of running the dryer while you’re out on your lunchtime walk or even tucked away in the upstairs office, it’s best to think again.

Fire safety tips:

  • Clean the lint filter after every use and the vent pipe every three months, if not more
  • Never leave home with the dryer running.

Risk 4: Having the heater on more often

With temperatures dipping, our heaters are getting more and more of a workout – QBE’s research found almost 45 per cent of us are using our electric heaters and almost 25 per cent are using gas heaters. More than 10 per cent of us are using our fireplaces, while 14 per cent are relying on a wood heater.

However, many of us never check that our heaters are safe to use, with just 41 per cent checking at least once a year. It’s a huge potential problem. A defect could cause a failure – and a fire. In fact, heaters are the cause of hundreds of claims every single year.

Fire safety tips:

  • Check that the receptacle, power cords and wiring are in good condition
  • Only use one heater per electrical circuit (depending on manufacturer’s instructions)
  • Ensure gas heaters are serviced by a licensed gas fitter every two years, at a minimum.

Risk 5: Walking away from cooking

Another benefit of working from home is that you can get the dinner on and bubbling away while you get your afternoon’s work done. And while the wafting aroma of bolognese or curry is always a pleasure, it comes with some significant risk, because according to QBE research, almost 75 per cent of people leave an appliance unattended while cooking – with 22 per cent admitting to doing it all the time. The risk increases in winter, with 40 per cent of people cooking more during the colder months.

Kitchens are packed full of flammable items, and stepping away – even momentarily – can lead to a fire occurring, as well as thousands of dollars worth of damage.

Fire safety tips:

  • Always monitor your cooking and turn everything off when you leave
  • Turn kettles and toasters off at the socket – faulty wiring can cause a fire even if they’re not in use.

By focusing on fire safety while you work from home, you can act before something major happens. Of course, there’s only so much you can do – and sometimes fires can happen despite all your best efforts. (Remember to check your smoke alarms are in good working order!) If such an event does occur, your home and contents insurance can help you get back to the position you were in beforehand.

1 https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/people-and-communities/household-impacts-covid-19-survey/feb-2021
2 Polling study of 1,011 Australians, aged 18-65, completed for QBE Insurance Australia in April 2021
3 Polling study of 1,011 Australians, aged 18-65, completed for QBE Insurance Australia in April 2021
4 https://www.fire.nsw.gov.au/page.php?id=630
5 https://www.fire.nsw.gov.au/page.php?id=630

The advice in this article is general in nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You must decide whether or not it is appropriate, in light of your own circumstances, to act on this advice.

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