73% of Aussies are risking fire safety with these 5 behaviours: here’s how to avoid them
QBE Insurance (QBE) is reminding families to stay safe this winter after research* revealed 73 per cent of Australians are engaging in behaviour exposing them to home fire risk.
The QBE research includes a survey of 1,011 Australians and finds most are engaging in at least one of five top risky behaviours common in cooler weather. This, according to QBE data^, is also the period when major domestic fire claims volumes typically spike, increasing by 33 per cent on average in winter (compared to summer and spring).
It’s likely that some Australians don’t even know these habits put them at risk, says QBE Head of Property Claims David Gow.
"In the cooler months, we see the highest volumes of fire claims from peoples’ homes, which is at the same time when many of us are engaging in potentially risky activities to keep warm.
“While some people may not realise there is a risk, there are others who may think it won’t ever happen to them - and that's why it's so important to educate households about the dangers and how to avoid them before they could occur, plus what to do after if something goes awry. We want to see everyone staying safe while staying warm."
Risk #1: Forgetting to empty the lint filter in your tumble dryer
Almost 60 per cent of Australians aren't cleaning their lint filters after every use, including the 29 per cent who have reportedly never emptied it at all - or can't remember when it was last cleaned.
This is a major household safety risk considering manufacturers and authorities are clear that it must be cleared after every use – a particularly important reminder in winter when dryer use increases for many, says Gow.
"The lint produced in the drying process can become a fire hazard if it's allowed to accumulate in or around your dryer by reducing ventilation and causing overheating. The vent pipe should also be cleaned of lint every three months or even more regularly if a dryer is used daily."
The research also revealed 28 per cent of Australians regularly or occasionally leave the dryer running when they leave home - another risky habit, according to Gow.
“While leaving the dryer on when going to work or ducking out may be convenient, it means there’s no one around to detect a fire if one occurs. Someone should always be close by if a dryer is running - it could be the difference between a fire being extinguished quickly versus a home being destroyed.
Related article: 7 fire safety tips for the holidays
Risk #2: Staying on top of heater safety with regular checks
Most Australians are using gas and electric heaters to stay warm (65%), but one in five have never safety checked their heaters and this is a major red flag, says Gow.
"All heaters should be inspected regularly and at the start of every cold season – electrical and gas heaters are the culprits behind thousands of claims each year.
"Check any electric heaters are in good working condition, including the receptacle, power cord, and wiring, and that only one heater is used per electrical circuit depending on manufacturer instructions. A defect could lead to a failure that could spark a fire.
"Gas heaters should be serviced at least every two years by a licenced gasfitter and tested for carbon monoxide spillage. Rusted reflectors or frames can create hot spots and can cause problems.
“Outdoor heaters, fireplaces and firepits should be checked too and never left unattended – about one in five home major fire damage claims start outside the main dwelling.”
Risk #3: Ducking away while cooking
More than two in three Australians (73%) have stepped away while cooking and a significant 22 per cent admit to doing it all the time. Ducking away for just a moment may seem harmless but leaving cooking unattended is a leading cause of home fires in Australia, and kitchen fires are behind about one in five of all fire damage claims, says Gow.
" A substantial 40 per cent of Aussies report they cook more in winter, so the chance of a kitchen calamity is naturally higher.
"Kitchens are full of flammable materials and appliances that deal with heat and grease. Stepping away even for just a minute can lead to a fire, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Stay in the kitchen while cooking and turn everything off before you leave.
"Turn off and unplug electric appliances when they're not in use as these continue to draw electricity even when they're off, so if the wiring is old or faulty, a fire could happen.”
Related article: How good neighbours can protect your home
Risk #4: Not regularly cleaning your kitchen
Three in five Australians (59%) don't regularly clean kitchen appliances, while half don't regularly clean their ovens as recommended. With winter cooking ramping up, neglected kitchens could become more hazardous, says Gow.
“Grease, grime, or crumbs accumulating can seem harmless, but a build-up can become a hazard – particularly when it comes to ovens.
"Empty the crumb tray in toasters and the like regularly. Clean the oven and barbeque at least every three months. Wipe out the microwave often."
Risk #5: Charging a device on or near your bed
More than 60 per cent of all Australians (62%), and an overwhelming 83 per cent aged 21 – 34 years, often or always charge their phones, tablets or laptops in or by their bed. A habit that can be riskier than many realise, says Gow.
"Charge smartphones, laptops and tablets in locations that allow for adequate ventilation, so they don't overheat and malfunction. Charging them under a pillow, on a bed, or on a couch doesn't allow for this and can cause pillows and bed linen to ignite.
"Only use approved charging devices, charge items on surfaces that do not burn and never use a faulty charger. "
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5 basic fire safety practices for before, during and after winter
The research also revealed most Australians aren't well prepared to deal with a fire if one breaks out. A significant 70 per cent don’t have a fire blanket or extinguisher in their homes and four in five also report they don’t have a fire evacuation plan.
Basics like having fire blankets and extinguishers, establishing an evacuation plan, testing smoke alarms regularly and changing their batteries as recommended are key, says Gow.
"Fire is a unique risk and if action is taken to address the risk very early it can result in little or no damage. If it’s not, a fire at home can be a catastrophic event. Fire blankets, extinguishers and evacuation plans can save homes and lives.
“Many of us also know the benefits that smoke detectors have in not only saving property but more importantly saving lives. If you haven’t tested them and checked the batteries recently now is the perfect time.”
How home insurance can help after a fire disaster
Insurance can provide financial protection against domestic fire so considering cover and keeping it up to date is key, says Gow.
"Almost all home and contents policies include cover for fires at home, and sometimes, despite preparation efforts, a fire event can be unavoidable.
“Our policies include cover for temporary accommodation if a home is left unliveable after a fire event, as well as for liability, which can help if a fire in your home leaves you liable for damage to neighbouring property.”
"It's a good idea for policyholders to check they have adequate home and contents insurance cover and that their sum insured, the value of replacing your house and contents, is up to date.”
Home Insurance provides cover for homeowners’ building and contents, while renters and strata owner-occupiers can choose Contents Insurance protection.
Find out more about QBE’s Home Insurance
* Polling study of 1,011 Australians, aged 18-65, completed for QBE Insurance Australia in April 2021
^ Analysis of QBE claims data 2018 - 2020 – major loss domestic fire damage claims valued over >50,000 AUD (excluding bushfire)