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East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service logo

Paraffin-based skin emollients on dressings or clothing

Fire Risk Safety Advice

There are a number of skin conditions which, in order to relieve symptoms, patients are encouraged by their GP to apply emollient creams

A number of these creams contain paraffin and can pose a significant fire risk.

In order to obtain the greatest relief these creams are applied liberally and due to their nature are readily absorbed into materials including dressings, clothing, bedding and upholstery creating conditions described by the HSE as similar to a candle wick.

Naked flames and in some cases smoking materials have caused patients’ dressings or clothing to catch fire when paraffin-based emollient has been used and is in contact with the dressing, clothing or other textiles in contact with the person.

An ordinary low-temperature washing routine does not fully remove the paraffin from textiles and the build-up of paraffin over a period of time increases the risk of fire when an ignition source is applied.

Advice to clients

  • Advise clients not to smoke or use naked flames (or be near people who are smoking or using naked flames) or go near anything that may cause a fire while emollients are in contact with their medical dressings or clothing. Examples would include leaning over a lit gas cooker hob or candles, allowing lit cigarettes to come into contact with clothing or dressings
  • Clothing and bedding should be changed regularly—preferably daily—to reduce the build-up of paraffin within the fabric
  • Clothing should be washed at a higher temperature. It is suggested that this should be between 60-90 degrees to remove the paraffin. That said, many garments cannot safely be washed at this temperature without causing damage in which case the advice must be to avoid wearing delicate clothing when using emollient creams.

Most packaging contains some fire safety advice but our experience is that it is not explicit or clearly visible and is rarely pointed out to users.

Medical staff who prescribe or encourage the use of these creams are often unaware of the fire risks associated with their use.

The Regulation & Quality Improvement Authority has issued guidance on service users smoking in Residential Care and Nursing Homes. The latest guidance (June 2017) does not contain information about the potential fire risk of paraffin-based emollient creams. East Sussex Fire and Rescue Inspecting Officers will take the opportunity when visiting these premises to provide suitable advice and to ensure that emollient cream use is included in the individual smokers’ risk assessment.

There have been a number of fatal fires both nationally as well as locally where emollient creams have been a significant factor. Emollient cream is now included in the Home Safety Visit reporting form and staff are advised to ensure that where the use of emollient creams are identified that clients are appropriately advised.

Further information and advice can be obtained from ESFRS Community Safety and Business Safety Departments.

Examples of paraffin-based emollients include:

  • White soft paraffin
  • White soft paraffin plus 50% liquid paraffin
  • Emulsifying ointment

Further Information

Latest Update :
24 September 2019
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