Home oxygen fires claim a life every four days in the US, new data has revealed. The analysis, which is the first of its kind, found that the likely annual death toll is higher than previous estimates by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
The research, published in a report by BPR Medical, examined media reports of home oxygen fires between December 2017 and August 2019. A total of 311 incidents were recorded in this 20-month period, resulting in 164 deaths. The vast majority of fatalities were oxygen users themselves, however, 11 were third parties, including family members or other residents. A firefighter was also the victim of an incident in October 2018 when he was hit by a piece of shrapnel from an exploding propane tank.
Previous data from the NFPA has estimated that up to 70 people are killed each year from home oxygen fires.* The NFPA has, however, always emphasized that these are ‘likely underestimates’. This new analysis suggests that the actual figure could be twice as high, given that some incidents may not be reported or published online, and that subsequent deaths from injuries may not be reported.
BPR Medical’s analysis of the most recent incidents also found that 71 serious injuries were reported by the media during the period of the study. The majority of these (63 / 89%) were sustained by oxygen users and included either burns or smoke inhalation injuries, or both. Emergency Rooms record around 1,200 injuries each year from home oxygen fires*, suggesting that most incidents go unrecorded in media reports, the basis for the new study.
The study also reveals that:
- The vast majority of oxygen fires (72%) were either caused or were probably caused, by patients smoking while using oxygen therapy.
- Around one in five incidents (22% / 69) involved either firefighters or police (28 incidents), members of the public (24 incidents), and family members or other residents (17 incidents) entering the building to assist with evacuation, highlighting the significant risk that home oxygen fires pose to third parties.
- Home oxygen fires can displace large numbers of, often elderly, people. There were cases where 50, 60, 70, 100 and 110 were forced to relocate as a result of an incident.
- In 124 incidents (40%), a whole dwelling was completely destroyed.
- 20% of incidents and 22% of deaths were associated with mobile homes or trailers, despite the fact that they represent only 7.6% of the total home stock in the US.
- Exploding cylinders are referenced in 33% of reported incidents, presenting a high risk to the emergency services and members of the public.
The risk of death from home oxygen fires is far greater in the US compared with the UK where measures have been taken to address the issue since 2006. A similar study by BPR Medical in 2018 found that only one death as a result of a home oxygen fire had been recorded in England between 2013 and 2017 and concluded that, for the same oxygen user population the risk of death in the US is 20 times greater.
Richard Radford, Managing Director, BPR Medical, said, “We’ve always suspected that the true scale of the risk from home oxygen fires in the US was higher than previously estimated. This data not only confirms the extent of fatalities among home oxygen users themselves, but also the impact on other people, including neighbours, family members, and the emergency services.
“On the basis of current evidence, the UK represents best practice in the delivery of home oxygen. There is strong regulation, a culture of stakeholders working together to reduce risk, and the fitting of thermal fuses to oxygen tubing – which cut the flow of oxygen in the event of a fire in the tube – is mandatory. Together, these measures significantly reduce the impact of home oxygen fires.
He added: “Guidance on reducing the related problem of surgical oxygen fires was produced by US regulators in 2018, based on clear evidence of the problem. We hope that this study will provide valuable data to support the changes required to address what remains a material public health issue in the US.”
The full report can be found here: www.firebreaks.info/unitedstates/