Paraffin-based skin products

  • Paraffin-base skin products are widely prescribed and dispensed for various skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
  • They are safe to use but can soak into clothing, dressings and bedding leaving a flammable residue.
  • If exposed to a naked flame or a heat source, such as a cigarette, lighter, gas cooker, heater or fire, these saturated fabrics can catch fire; the paraffin residue will help the fire develop and spread rapidly which could result in serious injury or death.

Following three deaths in West Yorkshire since 2015, we are trying to raise public awareness about the potential fire risks so that paraffin-based skin products are used safely and everyone stays safe and well within their home.

Public FAQs

What are paraffin-based skin products?

These products are commonly prescribed by doctors to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczemas and sores. Many of these products can also be purchased over the counter in chemists and supermarkets.

Are they safe to use?

Yes they are. We encourage their use as recommended by medical professionals.

Are they flammable?

No. If you put a match to a sample of paraffin-based skin product it would not ignite.

So, why should I be concerned?

Regular use of these products, over a number of days, can lead to them soaking into your clothing, bedding and bandages/dressings. If you then introduce an ignition or heat source such as

  • Accidentally, dropping a cigarette or a lighted match
  • Sitting too near to a gas, halogen or open fire
  • Catching your clothing on a hob when cooking.

You can cause a fire to develop, burn intensely and spread rapidly. This could lead to a serious injury or death. Nationally, there have been at least 8 deaths associated with paraffin-based skin products within the last 12 months (Feb 2018).

What can I do to make sure I’m safe?

  • Never smoke in bed
  • Do not smoke if there is any chance your clothing or dressings could be contaminated with these products
  • Do not cook if there is any chance your clothing or dressings could be contaminated with these products
  • Do not sit too close to any open fires, gas fires or halogen heaters
  • Wash your clothing and bedding daily at the highest temperature recommended by the fabric care instructions. This should reduce some of the contamination but may not remove it completely.

What can I do to make sure my friends and family are safe?

Share this information with them so that they are also aware of the potential risks.

Useful links

WYFRS links

Video – Do you know the risk? Paraffin-based skin products public safety video

 

Leaflet – Using Paraffin-based Creams Safely

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaflet – Caring for people who use paraffin-based creams, airflow or oxygen equipment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

External links

Video – Abraham the Pharmacist advises

‘Health care professionals may not be aware of the potential fire hazard posed by emollient creams which contain a lower level of paraffin’ 

HM Assistant Coroner Mary Burke July 2017

We know that paraffin-based skin products are safe to use but they can soak into clothing, dressings and bedding leaving a flammable residue. If exposed to a naked flame or a heat source, such as a cigarette, lighter, gas cooker, heater or fire, these saturated fabrics can catch fire; the paraffin residue will help the fire develop and spread rapidly which could result in serious injury or death.

This can happen regardless of the level of paraffin content.

Case study – Pauline Taylor’s story

Pauline Taylor was a 74 year old grandmother who lived alone in a flat in Huddersfield. She had been a regular smoker throughout her life. In early 2015, her health deteriorated and she had become bed bound. Despite requests from her daughters to stop smoking, she continued to do so in bed. She had several daily visits from her supportive family, care staff and the district nursing team and received daily applications of Zerobase for her psoriasis. This product is a paraffin-based moisturiser with 11% paraffin content. On 29 May 2015, Pauline received a visit from one of her carers late in the evening and was presenting as expected. However, just under five hours later the care line was activated and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and members of her family were alerted. The fire crew entered the property using breathing apparatus but unfortunately Pauline had died. The subsequent Coroner’s hearing found that matches and emollient creams had accelerated the fire and contributed to its intensity. Pauline’s daughters have since been campaigning alongside us to raise public and health professional awareness around this issue.

What can you do to help?

In a hospital setting

  • Patients should be given information that includes advice about the potential fire risks of smoking (or being near to people who are smoking), or exposure to any open flame or other potential cause of ignition during treatment. In hospital units initiating therapy, this should be given in both verbal and written form.
  • Fire safety information should be displayed prominently in every ward area where patients may be treated with significant quantities of paraffin based products.
  • If, against advice, a patient intends to go off the ward to smoke they should be informed of the risk and advised to wear a thick outer covering that has not been contaminated with paraffin-based products.
  • Relatives or carers should be informed if a patient does not comply with safety advice and instructions during treatment involving significant quantities of paraffin based products.

*This is National Patient Safety Agency advice and is currently being reviewed by the Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

In a community setting

  • Consider the smoking status of your patients before commencing treatment.
  • Patients and clients should be given information that includes advice about the potential fire risks of smoking (or being near to people who are smoking), or exposure to any open flame or other potential cause of ignition during treatment.
  • This information should be given on the first occasion that such treatment is prescribed or applied by a healthcare professional and a record kept confirming that the advice has been given. Regular checks should be made to ensure the advice has been given and understood.
  • Patients and their families should be provided with safety advice about regularly changing clothing or bedding saturated with paraffin based products (preferably on a daily basis), as the paraffin soaks into the fabrics and can potentially be a fire hazard. Chairs or seating may also have the potential to become contaminated. Please note that regularly washing fabrics will reduce the contamination but may not totally remove it.
  • Encourage your patients and clients to share the advice they have been given with their family.
  • Review/inform the GP if your patient has a previous history of smoking and is displaying memory issues and/or confusion.
  • Share this information with your colleagues and teams.
  • Record the advice you have given in your patient/clients Care Plan.

 

General practitioners

  • Consider the smoking status of your patients before commencing treatment.
  • Patients should be given information that includes advice about the potential fire risks of smoking (or being near to people who are smoking) and their exposure to any open flame or other potential cause of ignition such as cooking if there is any possibility of their clothing, bandages or bedding being contaminated with these products.
  • This information should be given on the first occasion that these products are prescribed and a record kept confirming that such advice has been given. A check should be made on subsequent occasions that the advice has been received previously and understood.
  • Review your patient’s use of paraffin-based skin products if they have a previous history of smoking and are displaying memory issues and/or confusion.
  • Consider alternative treatments where people smoke and/or have a condition which places them at high risk of fire such as memory loss, poor concentration or drowsiness.
  • Share this information with your colleagues and teams.
  • Display and disseminate appropriate information to your patients.
  • Encourage your patients to share this advice with their family.

Useful links

WYFRS links

Leaflet – Caring for people who use paraffin-based creams, airflow or oxygen equipment

Letter to GPs from Deputy Chief Fire Officer

Video – Health and Care Professional Informative

Video – Paraffin-based skin product – fire tests

External links

Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency warning  2016

Coroner’s report  for Pauline Taylor

NICE/ BNF summary information

NHS Improvement Patient Safety Alert (page 17)

‘Health care professionals may not be aware of the potential fire hazard posed by emollient creams which contain a lower level of paraffin’ 

HM Assistant Coroner Mary Burke July 2017

 

We know that paraffin-based skin products are safe to use but they can soak into clothing, dressings and bedding leaving a flammable residue. If exposed to a naked flame or a heat source, such as a cigarette, lighter, gas cooker, heater or fire, these saturated fabrics can catch fire; the paraffin residue will help the fire develop and spread rapidly which could result in serious injury or death..

This can happen regardless of the level of paraffin content.

What can you do to help?

  • Ask your customers what their smoking status is when dispensing or selling paraffin-based skin products.
  • Talk to them about the potential fire risks of using these products, especially if they are smoking, cooking or near to an open flame.
  • Record any advice you have given on their Patient Medication Record, remembering to communicate this to them at regular intervals.
  • Take care not to cover up the flammability warning on products which have them.
  • Refer people back to the GP where they smoke and/or have a condition which places them at high risk of fire such as memory loss, poor concentration or drowsiness; and add their details to their Patient Medical Record.
  • Share this information with your colleagues and teams.

Case study – Pauline Taylor’s story

Pauline Taylor was a 74 year old grandmother who lived alone in a flat in Huddersfield. She had been a regular smoker throughout her life. In early 2015, her health deteriorated and she had become bed bound. Despite requests from her daughters to stop smoking, she continued to do so in bed. She had several daily visits from her supportive family, care staff and the district nursing team and received daily applications of Zerobase for her psoriasis. This product is a paraffin-based moisturiser with 11% paraffin content. On 29 May 2015, Pauline received a visit from one of her carers late in the evening and was presenting as expected. However, just under five hours later the care line was activated and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and members of her family were alerted. The fire crew entered the property using breathing apparatus but unfortunately Pauline had died. The subsequent Coroner’s hearing found that matches and emollient creams had accelerated the fire and contributed to its intensity. Pauline’s daughters have since been campaigning alongside us to raise public and health professional awareness around this issue.

Useful links

WYFRS links

Video – Health and Care Professional Informative

Video – Paraffin-based skin product – fire tests

Leaflet – Caring for people who use paraffin-based creams, airflow or oxygen equipment

Pharmacy Toolkit

Letter to pharmacists from Deputy Chief Fire Officer

Pharmacy bag sticker

Pharmacy fire hazard postcard

Pharmacist Information – tips and prompts

External links

Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency warning  2016

Coroner’s report for Pauline Taylor

NICE/ BNF summary information

NHS Improvement Patient Safety Alert (page 17)

Project description

This project aims to

Raise awareness amongst

  • the public
  • health and care professionals
  • pharmacists
  • other fire and rescue services

about the potential fire risks associated with the use of paraffin-based skin products when they become soaked into fabrics and an ignition source is introduced.

Reduce the likelihood of further fire fatalities across West Yorkshire which are connected to unsafe behaviours around the use of paraffin-based skin products.

Lobby for changes to medicine and medical device labelling.

Support scientific testing into the flammability of differing % level paraffin-base products.

Work with manufacturers to develop effective washing care instructions for saturated fabrics.

For further information, or if you wish to share or discuss an idea about the project please contact us at paraffinproject@westyorksfire.gov.uk

Useful links

WYFRS links

Pharmacy Toolkit

Letter to pharmacists from Deputy Chief Fire Officer

Pharmacy bag sticker

Pharmacy fire hazard postcard

Pharmacist Information – tips and prompts

External links

Coroner’s report for Pauline Taylor

 

If you have any concerns or would like to talk to us about any issues please get in touch.

01274 682311 and ask for your local district prevention team in Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds or Wakefield.