human behaviour

Hoarding – a lethal habit

Hoarding disorder was classified as an illness in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5), which defines it as

‘the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions.’

It goes on to state that:

‘These behaviors can often be quite severe and even threatening. Beyond the mental impact of the disorder, the accumulation of clutter can create a public health issue by completely filling people’s homes and creating fall and fire hazards.’

Last month, Atlantic magazine drew attention to the fire risks of hoarding in a feature article which opens with the death of a US firefighter trapped by piles of accumulated material in a residential home.  The article points out that the risk is not only to firefighters:

“Among the condition’s many devastating mental and physical consequences is that it can the sufferer more likely to die in a fire. Clutter can block exits and trip residents when they try to escape. Boxes and papers act like kindling, making a fire rage more intensely.”

It is an issue that fire organisations around the world are trying to address.  Some, such as the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in Melbourne, the UK London Fire Brigade, and the US National Fire Protection Association provide guide sheets on hoarding, aimed at helping families to understand the issues and to find ways of helping.  The Chief Fire Officers Association (UK) provided this list of myth-busters around hoarding during their Hoarding Awareness week in 2014.

Some fire personnel in the US are joining ‘hoarding task forces’ which are multi-agency groups consisting of health, social, and emergency service representatives that work together to address the emotional, health, and safety issues associated with hoarding.

Fire risk management in ageing populations

A recent update from Statistics New Zealand shows that our population is getting older:  the 65+ age group has nearly doubled since 1981.

This demographic change has a flow-on effect on the types of dwellings and residences that people choose. Statistics NZ data shows that 32,000 older NZers now live in residential care.

What are the implications of these changes, for fire risk management?

NZ Fire Service recently commissioned research surveying older people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviour towards home security and fire risk management. This research, published in 2015, can be viewed here.

Other countries with ageing populations are also looking into this issue:

This February 2015 article looks at trends in Japan in the dwelling types of elderly people and the risk of death due to fire in these settings.  The author points out that,

“In Japan, approximately 1,400 people die annually in fires (excluding suicide by fire). The ratio of people aged 65 years or older accounts for approximately 60% of these fire fatalities.”

He notes the rise in the number of nursing homes for the elderly and states:

“Even with some improvements to fire safety equipment in these facilities, there remains the problem of how to provide fire safety for elderly people who may find evacuation difficult.”

This detailed and technical article looks at the Canadian elderly residential care situation. These authors also point out the difficulties of evacuation in these settings and argue in favour of retro-fitting sprinklers. They provide a case study of such a project.

World Day for Safety and Health at Work

Each year 28 April is acknowledged as Workers’ Memorial Day, or as WorkSafe NZ and the International Labour Organization (ILO) describe it, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work.

This year they’ve created a SafeDay website with an interactive page for people to help build a culture of prevention. Why don’t you join them and play!