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The hidden fire hazard in our care homes

Posted by Peter Rose on

Lurking unnoticed in the corridors of many care homes is a real hazard which should raise significant concern. I doubt very much that managers, buyers and even fire officers are aware that the corridors, lounges and dining rooms of care homes are filled with such a potentially lethal, yet innocuous looking product. Polymer picture frames.

A cleverly manufactured product of the picture framing industry, polymer picture frame mouldings are finished to look exactly like a traditional wood or plaster picture frame, which is how (I assume) they have snuck into care homes unnoticed.

But apply a flame from a match or lighter and in seconds the material will burn freely and and vigorously as you can see from the photo. In the event of a fire these frames will give off an acrid black soot, carbon-dioxide and some other very nasty chemicals indeed.

Some (perhaps all) Polymer frames are manufactured from recycled polystyrene and this is information readily available on the net;

"Polystyrene contains the toxic substances Styrene and Benzene, suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins that are hazardous to humans. Hot foods and liquids actually start a partial breakdown of the Styrofoam." 

Common sense tells me that if hot food has this effect, then burning the material will be much worse and according to this following excerpt I'm not wrong;

"When burned, Styrofoam releases more than 90 different hazardous chemicals and the effects are vast and harmful to the health of any person present."

I came across this problem a little while ago when putting together a range of picture frames for a collection of reminiscence pictures I was working on. The polymer frames look fantastic, and as they've been so widely used I assumed they had a suitable fire rating. You can imagine my surprise that something used so extensively in this market didn't appear to have a fire rating, so I took a piece of the profile outside and did my own simple test. I was genuinely shocked at how freely and (for want of a better word) nastily it burned and the amount of sooty, toxic-smelling smoke it gave off. You can also see how quickly I put the test piece out as it was clearly taking hold extremely quickly.

We've heard and seen stories in the press about over-zealous fire inspections resulting in valuable memorabilia being removed from care homes. In my opinion it is unrealistic to try and eliminate all risk such that a home is no longer homely. But fire officers must be oblivious to this hazard as it's simply not being picked up on and the product is still freely available with no warnings what so ever. Like I mentioned earlier, most people probably don't have a clue their home may be full of this product.

I'm not going to turn this into a sales pitch as I think that would dilute the gravitas this matter deserves, so I'll simply say that any alternative is better than Polymer, even wood and there are metal frames and suitably fire-rated options readily available.


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