Life Begins At » 1 in 2 Aussie households don’t check their smoke alarms

1 in 2 Aussie households don’t check their smoke alarms

Smoke Alarm

More than 12,000 fires occurred in Australian households last year.[1] Now, new research reveals that half of Aussie households do not test their smoke alarms every month, as recommended by some State fire services,[2] nor are they aware smoke alarms have expiry dates and must be replaced.

The findings came from an independent survey of a nationally representative panel of 1010[3] Australians commissioned by leading comparison site (comparethemarket).

The survey results revealed that 49 per cent of respondents admitted that, in the month prior, they did not check that every smoke alarm in their home works. It also revealed that younger Australians are taking more fire risks than other age groups: 56 per cent of under 44s did not check their smoke alarms, compared with 43 per cent of 55-64 year olds, and 40 per cent of over 65s. NSW Fire and Rescue states that you are twice as likely to die in a home fire if you don’t have a working smoke alarm.[4]

It is a requirement that all smoke alarms have a serial or batch number on them to indicate when they were manufactured.[5] Australian Standard 3768 – a Standard for the operation and functioning of smoke alarms in Australia – requires all types of smoke alarms to be removed, replaced and disposed of at least every 10 years.[6] However, from the survey, comparethemarket found that 48 per cent of Australians do not know that smoke alarms have expiry dates.

How households across the States compare

Between the States, WA households are most lax in monitoring their smoke alarms. More than half (56 per cent) of WA households had not checked that their smoke alarms, compared with 51 per cent of Victorians, 48 per cent of NSW respondents and 47 per cent of ACT residents.

Household savings expert at comparethemarket Abigail Koch, says: “Working smoke alarms are a necessity all year round, but more so during winter when heating appliances are used. A concerning 60 per cent of preventable fires in the home occur overnight, so it’s advised that electric blankets, fireplaces and heaters are turned off before going to bed.[7] It’s vital that Aussies also check the batteries and serial batch number on their smoke alarms for their own safety and wellbeing as they may not operate adequately after a decade, and that they have a fire escape plan.

Tips to Developing a Fire Escape Plan

Protect Yourself from Home Fires this Winter

“It’s important we do everything possible to protect your most valuable asset. A suitable home and contents insurance policy is an important cover in case a fire in the home does occur. Free comparison sites, such as comparethemarket, allow households to compare home and contents insurance policies more easily, on the one platform. It’s important to know that some policies may have an embargo period applied if there has been a fire event nearby. Make sure you thoroughly go through the Product Disclosure Statement and do your homework to find out what you could be covered for and any exclusions that apply.

Seven tips to minimise the risk of fire in your household

  1. Consider installing photoelectric smoke alarms. Ionisation and photoelectric are the two main types of smoke alarms used in residential properties. In typical house fires, materials can smoulder for a few hours before flames break out. Detecting a fire during this phase can minimise the fire damaging property or harming occupants. Photoelectric smoke alarms are much faster than ionisation alarms at detecting smoke and smoulder. They will respond within three to five minutes compared with up to 20 minutes it takes for ionisation alarms to do the same.[8] Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA recommends installing photoelectric smoke alarms at home.  
  2. Ensure smoke alarm units are replaced at least once every 10 years. Due to potential dust build up, insects and electrical corrosion, smoke alarms may not operate effectively after 10 years.[9] To assist in identifying their expiry date, Australian Standard 3786 (the standard for smoke alarms in Australia) requires a serial or batch number to be labelled on the device.[10] For example, 2107 may mean that a device was manufactured in the 21st week of 2007.[11] If you are not sure of the age of your smoke alarm, contact the manufacturer or supplier.
  3. Test smoke detectors regularly. Smoke alarms should be properly maintained and tested regularly. Comparethemarket’s latest research reveals that almost one in 10 Aussies (9 per cent) admitted that they’ve had a smoke alarm that didn’t work for up to three months – due to their disconnecting or removing the battery in their alarm. [12] It’s worth setting a reminder in your calendar to ensure you don’t forget about your smoke alarm. In some States such as Queensland[13] and WA[14], residents are urged to check their smoke alarms on April 1, making it a little bit easier to remember – but it’s advised that smoke alarms are checked monthly. If the alarm doesn’t work, then you will need to replace it immediately.
  4. Store chemicals and flammable products correctly. Designate a cool, dark cupboard for flammable products or chemicals to make sure they are kept away from heat. Combustible materials, such as paint or gasoline should be sealed in their original containers. If you have a garage or shed, take extra care to refuel lawnmowers or garden edgers when they are cold and in the open.
  5. Don’t overload power boards and switch them off when not in use. Hundreds of house fires are the result of electrical faults each year.[15]Poor maintenance and incorrect usage of power boards – such as overloading them or letting dust build up in unused points – are usually the reasons behind these faults[16]. When using power boards, regularly check that all plugs are firmly fixed in, they receive adequate ventilation, and that they are regularly inspected for signs of damage. Many modern power boards are fitted with a surge protector and trip switches in household electricity boxes reduce, but don’t eliminate, the risk of such occurrences.
  6. Never leave stovetops or any other open flames unattended. Kitchens are some of the most common places in which house fires start, so don’t let any non-cooking flammable items near the oven or stove. For instance, never rest tea towels, oven mitts or cookbooks on the stove top and don’t wear clothes with loose fitting sleeves in the kitchen. It’s also crucial to handle candles and any other open flames with extreme care, and make sure they are extinguished before going to bed. Additionally, ensure gas ovens are always switched off to prevent gas leaks or toxin exposure as smoke damage may not be covered by your insurance, unless you have accidental cover included.
  7. Have a home escape plan in place. A fire evacuation plan is crucial to have and recommended by State fire services[17] as it helps save lives in the case of a fire incident. The evacuation plan should be discussed and understood by each household member. It should also be revised and practised in any new property. If you live in a multi-storey building, the building owner is required to display a fire evacuation plan in plain sight that show where your ‘assembly area’ is located.[18]

Read more of  Life Begins At

[1] This figure has been calculated from the number of household fires occurring in each Australian state or territory each year, as reported by each State’s fire authority or Government body. In NSW, there were 5667 structural fires in FY18-19; in Victoria, there are more than 3000 on average each year; in Queensland, there were 1853 residential structural fires in FY18-19; there were 390 preventable structure fires in Tasmania in FY18-19; approximately 250 house fires in the ACT each year; and 950 homes saved in WA in FY18-19. This figure does not account for household fires in the Northern Territory or South Australia.

[2] NSW Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS), ‘Home fire safety’:

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES), ‘Are you up to speed with smoke alarms?’:

Victorian Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), ‘Smoke Alarms’:

ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA), ‘Smoke Alarms’:

Tasmanian Fire Service, ‘Smoke Alarms’:

WA Department of Fire & Emergency Services (DFES), ‘Smoke Alarm Maintenance’:

NT.GOV.AU ‘Fire Safety at Home’:

South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service (SAMFS), ‘Smoke Alarm Legislation’:

[3] Survey conducted by PureProfile in October 2019 with 1010 Australians

[4] Fire and Rescue NSW – Common Home Fires:

[5] NSW Government, ‘Smoke alarm questions and answers’:

[6] NSW Government, ‘Smoke alarm questions and answers’:

[7] Fire and Rescue NSW, ‘Fire and Rescue NSW urgent plea to community following spate of house fires’:

[8] WA Department of Fire & Emergency Services, ‘Types of Smoke Alarms’:

[9] DFES, ‘Replace Your Smoke Alarm Every 10 Years’:

[10] NSW Government, ‘Smoke alarm questions and answers’:

[11] Fire and Rescue NSW, ‘Smoke alarm questions and answers’:            

[12] Survey conducted by PureProfile in October 2019 with 1010 Australians

[13] The State of Queensland (Department of the Premier and Cabinet), ‘Don’t be a fool, Queensland – check your smoke alarms on 1 April’:–check-your-smoke-alarms-on-1-april

[14] WA Department of Fire & Emergency Services (DFES), ‘Change your Smoke Alarm Batteries’:

[15] NSW Government, ‘Fire safety – Electrical Power Boards’:

[16] Fire and Rescue NSW – Electrical Power Boards:

[17] Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES), ‘Smoke Alarms in Queensland’:  

[18] DFES, ‘Fire Safety in Multi-Store Residential Buildings’:

About the author

LBA Author

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment