Telly Today Special: Watchdog Live on smoke alarms, this Thursday September 12th.

Watchdog Live, BBC One at 8pm

BBC One’s flagship consumer rights series Watchdog Live returns tonight broadcast live from Salford, the first episode of the new series reveals the concerning truth that the majority of young children may not wake up to the sound of a standard smoke alarm.

Watchdog Live carried out a test on eight children under 10 years of age, to see whether they would wake up to the sound of a standard smoke alarm. Long after the children were fast asleep, their parents tested their existing smoke alarms for one minute. All but one child slept right through the alarm. The only child that showed any sign of being woken by the alarm got out of bed to get a teddy before going back to bed and falling asleep.

The test was supervised by fire investigator Dave Coss from Derbyshire Fire and Rescue. On the results of the test, Coss said: “The two things for me is first off the shock, the genuine shock on the face of the parents when they realise their kids haven’t woken up and two, in a fire situation, time matters.” 

Coss has also worked with the University of Dundee on a study of 644 children aged 0-16, which found that only 28% were woken by a standard smoke alarm.

Packaging on current smoke alarms do not carry any warning that children may not wake up if the alarm is sounded, but after both her children slept through the alarm during Watchdog’s test, Jo Leigh told presenter Steph McGovern: “It is absolutely essential that the packaging makes parents aware that the smoke alarm might not wake your children up. It’s not something that’s guaranteed to wake up the whole house”.

A solution to the problem is an interlinked smoke detector that combines a standard alarm to wake adults, with a separate device placed inside a child’s bedroom that uses a voice warning – which studies have shown is much more likely to wake them. Dave Coss told the programme:Currently in legislation, one smoke alarm fits all. So there’s no requirement to make a separate one for children or a separate one for adults.”

In March 2018, a fire tore through Karen and Jon Martin’s home while they and their two daughters were fast asleep. At around 1am in the morning the smoke alarm was sounding and the couple could see smoke and flames downstairs. Speaking on the programme to Steph McGovern, Karen revealedI would have expected with the commotion and the smoke detector going off that they would have heard it but they were both fast asleep. I picked Elena straight up and grabbed Ingrid. Fortunately everyone managed to get out of the house in time but Jon described it as ‘the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.’”

“When you hear the family’s story, it just makes you realise this could happen to any of us. It’s so important that the smoke alarms wake everyone up. You know it’s not just about the adults here; it’s about the kids as well. Now thankfully these guys got out and everything was alright, but it could have been a lot worse.” – Presenter Steph McGovern

On packaging not having a warning label Steph added: “If there’s a label on the box saying a standard smoke alarm might not wake up your children, then all of us can do something about it and have a better plan, should something awful like a fire happen in your home. It’s simple.”

“Domestic smoke alarms are an essential part of achieving fire safety in the home and the relevant British Standard, BS 5839-6:2019, is typically utilised by those seeking to show compliance with the relevant national Building Regulations provisions. The Technical Committee is aware of research into the challenges of waking children from sleep, and hence BS 5839-6 already suggests that all alarms should be packaged with instructions advising families on the importance of an effective fire escape plan.

“BS 5839-6 covers design, commissioning and maintenance of such systems; it does not cover labelling which would be a matter for the relevant regulator. To date, BSI is not aware of conclusive evidence from fire statistics to show that the current frequency of sound emitted by the majority of smoke alarms is ineffective. For those concerned, or those with impaired hearing, low frequency sounders have been available for a number of years and can be connected to many models of smoke alarm.” – The British Standards Institute

The full story can be seen on BBC Watchdog Live, tonight at 8pm on BBC One.


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