London Fire Brigade

Brigade issues ‘badger burns’ warning for smoking oxygen patients

26 August 2014

Those who buy cigarettes for patients who use oxygen equipment to help breathe are placing them at risk of suffering from ‘badger burns’ to the face and head.

Badger Burns

The burns sustained by smokers using medical oxygen equipment are often referred to as ‘badger burns’, because lighted cigarettes or matches can lead to the oxygen catching fire around the nasal tubing. This causes facial and hairline burns, which can leave the patient with stripes of burnt skin, similar to badger markings.

Between December 2013 and July this year there have been seven patients who have been burned while smoking and using oxygen equipment. London’s medical experts believe there are many more who hide their injuries and don’t seek medical advice.

We’re calling on friends, neighbours and carers should be vigilant in noticing the signs of oxygen users smoking cigarettes. It said there are often tell-tale signs of burnt or singed clothing, carpets or furniture, as well as burns to the head and face which the patient may go to great lengths to cover up.

Explosions

We’re also warning that anyone who smokes in homes where medical oxygen systems are stored is acting irresponsibly.  Medical professionals in London are revising their advice to strongly discourage patients from smoking before home oxygen is provided.

Half of accidental fatal fires last year were caused by smoking and nearly ten fires a week are caused by the careless disposal of cigarettes. If oxygen or gas cylinders are heated in a house fire, there is a big risk that they could explode risking the lives of residents, neighbours and firefighters. 

The warnings also extend to oxygen patients who use E-Cigarettes. There are clear safety guidelines to ensure that E-Cigarettes are not charged or used near to oxygen equipment.

We’re working closely with the NHS, and Air Liquide, (the NHS’s supplier of home oxygen in London), to identify properties where oxygen equipment is stored and used.

This information is passed on to firefighters, who are then able to visit the patients at higher risk to offer fire safety advice and fit free smoke alarms where needed.

A serious fire and explosion in Chiswick in December last year was caused by a smoker using oxygen and resulted in a significant explosion, which led to a woman being taken to hospital by air ambulance and two men being treated for smoke inhalation.

9,500 users in London

There are currently over 9,500 people using home oxygen equipment in London. The majority of these patients are responsible and take great care with fire safety, but fire chiefs are keen to address the serious danger posed by a minority of patients who continue to smoke.

Our Third Officer, Dave Brown, said:

“You would think that most people would be aware of the dangers of smoking whilst using oxygen, but sadly that’s not always the case. Worryingly there will be family members, carers or neighbours who are aware and in some cases buying cigarettes for patients.

“As well as causing ‘badger burns’, smoking whilst using oxygen can also cause a serious fire or explosion, possibly with lethal consequences. The risk is not only to the patient, but also to neighbours and the firefighters who are called to deal with these incidents ”

London’s NHS Home Oxygen lead, Jim Pursell said:

“It is really important that family, carers and friends who buy cigarettes for users of oxygen, stop and think about the risk of injury or even death.”