Posts tagged ‘Northern Ireland’

1 November, 2012

Remember, remember, the real facts about fireworks…

Remember, remember, the fifth of November is an apt saying for Bonfire Night.

Firework Code Bonfire Night safer fireworks

“For those who are organising their own display, make sure your audience are well away from the bonfire and fireworks, plus keep to hand a torch, buckets of water, eye protection, gloves and a bucket of soft earth to put fireworks in” – Sheila Merrill.

For a start, it stirs up the fondest of memories – screeching rockets bursting neon colour into the dark sky with a faint aroma of smouldering cinders; families cooing around a glowing fire; and small gloved hands swirling sparklers.

Then there is the remembrance of Guy Fawkes and his failed gunpowder antics under the House of Lords.

But what I really want people, particularly teenagers, to remember is exactly what a firework is – an explosive, an unpredictable charged fuse, something that can scar for life or even kill if recklessly used as a toy or a missile.

Of course I want young people to enjoy Bonfire Night and all its sizzling revelry, as public health adviser for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), but I also want them to stay safe by being aware of the risks and knowing the facts.

Like, did you know that three sparklers burning together generate the same heat as a blowtorch? Or that a firework rocket reaches a speed of 150mph after being ignited? They are just some of the striking facts being highlighted by NHS Choices in the run up to Bonfire Night when A&E medics feel the full impact of firework injuries.

The NHS is also warning how sparklers get five times hotter than cooking oil, which is why RoSPA advises families using sparklers to wear gloves, not give them to very young children and not to hold one while carrying a baby.

Scarily, around 1,000 casualties are injured by fireworks, sparklers and the like in the four weeks around Bonfire Night every year, and half of these victims are under the age of 18. While in Northern Ireland, more than half of the 25 people injured by fireworks at this time last year were aged between 11 and 15. Despite overall casualty numbers being much lower than previous years, the rate of firework injuries among under-18s rose to four in every five victims.Firework Code Bonfire Night safer fireworks

It is against the law to sell fireworks to anyone younger than 18 in the UK, and the reason for that is because they are far from child’s play. They may dazzle and delight the young, but without proper planning and precautions, fireworks are something that commonly blind, maim or leave an unforgiving burning memento when they sadly fall into the wrong young hands. If you are asked by younger members of the family of friends to buy fireworks on their behalf, please think about this carefully as you could be putting their life at risk.

So my advice is simple, with roughly half of firework victims struck at a family or private party and many others injured in the street or park, enjoy the night at the safest place – an organised firework display.

For those who are organising their own display, make sure your audience are well away from the bonfire and fireworks, plus keep to hand a torch, buckets of water, eye protection, gloves and a bucket of soft earth to put fireworks in.

But if there is one thing you remember this Bonfire Night, remember, remember to follow the Firework Code, which can be found at RoSPA’s fireworks website –

Sheila Merrill, RoSPA’s public health adviser

17 October, 2012

Hair straighteners – hot enough to fry an egg and can scar for life!

When thinking about injuries which occur to children in the home, how many of us have considered the everyday hair straightener as a danger?

Alfie Vance Too Hot to Handle hair straighteners Northern Ireland RoSPA

Alfie Vance was just seven months old when he accidentally fell face first onto a pair of cooling hair straighteners. Within a matter of seconds his delicate skin was burnt between his eyes and on his forehead. Alfie has been left with a permanent scar.

We use them on a daily basis and think nothing of regularly styling our hair to temperatures exceeding 200 degrees; but what happens when these styling devices accidentally come into contact with a child’s skin? Quite frankly, the outcome is horrifying!

A new campaign has been launched this week in Northern Ireland to raise awareness of the dangers hair straighteners can pose to children, causing burns which can require hospital admission and surgical intervention, including plastic surgery.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and Home Accident Prevention Northern Ireland (HAPNI) are working in partnership with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust on the Too Hot to Handle campaign, funded by the Electrical Safety Council (ESC). It follows a rise in the number of children attending A&E at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children with hair straightener burns.

Figures from the Children’s Hospital show that 17 children aged between three months and nine years attended A&E at the hospital in 2009-10 with hair straightener burns. This represented nine per cent of the 187 children who attended with “thermal injuries” during that year. The average age of the children admitted with hair straightener burns was 18 months.

Nicola Vance, 25, from Northern Ireland, had never really considered hair straighteners to be a risk to her child, that was until an accident occurred leaving her son with a permanent scar.

Alfie Vance Too Hot to Handle hair straighteners Northern Ireland RoSPA

“Alfie was lucky that he didn’t lose his eyes, although he has been scarred for life. If the hair straighteners had been hotter, they would have peeled off his forehead” – Nicola Vance.

On September 8, 2011, Nicola was at home and busy straightening her hair in her bedroom with her son Alfie, then aged seven months, sat beside her on the bed. After switching the hair straighteners off and placing them on a heat resistant mat on the bed, what happened next just took a matter of seconds.

As Alfie tried to move himself along the bed, he fell face first onto the cooling straighteners and was picked up almost immediately by his mother, but a couple of seconds was all it took for Alfie’s delicate skin to be burnt between the eyes and on the forehead. Children’s skin can be 15 times thinner than adults’ skin and while the most common location for a child to sustain a serious hair straightener burn is on their hand, injuries have also been sustained to the head, arm and foot.

Nicola said her son, now 19 months, was lucky the damage caused by the straighteners hadn’t been more serious, although Alfie has been left with a permanent scar between his eyes.

“Alfie was lucky that he didn’t lose his eyes, although he has been scarred for life. If the hair straighteners had been hotter, they would have peeled off his forehead,” she said.

Since the accident, Nicola has ensured that her hair straighteners are switched off straight away and kept in a heat resistant bag, out of the sight and reach of Alfie, in a separate room where he doesn’t have access.

Hair straighteners can take as long as 40 minutes to cool down and are capable of frying an egg, as this video demonstrates:

Remember, it doesn’t always take a flame to burn, but burns caused by hair straighteners ARE preventable!

Ita McErlean, RoSPA’s home safety manager in Northern Ireland

4 October, 2011

One for the road?

Despite 30 years of drink drive education and enforcement, around 100,000 people are still caught drink driving annually, and five people die in drink drive accidents every week.

Northern Ireland’s environment minister, Alex Attwood, last week outlined his proposals to change the drink-driving laws. The most significant changes would include:

  • Cutting the blood alcohol limit from the current level of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg/100ml
  • Introducing another, lower, limit of 20mg/100ml for young drivers and people who earn their living from driving
  • Giving the police powers to randomly stop drivers without the need for reasonable suspicion
  • In certain circumstances, removing drivers’ right to opt for a blood or urine sample instead of a breath test.

The Scotland bill may give the Scottish Government the power to set the drink-drive limit in Scotland if it is not lowered in England and Wales, with the majority (79 per cent) of people in Scotland supporting a lower limit.

Although on the face of it the ideal limit is zero alcohol in the blood, we do not believe that this is literally possible, as a small amount of alcohol is found in some cough syrups and mouthwashes and can be produced naturally by bacteria in the gut after certain foods have been eaten. Therefore, talk of a zero limit usually means 20mg/100ml, not 0mg/100ml. However, this is not achievable in a single leap from the current limit of 80mg.

RoSPA believes the best option is a reduction to 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.

We would like your views on the UK’s drink-driving laws: please take a moment to answer the questions below. If you’d like to comment further on the proposals, please make use of the comments facility – join the debate!

Kevin Clinton, RoSPA’s head of road safety

1 September, 2011

The not-so-noble gas that kills

At this time of the year our attention turns to the prospect of long dark nights. And when the clocks fall back an hour, many of us think about turning up the central heating and start to enjoy the prospect of sitting beside a glowing fire while watching our favourite programme on television.

Everyone’s focus tends to be on the children starting or returning to school or students moving into digs – but how many spare a thought for the last time fuel-burning appliances, chimneys and flues were serviced and cleaned?

RoSPA continues to raise awareness of home safety throughout the year to the people of Northern Ireland, but in the autumn we begin to remind you once again about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

What we don’t want is to distress or scare you about the dangers that lurk in and around your home – we want to keep reminding you to take preventative measures to keep yourselves and your families safe.

This year we are bringing forward our plans to raise awareness of the “silent killer” with help from the Gis A Hug Foundation, who by now have almost become a household name. The foundation was established in memory of Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson who died last year as a result of CO poisoning. With the help of the foundation we aim to target those who are deemed most at risk from the silent killer, in particular students and older people.

In Northern Ireland last year there were five deaths in a four month period as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, with possible casualties from other CO-related incidents that may have gone unreported. What we do know is that since the terrible tragedies from last year, lives most certainly have been saved because of the tireless campaigning by the Gis A hug Foundation.

The Foundation has donated 300 CO alarms to RoSPA and the Southern Health and Social Care Trust (SHSCT) which is running 10 carbon monoxide awareness workshops enabling around 300 people to take home a free detector. The CO warning devices were delivered to RoSPA and the SHSCT for distribution among the most vulnerable in society.

Neil’s mum, Catherine McFerran, said that the pain of losing her son is always there but that something positive has come out of it the tragedy. She explained how the Gis A Hug Foundation raises money to purchase and supply free alarms to students, older people and other vulnerable members of society.

We continue to support of the foundation and are delighted to have been instrumental in making important introductions to the group. Mr McFerran told us that the foundation has received lots of feedback from people who told them that the alarms have saved lives.

As a parting message on this subject, I encourage you to cultivate new habits by being inquisitive about home safety – in particular about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. So please take the time to read the important safety steps mentioned below and to explore the RoSPA website:

  • Have gas appliances serviced annually by a gas engineer registered with the Gas Safe Register
  • CO is not just a by product of burning gas, but of all fossil fuels. So if you have wood, coal or oil burning appliances, have these regularly serviced by professionals too
  • Keep rooms adequately ventilated, never block air vents and have chimneys and flues swept regularly
  • Remember: CO detectors and alarms are a last resort in the prevention of CO poisoning. They are not a substitute for proper maintenance and servicing.

Advice for preventing CO poisoning applies equally to caravans, boats and holiday homes with fuel-burning appliances, such as heaters or stoves. And following three tragic incidents across the UK this summer, it is vital that people know that they should never take barbecues or stoves into tents to keep warm.

If you live in rented property, ask your landlord to show you the Landlord’s Gas Safety Record. This is something that students in particular should bear in mind at this time of year, when they are looking for accommodation.

Know what you’re looking for when it comes to symptoms: if you, your family, or even your pets show signs of prolonged flu-like symptoms, or if your appliances’ pilot lights burn with an orange flame rather than blue, it could be time to get your home checked.

For more information on the dangers of carbon monoxide and other home safety concerns please visit

Ita McErlean, RoSPA’s home safety manager in Northern Ireland

1 July, 2011

Falling for accident prevention

“The NHS treats elderly patients with broken hips as a ‘low priority’ by failing to give them prompt and high-quality treatment that could extend their lives,” reported the Daily Telegraph on June 22.

This may be true – indeed, this information was provided by NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) – and it’s worrying that the older population is growing, so the problem is not going to go away.

However, on this issue, the media appears to have missed the obvious – in that scant, if any, mention is made of preventing these injuries in the first place.

According to NICE, up to 75,000 people suffer hip fractures each year. This figure is expected to rise to 100,000 by the end of the decade – a consequence of an ageing population.

To put the issue into perspective: broken hips affect more women than breast cancer does.

People’s quality of life is vastly reduced following a fall-related fracture, and older people’s independence is often curtailed. Health problem follows health problem, and about 10 per cent of people with a fractured hip die within one month – and around a third will die within 12 months. Add to this the stress and worry to family and friends, and the increased burden of care, and we have human tragedy on a massive – and increasing – scale.

If the human costs of fall-related injuries aren’t enough to convince you that things need to change: in terms of financial costs – at the forefront of everybody’s minds at the moment – hip fractures are estimated to cost £2 billion a year in medical treatment and social care.

What about preventing the fall in the first place? Accident prevention can and should play a starring role in the UK’s public health plan.

At the moment, accident prevention advice and information is being delivered by numerous smaller, extremely dedicated and hard-working organisations around the country.

There have been some great examples of successful working between local NHS organisations and local authorities. In Dudley in the West Midlands, for example, a falls prevention initiative, the £158k a year costs of which were funded by the Primary Care Trust and the council, saved £3 million over five years due to the corresponding reduction in hip fractures.

The problem of falls among older people was highlighted during Northern Ireland’s recent Home Accident Prevention Week (June 6-10).

Accidental falls claimed the lives of 155 people across Northern Ireland in 2009, of whom two thirds (103 people) were aged 65 or over. The most serious accidents usually happen on the stairs and injuries can have long lasting and life limiting effects – as we have seen.

We know that the risk of falling in the home and of suffering a serious injury as a result increases with age. We hope the simple prevention tips shared below will be shared among communities and families and reach as many people as possible.

  • Keep landings, stairs and hallways well lit
  • Insert a dual handrail on stairs where possible
  • Replace worn carpets and remove loose rugs and mats (or use non-slip backings)
  • Wear suitable footwear
  • Remove clutter from floors and stairs
  • Use stepladders for household jobs instead of climbing on chairs
  • Store everyday items in easy-to-reach places
  • Review medication with your GP/pharmacist
  • Wipe up spills straight away, and use bath/shower mats
  • Ensure you get your eyes tested
  • Keep active!

These last two points deserve to be expanded upon a little.

The Daily Express reported last week that two million over-60s have not taken advantage of free eye tests, even though 270,000 older people have had falls as a result of poor vision in the past two years. These figures came from a study to mark Age UK’s Falls Awareness Week.

Age UK is rightly concerned that many older people are not aware that they are entitled to free eye tests. Their study found a range of reasons were given for not going to the optician: 42 per cent felt there was nothing wrong with their eyes, nine per cent were concerned about the cost of buying glasses, and six per cent simply said they forgot to go and have a sight test.

Raising awareness of the connection between poor eyesight and falls may encourage more older people to take advantage of this free service.

As far as keeping active goes: this is extremely important in improving mobility and balance among the older population. However, it goes deeper than that. Keeping fit and active from a young age and throughout life will help to ensure that you stay fit and healthy into old age.

These issues highlight the fact that accident prevention is intimately linked to many other areas of healthcare – and could save a lot of pain in the long run.

So why is it underreported? Why is the media missing the obvious when reporting on falls, and ill health relating to accidents? I guess it’s not “sexy”, not headline grabbing enough. Perhaps. Then it’s down to accident prevention charities and organisations to make the subject newsworthy – spread the word.

Everyone has parents and grandparents or elderly friends and neighbours – not to mention the fact that we are all (hopefully!) going to live to a ripe old age, and reap the benefits of this type of accident prevention advice ourselves.

Ita McErlean, RoSPA’s home safety manager for Northern Ireland

7 March, 2011

What do you know about the “silent killer”?

In August 2010, two healthy and happy teenage boys died at a holiday flat in Castlerock, Co Derry. Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson, both aged 18, had been spending a weekend at the seaside village with their friend Matthew Gaw, also 18, as they waited for their exam results.

The teenagers, from Newtownabbey, were overcome by carbon monoxide. Neil and Aaron died; Matthew spent time in hospital suffering the effects of the poison gas.

A faulty liquid petroleum gas appliance was found at the flat.

We at RoSPA hear of around 50 accidental deaths per year in the UK from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, and more than 200 cases of recorded non-fatal injury – which can often lead to lasting neurological damage.

Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer: you can’t see, hear, smell or taste it.

It is produced as a waste product from the burning of gas and other fuels, including wood, coal and oil – and can build up to dangerous levels if a fuel-burning appliance is incorrectly fitted, badly repaired or poorly maintained, or if flues, chimneys or vents are blocked.

We need to get the message out there that carbon monoxide is a killer, and that such deaths are easily prevented.

Neil and Aaron’s mothers have made a film with RoSPA Northern Ireland to raise awareness of the “silent killer” and let people know how future tragedies can be prevented.

Catherine McFerran and Katrina Davidson give their personal accounts of the tragedy that claimed the lives of their sons, Neil and Aaron, during a weekend away last summer.

As well as their story, the film shares some of the steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of CO poisoning, focusing particularly on the families’ campaign for people to use audible CO alarms. Jim King, from the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland, is also interviewed.

The film can also be watched at

Make sure you know what to look out for – carbon monoxide can be given off by all fossil fuels:

  • Boiler pilot light flames burning orange, instead of blue
  • Sooty stains on or near appliances
  • Excessive condensation in the room
  • Coal or wood fires that burn slowly or go out
  • Families suffering prolonged flu-like symptoms.

Take a few simple precautions to reduce your risk:

  • Have your gas appliances serviced annually by a gas engineer who is registered with Gas Safe Register
  • Use professionals to service any other fossil-fuel burning appliances such as oil or coal burning stoves annually
  • Fix carbon monoxide detectors in your home; these can be purchased from most DIY-type stores
  • Ensure that such detectors are maintained and replaced according to packaging instructions.

We at RoSPA would emphasise, though, that CO alarms should be used as a last line of defence – they are not a substitute for servicing and maintenance.

The above advice obviously applies to the home; but what about when you’re away, like in Neil and Aaron’s situation?

The landlord or owner of holiday accommodation must have gas appliances serviced regularly – and should be able to provide a gas safety certificate if you ask for one. Don’t be afraid to do so – it could save your life.

Neil and Aaron’s families have launched the Gis A Hug Foundation, which they are in the process of establishing as a charity, to take forward their campaign and raise awareness of the importance of having fuel burning appliances serviced annually and audible CO alarms fitted in homes and holiday accommodation. See for details.

More CO information is available at

Ita McErlean

RoSPA’s Home Safety Manager for Northern Ireland

%d bloggers like this: