Smoke detectors in Norwegian dwellings -In Norway there is a requirement that every home should have a smoke detector installed. Smoke detectors shall give early warning of an evolving fire, so that people can extinguish the fire or get out safely. New research shows, however, that approximately 250 000 people live in homes without any form of fire detection system.
There is a national goal to reduce the number of casualties in fires, the number of fires, and to reduce the consequences of fires. It is documented that smoke detectors have saved lives in residential fires, which emphasizes the importance that all homes have a working smoke detector.
We have completed a study that has surveyed the use of these tools in Norwegian homes. The study has examined the number of installed smoke detectors, their location, their function and other factors related to the residents that can affect the use and maintenance of smoke indicators.
In addition to mapping of how many persons that have working smoke detectors, our clients, the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection and the Norwegian Building Authority, wanted to map to which extent the requirements and recommendations related to these tools were followed. Further, how characteristics of the residents and other external factors affect the result.
The study consisted of a survey and a function test of smoke detectors, intended to provide answers to the following main questions:
• Have residents in Norwegian homes knowledge about regulations and recommendations concerning smoke indicators?
• To what extent do the residents in Norwegian homes follow regulations and recommendations regarding these tools?
• Which factors affect the share of working smoke detectors in Norwegian residences?
• Which factors affect the residents’ awareness and knowledge of smoke detectors?
The survey and the function tests were conducted by chimney sweeps during their inspection of fireplaces and heating facilities in Norwegian households in 2013 and 2014. A total of 40 chimney sweeps participated in the study, and replies were received from a total of 624 housing units, geographically distributed in Norway.
Through the survey information about the housing units, the residents, the smoke detectors as well as the understanding of the responsibility and the distribution of responsibility when it comes to the maintenance of the smoke detectors were collected. Factors that may affect the prevalence of working smoke detectors in Norwegian homes were included. It was examined whether there were differences between the different groups by examining the effects of residents’ age, gender, education and ownership or tenancy.
Most homes in this study met the criterion for an installed working smoke detector. 98% of the housing units had at least one smoke detector installed. In one out of ten one or more smoke detectors did not work. In total it was registered 90% working smoke detectors in this study.
Smoke detectors were most often placed in the ceiling outside the dead air space (the area near the transition between wall and ceiling where the air circulates less than in the rest of the room) as the installation recommendations suggest. The regulations also state that smoke detectors must cover the zone outside the bedroom, and 93% of the units had a smoke detector mounted in the room outside the master bedroom.
Ninety-four percent of respondents reported that they tested the smoke detectors’ function periodically or occasionally. The smoke detectors were checked just as frequently by the elderly as by the younger residents, but the elderly changed to a lesser extent the battery themselves. Only 36% followed the recommendations to clean the smoke detector at least once a year.
We also saw differences on those who own and those who rent the housing unit they live in. Nine out of ten tenants replied that they take the responsibility that the smoke detector is installed in the housing unit, despite the fact that only 68% of the property owners were aware that they have this responsibility. Fewer tenants than owners responded that they have or are taking the responsibility that smoke detectors work. Tenants also to a lesser extent than owners ensured that there was a working battery in the smoke detector.
We also found differences between women and men. More women than men replied that they entrust the responsibility for smoke detectors and battery change to their spouse or partner.
The residents’ level of education also seems to play a role for the acquisition and maintenance of smoke detectors. Residents with the lowest education were less aware of that they have a responsibility for the function of the smoke detector. Further, they took less responsibility for their function, change of battery, and they had to a greater extent ionic smoke detectors than residents with higher education.
When you see the population as a whole, it appears that most are aware of the importance of having a smoke detector, but it appears that many are not aware of what responsibility they have. The authorities should therefore increase people’s awareness and knowledge of the regulations and recommendations, including the distribution of responsibility. This awareness should especially be directed towards different target groups pointed out in this study, such as the elderly, tenants, women and people with little education.
The report Kartlegging av bruk av røykvarslere i boliger (Mapping the use of smoke detectors in Norwegian dwellings) can be read in full at www.spfr.no (the report is in Norwegian).
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