This summer after getting reports of six deaths, the Blair company
recalled chenille robes that it sold through its online and retail stores because they failed to meet federal flammability standards. In the fall, after reports of at least three more deaths, the company recalled more styles
of its chenille clothing.
The deaths were caused by the robes or clothing catching fire and in most cases the victim had been cooking. The news made us wonder how many other deaths and injuries were the result of robes or night gowns catching fire so we asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission to mine their database for incidents.
Here's what they told us. Over the past decade—from January 1999 to December 2008—there have been an estimated 2,200 emergency room visits associated with robes or gowns catching fire. Of those, there were 84 deaths and 39 injuries related to robes and 90 deaths and 32 injuries related to night gowns. The majority of the victims were females 65 years old or older. Most of the injured victims required hospital stays.
Most clothing fibers can burn, some more quickly than others. Wide sleeves, fuzzy surfaces and fabric softener buildup all contribute to garment flammability. Small open flames (candles) as well as fires sparked by ranges, space heaters and large open fires (fireplaces) were the major source of clothing ignition, according to the CPSC.
The CPSC's major caution is to avoid wearing loose garments with voluminous sleeves while cooking or near open flames. The agency also recommends:
- Consider purchasing fabrics such as 100 percent polyester, nylon, wool and silk that are difficult to ignite and tend to self extinguish.
- Consider the flammability of certain fabrics containing cotton, cotton/polyester blends, rayon and acrylic. These are relatively easy to ignite and burn rapidly.
- Look at fabric construction. It also affects ignitability. Tight weaves or knits and fabrics without a fuzzy or napped surface are less likely to ignite and burn rapidly than open knits or weaves, or fabrics with brushed or piled surfaces such as chenille.
- Consider purchasing garments that can be removed without having to pull them over the head. Clothes that are easily removed can help prevent serious burns. If a garment can be quickly stripped off when it catches fire, injury will be far less severe or avoided altogether.
- Follow manufacturer's care and cleaning instructions on products labeled "flame resistant" to ensure that their flame resistant properties are maintained.
Although all wearing apparel is required to meet federal flammability requirements, there needs to be tougher standards for robes and sleepwear. There are already tighter regulations in place for children's sleepwear requiring either a higher degree of flame resistance or that the garments be tight-fitting. In light of the injury rate, it is time to reconsider new standards for adult sleepwear.