Increasing Candle Safety
Candle fires have dropped to their lowest level in over a decade thanks to the contribution of ASTM International standards that better educate consumers and facilitate safer product design and performance. In a recently issued home candle fires study, the National Fire Protection Association reports that candle fires dropped by nearly 50 percent between 2001 and 2010 - from 18,900 fires at the start of the decade to approximately 9,600 fires 10 years later. While any candle fire is unacceptable, this new data reflects a positive trend.
Helping propel the dramatic decline in accidental candle fires is the portfolio of safety standards and test methods developed by ASTM Subcommittee F15.45 on Candle Products, which is part of ASTM International Committee F15 on Consumer Products. The ASTM group was formed in the late 1990s as a result of the cooperative efforts of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Candle Association when a marked rise in the popularity of candles also brought an increase in fires and related injuries.
The subcommittee set out an agenda to develop standards that enhance safety and product quality by addressing the inherent dangers associated with candle use. These hazards include placing candles on or near combustibles, or in close proximity to children and pets, and leaving burning candles unattended. Defects in candle products, including containers and accessories, can also lead to excessive flame heights and accidents, resulting in a greater likelihood of fires.
Data from the U.S. Fire Administration, the lead federal agency for fire data collection, public fire education, fire research and fire service training, sheds further light on the underlying causes and circumstances of home candle fires. From 2006 to 2010, details from the agency's National Fire Incident Reporting System showed that:
"Americans love candles, but sometimes forget they are open flames and overlook the importance of following critical fire safety precautions," says Carol Freysinger, executive vice president of the National Candle Association. "The NCA and its industry member companies are dedicated to candle safety and are extremely pleased that candle fires are continuing to drop. There is no question that ASTM standards, along with the industry's educational efforts, have been pivotal in driving the decline in candle fires."
Among the F15.45 standards that have played an instrumental role in preventing candle fires is F2058, Specification for Candle Fire Safety Labeling. First released in 2000, F2058 covers the requirements for fire safety information to be placed on candles or candle packages. Fire safety warnings specified by F2058 alert consumers to keep burning candles within sight, keep candles away from things that can catch fire, and keep candles out of the reach of children and pets.
James Becker, chairman of Subcommittee F15.45 and president of Candle Solutions, an industry consulting firm in Midway, Ky., says, "F2058 provides the core language designed to facilitate the safe use of candles. Over time, the standard has proven to be a valuable consumer education tool, establishing the fundamental rules for properly burning candles."
In its efforts to further mitigate fires and advance consumer safety, F15.45 members dug deeper into the factors spurring candle fires in the home. The committee found the four most prevalent causes of fires to be excessive flame height; secondary ignition, caused by something burning in or on the candle other than the intended wick; end of use issues, when the candle is almost burned or about to go out; and candle stability, or the tendency of candles to tip over.
Focusing on these primary causes of candle fires, F15.45 released F2417, Specification for Fire Safety for Candles, which establishes maximum flame height guidelines, prescribes tipover limits, provides restrictions to reduce secondary ignition and addresses candle end of life issues. Today, F2417 has become the de facto design and performance standard for the candle industry.
"Since its first release in 2002, F2417 has helped manufacturers produce safer products by establishing the baseline, industry-accepted requirements for candle performance and providing the test methods to determine compliance," Becker says. "The manufacture of safer products through the use of F2417 has contributed measurably to the rapid drop in home candle fires."
Becker also points out that fires can also be triggered by defects in the glass containers that hold candles. To address this, F15.45 developed F2179, Specification for Annealed Soda-Lime-Silicate Glass Containers that Are Produced for Use as Candle Containers. F2179 establishes scratch test and temper specifications for the proper annealing of glass containers used for candles, as well as thermal shock requirements. The use of glass containers that pass the requirements of F2179 will make fires due to an imperfection in the glass itself less likely.
Similarly, industry data on home fires and CPSC recalls indicate that various product accessories, such as rings, burners and holders, have also been involved in fires caused by candles in the home setting. These factors led F15.45 to release its most recent standard, F2601, Specification for Fire Safety for Candle Accessories. Among the issues covered by F2601 are the flammability of components used in candle rings and holders as well as the warming of extraneous material in burners, including potpourri burners. The primary concern addressed regarding holders is the possibility of candle tipover. F2601 includes a test in which a candle and its holder must remain standing on a 10-degree incline to be acceptable.
"The reduction in the number of candle fire incidents is great news for the millions of consumers who enjoy the use of candles in their everyday lives," adds Becker. "F15.45 members will continue their ongoing efforts in guiding industry in the manufacture of quality candle products, while also serving as advocates for consumer safety."Doug Clauson is a freelance writer based in Wynnewood, Pa.