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Dundee University study shows children sleep through smoke alarms

Forensic Science Professor Niamh Nic Daéid at Dundee University.
Forensic Science Professor Niamh Nic Daéid at Dundee University.

A Dundee University study has shown children are unlikely to be woken by a standard fire alarm, prompting a call to change safety warnings.

According to the research, children respond to different tones and frequencies of alarm than adults and are therefore more likely to sleep through smoke alarms fitted in their homes.

Safety concerns have been raised by parents and experts after only 28% of children surveyed woke to the standard alarm, while tests using a lower frequency sound combined with a voice recording woke more than 75% of children.

Professor Niamh Nic Daéid, who conducted the original study, said fire safety organisations have a duty to alert the public of the risk, and advised parents to wake their children if an alarm sounds.

The director of the university’s Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science, said: “Our research has shown that current smoke alarms are not very good at waking up children.

“We would ask manufacturers of existing smoke alarms to alter their packaging so that they can reflect the outcomes of our work.

“We have now identified an alarm sound which is much more effective at waking children and our next aim is to develop innovative devices which will link to existing smoke alarms to improve fire safety for children.

“We welcome any and all interest in helping us achieve this aim.”

The findings will feature on Thursday’s episode of BBC One’s flagship consumer rights series Watchdog Live.

A test was supervised by fire investigator Dave Cross from Derbyshire Fire and Rescue, who worked with Professor Nic Daéid on the Dundee study.

Presenter Steph McGovern, said: “The two things that stand out for me are, first of all, the shock, the genuine shock, on the face of the parents when they realise their kids haven’t woken up. Secondly, in a fire situation, time matters.

“Currently in legislation, one smoke alarm fits all so there’s no requirement to make a separate one for children or a separate one for adults.”

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