The flammable fabrics problem
- Injury Control Program, United States Public Health Service, Cincinnati, Ohio
The following paper deals with a type of accident whose etiology includes an aspect of modern technology—in this case the use of flammable fabrics in commercially manufactured clothing.
In its opening pages, the paper deals with one of the essential first steps in the development of countermeasures, namely, the large scale and systematic gathering of epidemiologic data. Without such data, the prevalence of the problem cannot be known, and in the absence of information on prevalence it is possible that an important cause of morbidity or mortality will go unnoticed or unchecked, or on the other hand, that disproportionate amounts of money and manpower will be devoted to countermeasures against relatively trivial causes. Moreover, it is only through sound and extensive epidemiological data that some understanding of etiology can be obtained.
Another important contribution made by this paper is the recognition that in the prevention of clothing burns, as in the prevention of many other kinds of accidental injury, several alternative countermeasures are available. All too often practitioners in accident prevention regard a single countermeasure as the only feasible one and as far more effective than it turns out to be when applied.
Although the paper recognizes the existence of alternatives, however, it falls short both in enumerating them and in evaluating them critically. Clothing burns involve three factors: flammable fabric, the behavior of the wearer, and the presence of a source of heat. Although the paper discusses legislation (to eliminate flammable fabrics) and education (to modify the behaviour of the wearer), it says nothing about legislation, education, or other efforts to eliminate or provide safeguards against the heat source. However, there are convincing data to indicate that the elimination of open flames (through the substitution of central heating for fireplaces, for example) is one of the most effective countermeasures …