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Great Balls of Fire!

Typically we think of the risks associated with providing massage therapy as fairly low.  The occasional muscle tweak or strain but nothing high risk.

Have you ever considered though that something as benign and seemingly mundane as washing your clinic towels can be a highly dangerous activity?

Self-heating and Spontaneous combustion of towels is a very real and surprisingly common occurrence.  Next time you have a fire fighter on your treatment table, ask them.  It’s not only a risk for Massage Therapists though, but also anyone who uses any type of oil in their business – from chefs to mechanics.

Spontaneous combustion can occur when several conditions are met:

  • Organic oils (including essential oils that you may add to a base) occurs in a thin layer on a porous surface (like the fabric of a towel)
  • Linens may have been laundered incorrectly and there is a build up of oils in the fibres.
  • The linen may have been stacked while still hot or folded without being properly aired.
  • Lines may be stored incorrectly in a warm, poorly ventilated space.

The good news is, there are some steps you can take to minimise the risk of spontaneous combustion in your clinic.

  • Use a water dispersible oil and wash your linens with plenty of detergent, in the hottest water suitable for the fabric.90oC is ideal but not always possible.
  • Use a laundry product that helps remove oil build up, like Aquafresh Aquaplus
  • Line dry your towels if possible.
  • Launder your linen in a timely manner. Stored, soiled linen poses a great risk.
  • If you do use a clothes dryer, ensure that the dryer is permitted to go through the cooling cycle in the dryer or spread in single layers to cool completely before folding.
  • Minimise the number of used towels stored in your vehicle when offering mobile massage.The heat generated in the car + oil in towels = a recipe for disaster.
  • Ensure your towels are not stored in a hot room with poor ventilation.
  • Laundry should be stored in a well ventilated, cool space.
  • Never leave towels in the drum of the clothes dryer at the end of the cycle, or leave the dryer unattended.
  • Educate your staff to make sure they are aware of the risk and follow appropriate laundry processes in your clinic.
  • Prepare for the worst… have working smoke detectors, appropriate fire extinguishers that are easily accessible and a well-rehearsed fire drill process.

Watch this vision from the NSW Association of Fire Investigators here for a confronting reminder of just how easily this can happen, or read the fact sheet from the WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services for more information.

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