Figures for 1999, the latest data available, show over 370 fires involving either a laundry or launderette tumble dryer, compared with 342 for the previous year.

The OPL sector could be a particular cause for concern. Many hotel and nursing home laundries are situated in the basement and are unattended for part of the day. It is likely that some establishments, especially those without a sprinkler system, are not addressing the risk properly.

Most incidents are still thought to involve spontaneous combustion of unremoved protein soiling from cotton goods.

Oxidation can start very slowly, and at quite low temperatures, in a stack of warm, clean work and often only gets up to speed after several hours – this is why flames may not appear until the middle of the night.

There are standard techniques for minimising the risk of spontaneous combustion including procedures for wash and dry processes. Sprinkler systems should also be installed, starting with the finished goods section.

The TSA guide provides full advice on risk management.

An automatically activated water vapour quench in a dryer range which is available in the UK from JLA is another step forward.

Since 1992 all commercial laundries in the UK (including OPLs) must conduct sufficient and adequate risk assessment. This should include an assessment of fire risks and should identify steps taken to reduce these to an acceptably low level.