Serious injury highlights the danger of ethanol burners

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ConsumerProduct safety

A Perth woman has suffered serious burns to her face and upper body after an accident involving an ethanol burner.

The 28 year old woman from Safety Bay was visiting a friend’s home nearby on 28 October 2016 and they were sitting outside when an ethanol burner was lit. The burner exploded and engulfed the woman causing serious injuries. She spent 17 days in an induced coma and is still recovering in the burns unit of Fiona Stanley Hospital.

The homeowner involved believes they followed the instructions that came with the unit.

Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard says this horrific accident highlights the danger of ‘decorative’ ethanol burners and fireplaces in the home.

“Ethanol-fuelled flue-less fireplaces and table top burners are popular items to buy, but they can be dangerous if not handled safely and consumers need to be aware of the hazards,” Mr Hillyard said.

“When the fuel is low, the flame can appear blue or even clear making it very hard to see, leading users to think the burner is unlit. There is a risk of explosion if the ethanol burner is refuelled while lit or still warm.

“The greatest risk comes from the table top burners, regarded as a home décor item. If knocked over, the burning ethanol could flow over children, pets and flammable furnishings, potentially causing serious burns and property damage. Using the burners outdoors increases the risk.

“There have been 32 serious injuries reported to the ACCC since October 2010 with most requiring hospitalisation and most occurring while refuelling. In one case, a man was burned when trying to fill the burner with methylated spirits while still lit.

“Ethanol is a highly flammable substance that should always be used with extreme caution and stored safely. I would strongly recommend that households with children and pets should not consider having this product in their homes.

“While there are currently no safety standards for this product in Australia, suppliers must still ensure that the products they are selling are safe and we always recommend that there are clear instructions for safe use as well as appropriate warning labels.  A basic obligation under the Australian Consumer Law is that products being sold are safe to use.

“We also need to remind retailers and suppliers of this product that they are subject to mandatory reporting regulations and any incidents that become known must be reported to the ACCC within two days.”

When using an ethanol burner, follow these safety tips:

  • Never light a burner that has not been fully assembled.
  • Always use the fuel recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Use a kitchen lighter or long barbecue match to light the burner.
  • Never leave the product unattended while in use, especially if there are children around.
  • Always maintain a safe distance of at least one metre from the burner while it is on.
  • Extinguish the flame when leaving the room or before going to sleep.
  • Make sure the flame is out and the burner has had plenty of time to cool before attempting to move or refuel it.
  • Use a funnel when refilling to prevent spills. If a spill occurs before lighting, wipe it up immediately with paper towel, wash the area with water and wash your hands. Don’t use the burner until all fumes and traces of fuel have left the room.
  • Store fuel in a separate room to the burner to reduce the amount of flammable material in one place.
  • Never use the product for cooking.
  • In the case of a fire, use a powder extinguisher or fire blanket to smother the fire. Never use water on an ethanol fire as this could spread the fire.

An information brochure for suppliers is available here and a short video can be viewed on YouTube. Incidents can be reported to the ACCC via the Product Safety website. Enquiries can be made to Consumer Protection by email consumer@commerce.wa.gov.au or by phone 1300 30 40 54.

END OF RELEASE

Media contact (Consumer Protection)

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Consumer Protection
Media release
24 Nov 2016

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