Safety warning after worker seriously burned in heater fire

Tuesday, 13 June, 2023

Safety warning after worker seriously burned in heater fire

SafeWork SA has issued a safety warning about the dangers of refuelling heating devices after a fireball seriously burned a male worker at an Adelaide hotel. Alcohol-fuelled devices — also known as ethanol burners and ethanol fireplaces — are sold for heating and display purposes. Burners are typically fuelled with liquid ethanol; the most common form is methylated spirits, often marketed as bio-ethanol or eco-fuel.

On Friday, 2 June 2023, a hotel worker was topping up the fluid in an ethanol fireplace when the vapour exploded. The fireball resulted in serious burns to the worker’s body and fire damage to the surrounding area; the worker remains in a critical condition in hospital.

A mandatory safety standard for decorative alcohol-fuelled devices sold in Australia was introduced in July 2017. According to the standard, devices must be a permanent fixture, or weigh at least eight kilograms and have a footprint of at least 900 square centimetres. The devices must also meet the stability test set out in the European Standard; be supplied with a fuel container with a flame arrester or an automatic fuel pump system; and be labelled with the prescribed warning.

In order to manage the risks of working with refuelling heating devices, employers are advised to develop a safe system of work to ensure control measures are in place to eliminate ignition hazards prior to refuelling. Employers should also consider the positioning of equipment for safe access and only use the recommended fuel for the device. When refilling, SafeWork SA advises employers to first check that the flame is extinguished and ensure the device is cool. For devices with fuel tanks that must be removed for refuelling, employers must remove the fuel tank from the device before refilling; when refilling, employers should only use containers with a flame arrester.

Employers are advised to refuel away from heat and possible ignition sources, including hot parts, vapours or flames. Refuelling should also be carried out in well-ventilated areas. Workers refuelling equipment must be aware of the fire risks involved and be trained and competent to perform the task. Spills must be cleaned up immediately, as pooled vapours may explode when the device is relit. If there is a fire, employers are advised to use a powder extinguisher or a fire blanket to smother the fire. If the fire cannot be controlled, move away from it and contact emergency services by calling 000.

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