Coroner Says That Open-Flue Gas Heaters Are A Health Hazard

A  Victorian coroner has issued a warning to Aussie homeowners and tradies across the country, including Brisbane plumbers, as hundreds of thousands of open-flue gas heaters in Australia are potential health hazards, and that gas fitters should be forced to complete updated carbon monoxide training courses.

These recommendations followed an investigation into the demise of 62-year-old Sonia Sofianopoulos, whose cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning. She died in her Greens borough unit back in 2017, due to carbon monoxide buildup from a Vulcan Heritage heater.

According to Coroner Jacqui Hawkins, the Department of Health and Human Services hired plumbing contractors who carried out non-compliant carbon monoxide testing in the property two year prior to Ms. Sofianopolous’s death. On top of that, the DHHS was also only carrying out its heating servicing once every five years in the 70,000 residences it had under supervision. This is in clear violation of the recommendations set by the regulation organisation, Energy Safe Victoria (ESV).

Hawkins reports that the death of Ms. Sofianopoulos was the result of several events coming together, including her heater leaking carbon monoxide into her room at the same time an exhaust fan was also in operation. On top of that, the unit was sealed, following retrofitting by the DHHS, so the carbon monoxide being leaked into the room had nowhere to go, building up until it hit lethal concentrations.

The coroner made several recommendations regarding open-flue heaters in the AU, which would not only affect Victorian plumbers, but Brisbane plumbers was well. Hawkins recommends that a national regulator forbid the sales of new open-flue heaters across the country in order to phase it out from the country, as well as all gas fitter licencing requirements to include up to date mandatory training.

The problem with open-flue gas heaters is that they’re designed to operate in open, well-ventilated areas, where the carbon monoxide from its flames are guaranteed to flow out. On top of this, if the room they are operating in also has an exhaust fan, the room becomes a negative pressure environment, which accelerates carbon monoxide buildup.

The ESV has stated that they are working to ban open-flue heaters outright, while the family of Ms. Sofianopoulos accepted the findings, and hoped that the government would work to ensure that this tragedy did not repeat elsewhere in the country.

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