FairWarining Reports

Fireplace Makers Offer Safety Concession on Burn Risk

Bowing to mounting pressure from advocates for severely burned toddlers, gas fireplace manufacturers are moving to include protective screens with all of their products.

The proposal is an effort by fireplace makers to blunt the threat of regulation by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. And it comes amid a string of lawsuits over burns from the scorching glass panes of gas fireplaces, which commonly reach temperatures above 400 degrees. The change would come through a revision to the current voluntary industry standard.

According to a federal estimate, since 1999 more than 2,000 children ages five and under have been injured through contact with the unprotected glass, with some suffering 3rd degree burns.  Some burn specialists believe the true number is much higher.

On Tuesday, officials of the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association., a trade group for fireplace makers, are scheduled to brief commissioners and CPSC staff about their plans. Under the revision, manufacturers would provide a safety screen or barrier with each new fireplace. The current voluntary standard, certified by the American National Standards Institute, provides for warnings in owners manuals but does not include a barrier to prevent contact with the superheated glass.

The warnings have been ineffective in part because the parents of victims may not see them. Often, the buyer of the fireplace is a building contractor or a commercial establishment, while the end user is a renter, a second owner of the home, or a hotel guest who does not realize that the glass gets dangerously hot.

Industry representatives had previously considered a more limited change: requiring manufacturers to offer barriers to fit each fireplace, but only as a separate purchase.

The new proposal “is the prudent thing to do,” said Leslie Wheeler, director of communications for the hearth and patio association. “We’re very supportive of it.”

Consumer advocates say the proposal, recommended last month by an industry panel, is a positive step but does not go far enough. They said the wording should make clear that the screen must come attached to the fireplace to make buyers aware of its importance for safety.

“We would feel much more comfortable if the units were sold with the barrier affixed,” said Daniel Dillard, chairman of the prevention committee of the American Burn Assn. Consumers who don’t want the barrier “would have to take the initiative to remove it,” Dillard said.

“You can’t make somebody be safe,” but attaching the screen tells the buyer “this manufacturer must think this [the screen] needs to be here,” said Carol Pollack-Nelson, a psychologist and former member of the commission staff.

However, Wheeler of the hearth association said the intent of the proposal, as written, is to make sure the screen is attached when the fireplace is installed, in order “to protect the manufacturer and the retailer himself, as well as the homeowner.”

Following a comment period and further technical review, the revised standard could become final by July.

Consumer advocates last spring petitioned the commission to adopt government safety rules.  The industry briefings Tuesday are part of an effort to convince the agency that the companies should be allowed to continue regulating themselves.

Under federal law, the agency is supposed to defer to voluntary standards unless it’s clear they aren’t effective in preventing injuries or deaths. To manage a heavy workload, the commission also prefers to rely on voluntary standards rather than go through the laborious rule-making process.

“Preventing child burn injuries from incidents involving fireplaces is an important safety issue,” said commission spokesman Scott Wolfson, adding that agency staffers are reviewing public comments.

Gas fireplaces once were mainly ornamental, and many consumers aren’t aware of the danger of modern hearths, which are designed to serve as heating appliances. Fireplace makers generally have failed to actively warn of the dangers or push the use of safety screens, fearing they would limit the aesthetic appeal and scare away buyers.

However, two leading manufacturers already provide screens at no extra cost. For safety reasons, Hearth & Home Technologies of Lakeville, Minn., includes a permanently attached mesh screen with all of its gas fireplaces. Another top manufacturer, Lennox Hearth Products of Nashville, Tenn., last year began offering a free attachable screen with each fireplace as part of the settlement of a class action lawsuit.

Related Posts:
Toddlers Suffer Severe Burns From Broiling Fireplace Glass, as Businesses Write Their Own Safety Rules
Burn Cases Turn Up the Heat on Fireplace Makers
Industry Seeks to Stave Off Regulation Over Toddler Burns

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Myron Levin - FairWarning

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Myron Levin is editor of FairWarning.

2 comments to “Fireplace Makers Offer Safety Concession on Burn Risk”

  1. CT

    Yet another, let’s make a government rule to protect individuals who cannot be held responsible for their own actions or lack thereof. Teach children FIRE is HOT. The same would apply to a stovetop burner! What’s next? Warnings on car bumpers that cars go fast?

  2. Mp

    I lovw how it becomes the manufacturers problem. For every child that has burned there are two parents that weren’t paying attention. Watch your kids or don’t buy a house with a fireplace.

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