Portable cookers banned over fire risk

One of the portable cookers withdrawn from sale.

Up to half a million portable gas cookers commonly used for camping do not comply with Australian standards, including thousands which are at an unacceptable risk of exploding.

Amid a growing number of cases in which people have been burnt by cookers that failed, the State’s energy safety watchdog today banned the sale of six different models while warning about the use of more than 20 others.

The banned models, prices for which start at less than $20, are Auscrown, Campmaster, Gasmate, Homes Essentials, Illusion and Oztrail.

The decision follows similar moves earlier this month by regulators in New South Wales, where several people had been injured by the devices and one man died when a butane-stove explosion ripped through his caravan.

Known as “lunchbox” cookers because of their portable size, the devices are widely used by campers and work by plugging in a small can of butane – a highly flammable gas – into their side.

Apart from their widespread use by campers, the stoves are also known to be sold as part of emergency kits for disasters such as cyclones.

After investigating the safety of the products, EnergySafety in WA is has found they are dangerously liable to malfunction if the cooking plate was overloaded with something that was too big.

Like their NSW counterparts, WA regulators found reflected heat could cause the butane – which is stored in the can in a liquid form – to change into gas.

This process, which involved the butane expanding at a molecular level, increased pressure inside the can and could cause it to explode.

EnergySafety said faulty safety mechanisms compounded the problem because they did not shut off butane supplies even when pressure inside the cans breached threshold levels.

While it is understood many devices are supposed to cut off supplies when pressure inside the can exceeds 650 kilopascals, regulators found this often failed to happen.

In fact, it was found that in some instances pressure levels inside the can kept rising up to 1000kPa or more before the case would explode.

David Allan, the director of gas at EnergySafety, said there were believed to be about five million such cookers in distribution around Australian, with about 500,000 of those in WA.

Mr Allan said all 31 models would be withdrawn from sale in WA while the six brands that have been deemed unsafe would also be illegal to use.

He said all models, which in many cases were made in Asian countries such as China and Vietnam, would need to be modified to fix their design flaws before they could be recertified and sold in WA stores again.

“One of the problems with these lunchbox type cookers is people tend to use over-sized pots and pans or frypans or grill-plates which will reflect extra heat down on the canister (and) overheat it,” Mr Allan said this morning.

“And then if the safety mechanism doesn’t work they’re in trouble.”

The decision will affect some of the state’s biggest retailers of camping equipment including Bunnings and Boating, Camping and Fishing.

A full list of the 31 cookers that have been withdrawn from sale can be found on EnergySafety’s website at www.energysafety.wa.gov.au.
People who have consumer rights questions have also been urged to call Consumer Protection on 1300 304 054.

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