Decorative alcohol fuelled devices

Published: 
16 Mar 2017

National interim ban

On 16 March 2017, the Minister for Small Business, the Hon Michael McCormack MP, announced an interim ban on the supply of certain decorative alcohol fuelled devices, also known as ethanol burners, throughout Australia.

The interim ban applies to devices designed for domestic use producing a flame using alcohol as fuel, primarily for decorative purpose. The interim ban applies to all tabletop devices and to certain freestanding devices that do not have specified safety features and warnings.

Australian Consumer Law Imposition of interim ban on Certain Decorative Alcohol Fuelled Devices
Interim ban imposed on unsafe ethanol burners

State government interim bans

The national interim ban replaces interim bans imposed by the Ministers responsible for the Australian Consumer Law in Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, the ACT, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

The national interim ban allows the supply of larger freestanding devices that have specified safety features and warnings and continues to ban the supply of all tabletop devices.

The State and Territory interim bans listed below expire between 21 and 23 March 2017.

Western Australian Department of Commerce:

Consumer Affairs Victoria:

New South Wales Fair Trading:

Queensland Fair Trading:

South Australia Consumer and Business Services: 

Australian Capital Territory Fair Trading:

Tasmania Consumer Affairs & Fair Trading:

Northern Territory Consumer Affairs :

Hazards

Decorative alcohol fuelled devices have caused serious burn injuries to consumers in age from newborn babies to pensioners. Many injuries occur while refuelling the burners as people can unknowingly refuel the burner while it is still burning as it can be hard to see the flame. Injuries include second or third degree burns requiring intensive care, skin grafts, operations, lengthy hospital stays and physiotherapy.

These products have also been associated with a number of house fires. Some cheap decorative alcohol fuelled devices appear to lack safety features for refuelling the device.

Video: Don't fuel the fire

Safety tips

If you have a tabletop decorative alcohol fuelled device, we recommend you stop using it immediately. If you have a freestanding alcohol fuelled device, take extreme care when refuelling and follow the safety instructions with the device.

If you bought a device that is now captured by the national interim ban, you may be entitled to a remedy under the consumer guarantees of the Australian Consumer Law. (link is external)

The fuel

Decorative alcohol fuelled devices typically use ethanol (methylated spirits), which is highly flammable and should be used with caution and stored safely. Liquid ethanol is sometimes marketed as bio-ethanol, bio-fuel, eco-fuel or similar. Less commonly, some burners use ethanol-gel fuel.

Fuelling & refuelling

  • Check the flames have been extinguished and the device is cool before refilling to prevent fuel exploding causing severe burns and property damage.
  • Remove the fuel tank from the device before refilling.
  • Only use the recommended fuel for the device and when refilling only use containers with a flame arrestor, particularly if the fuel tank cannot be removed from the device for refilling.  
  • Be aware that flames can be difficult to see, particularly under sunlight or in bright environments. This can lead you to think that the flame has gone out.
  • Clean up spills immediately, as pooled vapours may explode when the device is relit

Lighting the device

Use the lighting tool that comes with the device as it should be long enough to safely light the fuel tank. Alternatively, use a BBQ lighter (or similar device) to remain at a safe distance when lighting the flame. Lighting the fuel tank with smaller devices (such as matches or cigarette lighters) may cause skin or clothing to be burned.

Extinguishing the device

Use the extinguishing tool that comes with the device. Make sure you extinguish all flames when leaving the room and before going to sleep. Never extinguish the flame with water as this may cause the flames to spread.

In case of fire – what to do

Use a powder extinguisher or a fire blanket to smother the fire. If you do not have one, use dirt or sand instead.

If you cannot control the fire, move away from it and contact your fire emergency service (in Australia, dial 000).

Frequently asked questions

Q. Why has the Minister imposed an interim ban on decorative alcohol fuelled devices?

A. Since 2010, there have been over 100 reported incidents of consumers injured from using decorative alcohol fuelled devices. Injuries include second or third degree burns requiring intensive care, skin grafts, operations, lengthy hospital stays and physiotherapy. Many injuries occur while refuelling the devices. These serious injuries are continuing to occur.

Before issuing a national interim ban, the Minister issued a proposed ban notice. This followed a supplier conference held by the ACCC in February 2017 on the proposed ban notice. Taking into account supplier submissions and the incident data, the ACCC recommended to the Minister he impose an interim ban.

The interim ban applies to the supply of devices designed for domestic use producing a flame using alcohol as fuel, primarily for decorative purpose, but excludes each of the following:

  1. those with a power output more than 4.5 kilowatts;
  2. those that require installation in a fixed position;
  3. those designed for food warming;
  4. those with a dry weight of at least 8 kilograms and a footprint of at least 900 square centimetres and that satisfy one or more of the following:

a)  the device has a fuel tank that must be removed from the device for refuelling and the device displays a permanent, prominent     legible warning with the following text:

WARNING

Filling an alcohol fuelled device while lit has caused severe burns.

You must remove the fuel tank from the device before refilling.

When refilling first check the flame is extinguished and that the device is cool.

or

b)  the device is supplied with a fuel container that incorporates a flame arrestor and the device displays a permanent, prominent legible warning with the following text:

WARNING

Filling an alcohol fuelled device while lit has caused severe burns.

When refilling only use containers with a flame arrestor.

When refilling first check the flame is extinguished and that the device is cool.

Q. Can I still supply decorative alcohol fuelled devices?

A. Businesses must comply with the national interim ban. Businesses that have already supplied decorative alcohol fuelled devices, which are captured by the national interim ban, may voluntarily recall them.

Q. What should I do if I bought a decorative alcohol fuelled device captured by the interim ban?

A. We recommend you stop using it immediately.

Q. Do businesses need to refund people who bought decorative alcohol fuelled devices before the national interim ban?

A. The national interim ban is in force throughout Australia, and consumers may have a case under the Australian Consumer Law to ask for a refund from their supplier. Under Australian Consumer Law, consumer guarantees mean that products must be of acceptable quality, which includes that they must be safe. Many tabletop devices—where the fuel is poured into the same area as the flame—are unlikely to be safe.

  • Retailers should ensure they do not supply products covered by the national interim ban (regardless of whether they consider them safe) and should respond reasonably and give a refund if the product is unsafe.
  • Where a retailer reasonably considers a particular product is safe because of its design or safety features, they can negotiate with consumers who ask for a refund.
  • Retailers do not have to provide a refund for products that are not covered by the interim ban (e.g. installed fireplaces, cookers and freestanding devices with specified safety features and warnings).

Information for suppliers

The ACCC and Queensland Office of Fair Trading developed information for suppliers of decorative alcohol fuelled burners: What you need to know about: Ethanol-fuelled fireplaces and table top burners

This guide provides suppliers’ information about markings, labelling and warning information suitable for this type of product.

The national interim ban overrides this guide. Products captured by the national interim ban must not be supplied.

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