NSW Fair Trading and Standards Australia have today launched new standards to protect consumers from dodgy design, poor manufacturing and confusing or misleading instructions.
The new standards apply to all heat packs which contain organic filling and includes products aimed at children, such as plush toys with a removable heat pack.
The standards are voluntary, but consumers who purchase products adhering to the new standards can have more confidence that the design, manufacture and heating instructions ensure that the product will not cause a contact burn or catch fire, when used correctly.
NSW Fair Trading will also be contacting suppliers and major retailers to encourage adoption of the standard.
NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner, Greg Mullins, has welcomed the new standards. "We have responded to numerous residential fires due to wheat bags being heated for too long in the microwave, or being used inappropriately to warm bedding materials.
"When heated incorrectly, heat bags can ignite and cause residential fires. Worryingly, there is a new trend of wheat bags in plush toys, and these are frequently being used to keep children warm in their beds."
Wheat bags are not designed to warm bedding, as the blankets trap the product’s heat and this may cause it to ignite.
As the weather gets colder, Fair Trading Commissioner, Rod Stowe urges consumers to use tried and tested products to warm their beds. "A good quality electric blanket is the safest way to warm bedding in the colder months. These blankets are designed specifically for heating bedding and are subject to safety tests."
Siobhan Connolly from the ACI Statewide Burn Injury Service explained that confusing or incomplete instructions can cause people to heat wheat bags to an excessive temperature, which can cause the skin to burn upon contact.
"Since 2012, the NSW Burn Units have treated 27 patients, including small children, who have sustained a contact burn to their body as a result of heat packs" Ms Connolly said. "Almost half of these required surgery and long-term scar management."
Fair Trading also determined that the practice of placing a glass/mug of water in the microwave as the product is being heated does not reduce fire risk. In fact, consumers are warned that the water can spill and cause a burn as it is being removed from the microwave.
For more fire safety information about the new wheat pack standards, visit fairtrading.nsw.gov.au.