Manufacturers have decided to provide protective screens as standard equipment with new gas fireplaces. This appears to be an attempt to avoid regulation over severe burns to toddlers. The industry has revised its voluntary guidelines to call for the addition of mesh screens to be attached to new fireplaces. The aim is to prevent contact with the scorching glass fronts, which get hot enough to melt skin, which would prevent serious injuries. Fireplace makers will have a very long lead time – until Jan. 1, 2015 – to provide screens with new units, though companies are already retooling to do it sooner, according to Tom Stroud, a senior manager with the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Assn., an industry group.
As reported by FairWarning, more than 2,000 children ages five and under were injured by contact with the unprotected glass in a recent 10-year period. This is according to a federal database, with many suffering 2nd and 3rd degree burns. That has triggered at least a dozen lawsuits and scrutiny by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which in June, 2011, sought public comments on the need for federal standards. Specifications for the screens are included in revisions to the guidelines that will be published very soon by the American National Standards Institute. The Institute certifies voluntary standards for industry groups. An industry technical committee that previously had rejected the need for a physical barrier developed the new guidelines.
Separately, the hearth and patio association has launched an information campaign to alert current owners of an estimated 11 million gas fireplaces that the glass can get dangerously hot, and that they should buy a screen from a fireplace store if there are children in the home. Many users of gas fireplaces weren’t the original purchasers and never saw any warning statements. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is holding off on regulations in response to the industry moves. The CPSC will use social media to draw attention to the industry’s safety tips.
The companies will have more than two years before beginning to provide the screens. Apparently, there are no plans to offer retrofits to current owners. Dan Dillard, executive director of the nonprofit Burn Prevention Network and chairman of the prevention committee of the American Burn Association, believe the CPSC should adopt mandatory standards, rather than rely on voluntary steps by the industry. He also believes the federal estimate of about 200 child burn cases per year is unrealistically low. Members of the prevention committee are going to prepare a white paper with injury data from leading pediatric burn centers. The aim, he said, will be to “bring a spotlight focus to the severity of this.”
Under the voluntary standard, the glass is allowed to reach temperatures as high as 500 degrees or 1,328 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the type of glass used. The limits are meant to keep the glass from failing, not people from getting burned. Up to now, most manufacturers have not provided screens or prominent safety warnings out of fear of marring the aesthetic appeal of fireplaces or scaring off customers.
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