Summer safety advice from Building and Energy

Western Australia’s building and energy safety regulator is sharing top tips for a safe summer when using gas barbecues and camping appliances, pools, party lights, lithium-ion batteries, roof spaces and items attached to pillars.

Gas barbecues

“A barbecue is a great Australian tradition, but gas barbecues can be dangerous if they are not correctly used or maintained,” Building and Energy A/Executive Director Sandy Randall said.

“Unsafe barbecues can cause fires, injuries and damage to property, but simple checks can keep your barbecue working safely.”

Top 5 tips

  • Check that the gas cylinder and hose are in good condition and in date. The test date stamped on the gas cylinder should not have exceeded 10 years. Also ensure there is a rubber seal (an O-ring or bung) on the connector that attaches the hose and regulator to the cylinder (pictured below).
  • Each time you use the barbecue, carry out a “soapy water test” to check for a gas leak. After opening the gas cylinder valve (but before lighting the barbecue), spray a mix of household detergent and water at all the connection points. If bubbles appear (pictured), there is a gas leak and you should turn the cylinder off straight away.
gas_checks.jpg
gas_checks.jpg, by sroberts
  • Keep the barbecue away from flammable materials and clean it regularly to help remove flammable grease and oil.
  • Be aware of safe use, storage and transport of gas cylinders. If you live in an apartment, there are restrictions on LP gas quantities that can be stored on balconies (10kg maximum).
  • Always use outdoor gas barbecues in the open air to avoid hazardous carbon monoxide build-up.

Camping/portable gas equipment

“Portable gas equipment is safe to use if it is in good condition, operated correctly and in a proper location,” Ms Randall said.

“However, the consequences can be deadly if carbon monoxide builds up in an area without enough ventilation. Gas leaks and fires are also hazards.”

Top 5 tips

  • Always use outdoor gas appliances in the open air and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Never use them in a tent, caravan or other enclosed space – even with a flap or door open – to avoid potentially lethal exposure to carbon monoxide.
  • Transport gas cylinders in an upright and secure position. Do not carry them in the boot of a car or any unventilated area for extended periods.
  • Reduce fire risks by positioning gas appliances in a stable location away from tents, vehicles and other structures.
  • Check the gas cylinder and hose for damage, kinks or flaws that could result in a gas leak. Do a “soapy water test” before each use by spraying a household detergent and water mix on all the exposed joints and connections. If bubbles appear, there is a gas leak.
  • Look for a stamp on the gas cylinder showing when it was last tested. If this was more than 10 years ago it should be replaced or retested.

Pools

All private swimming pools, spas and portable pools containing more than 30cm of water must have a safety barrier installed that complies with specific standards.

Building and Energy oversees the swimming pool safety barrier standards that are enforced by local governments in most areas of Western Australia. See the Rules For Pools and Spas booklet and checklist for details.

“Tragically, drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death for children under five in Australia,” Ms Randall said.

“There is no substitute for close adult supervision of young children around water, but compliant, well-maintained and correctly used barriers and gates provide extra protection.”

Top 5 tips

  • Remember that portable pools, including inflatable and temporary pools, are subject to the same barrier requirements as built-in pools if they contain more than 30cm of water.
  • Ensure your pool fence is sturdy, on stable ground and complies with these measurements: at least 1.2m high outside; no more than a 10cm gap between vertical bars and from the bottom of the fence to the ground; and at least 90cm between handholds and footholds. See the Rules For Pools and Spas booklet and checklist for details.
  • Never prop open the pool gate. The gate should open away from the pool, self-close and have a self-latching device at least 1.5m above the ground. Check that the components haven’t worn out, become rusty or jammed.
  • Keep the pool area clear of objects that could be used for climbing the barrier, such as plant pots, furniture or toys.
  • Remember that barriers are just one component of pool safety. Close adult supervision of young children around water is essential. Knowledge of swimming and CPR is also helpful.

Party/decorative lights

Ms Randall is encouraging people to ensure that interior and exterior party or decorative lights are safe, in good working order and comply with Australian standards.

“Damaged or incorrectly used lights can cause electric shocks and fires,” she said.

“Like all electrical equipment and appliances, the lights must meet safety standards and require Australian certification.”

summer_electrical_safety.jpg
summer_electrical_safety.jpg, by sroberts

Top 5 tips

  • Be wary about buying lights from overseas as they may not comply with Australian standards. Look for an Australian regulatory compliance symbol – usually a tick inside a triangle – and insulation covering the base of the pins (pictured above).
  • Check that the lights, cords and plugs are undamaged, untangled and working well, particularly if they have been in storage.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, including whether the lights are suitable for indoor or outdoor use. Outdoor lights should have an ingress protection (IP) weatherproof rating.
  • Switch off the lights before going to bed or leaving your house.
  • Test your home’s residual current devices (RCDs) regularly, ideally every three months.

Lithium-ion batteries

With home improvement and gardening often on the summer agenda, Ms Randall encouraged safe charging of lithium-ion batteries, which are commonly found in appliances such as whipper-snippers, drills and stick vacuums.

“There is a fire risk if lithium-ion batteries are overcharged or the charger isn’t compatible or approved,” she said.

“These batteries have a lot of stored energy, so fires generate significant heat and flames.”

Top 5 tips

  • Only use charging equipment supplied with the device or specifically designed for use with it. Don’t mix and match the charger and appliance just because they fit.
  • Look for a regulatory compliance mark (a tick inside a triangle) on the charger or go to eess.gov.au to check that it has been approved for use in Australia. Be cautious about equipment purchased from overseas.
  • Don’t use batteries showing signs of swelling, overheating or damage.
  • To avoid overcharging, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and remove the battery from the charger as soon as it is recharged.
  • Don’t charge appliances on soft surfaces such as a bed or a couch. Try to avoid charging in locations that may not have smoke alarms fitted, such as garages, sheds and patios.

Hazards in roof spaces

Summer is a popular time for DIY projects so Ms Randall is urging people to be particularly cautious about electrical hazards in roof spaces.

“If you must access the roof space, it is vital that the electricity supply to the house is turned off at the main switchboard before you go up,” he said.

“The wiring in the roof space may have damaged insulation or exposed live parts, or you may accidentally dislodge other components, risking electric shock and possible electrocution.”

Top 5 tips

  • Never attempt any DIY electrical work, which is illegal and extremely dangerous. Always use a licensed electrical contractor.
  • Before entering the roof space, always turn off the electricity supply to the entire house at the main switchboard.
  • If you see any damaged or bare wires in the roof space, exit the area and call a licensed electrical contractor immediately.
  • Battery-powered headlamps or torches can help with safe movement in the roof space.
  • Avoid storing items in the roof space and keep thermal insulation away from light fittings.

Attaching or hanging items

Be cautious about how and where equipment such as hammocks, swings, hanging chairs, shade-sails and basketball hoops are installed.

Ms Randall said items like this should only be used if the supporting structure – including brick piers, walls, roofs, ceilings and beams – can handle the weight and loads.

“Structures at your home are not necessarily designed to carry additional attachments,” she said.

“Isolated brick piers, for example, are primarily designed to carry loads from above. They should not be retrofitted with items that pull or push them sideways or off-centre, such as a hammock. Tragically, two people have died in recent years in WA after brick piers collapsed on hammocks.”

Top 5 tips

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing items.
  • Have a close look at the building structure to see if it is strong enough to support the item you wish to attach, including a person’s weight. If in doubt, don’t risk it.
  • Consider getting expert building or engineering advice on the safe installation and use of items attached to a structure.
  • Confirm if a free-standing (or isolated) brick pier has a reinforcement rod, often made of steel, inside it for extra stability.
  • Be aware that some equipment, such as basketball hoops and backboards, are subject to specific safety standards and must have certain warning labels and instructions.

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