Call for safe heating

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

Schools have campaigned for the removal of unflued gas heaters for years, including Glen Innes HS on Blanket Day in 2011.

As the state election approaches Federation will continue to pursue the need for the Government to replace low-NOx unflued heaters with flued heaters in schools.

NSW is the only state in Australia where unflued gas heaters are still used despite the findings of a study by the Woolcock Institute in 2010 that “exposure to newer-style low-NOx unflued gas heaters causes increased respiratory symptoms, particularly in atopic [hypersensitive to allergies] children”.

The study concluded “severe adverse consequences are unlikely in the short term” but pointed out “exposure to the unflued heaters in the subgroup with asthma suggest an adverse effect that is best avoided”. Rather than recommending the removal of the heaters the study stated “it is important to seek alternative sources of domestic and public space heating that do not have adverse effects on health”.

In 2013 the Victorian Coroner found that the presence of a high concentration of carbon monoxide from a faulty, unserviced, unflued gas heater caused the death of two children in their home. The Coroner called for statewide agencies to better educate people about the danger of carbon monoxide. The NSW Asthma Foundation’s chief executive officer Michelle Goldman said in a media release: “Sadly it took a tragedy to recognise the danger these heaters pose to life and health, but the Victorian Government and the Chase and Tyler Parkinson Foundation are helping to raise awareness. A similar campaign is urgently needed in NSW and the Foundation is keen to partner with various health authorities on easily accessible, scientifically verifiable information about how various types of heaters might affect health and how to operate them safely.”

Ms Goldman said: “The Asthma Foundation NSW will continue to campaign for the replacement of these heaters so that children in NSW public schools can breathe clean air like their counterparts in other states of Australia.”

Instead of supporting this campaign and the Federation’s call for safe heaters the NSW Government has determined that it will only replace unflued heaters when the majority of heaters in a school have reached the end of their serviceable life. The Government decided that flued gas heaters would be fitted in all new schools and new school buildings from 2012.

Each year the Department issues a safety alert emphasising the need for cross ventilation and “safety labels” for the heaters. This response leaves students and staff exposed not only to low NOx fumes but also cold drafts from cross ventilation. If unflued gas heaters are affecting the health of students and/or staff Federation Representatives and Workplace Committees should contact their Organiser for assistance in pursuing the health and safety risks. Federation will assist in pursuing the risks. This may include using the issue resolution process and where appropriate contacting WorkCover.

The union will work with the NSW Asthma Foundation and other relevant groups to raise awareness and call for safe heating in schools.