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Childproof oil lamps are possible!

02/2007, 18.04.2007

New design burners can effectively protect children from poisoning

Joint BAM and BfR press release

Despite the ban on dangerous coloured and scented lamp oils containing paraffin and the development of less harmful substitutes, accidents involving small children are still happening. This is because sales of the clear, unscented variety of these fuels - which is not banned - are steadily increasing. The smallest amounts of these dangerous fuels can cause damage, in some cases severe, to the lungs. In most of these accidents children drank from the unsafe oil lamps. Paraffins can reach the lungs very easily and cause chemical-induced pulmonary inflammations which - in the worst cases - may prove fatal. And yet with relatively simple technical means, it is possible to construct oil lamps in a childproof manner and prevent accidents of this kind. As the manufacturers and distributors of oil lamps have not taken any action up to now, the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) in cooperation with the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has now designed a childproof burner for oil lamps and torches. The construction design is made available free of charge to the manufacturers and distributors of oil lamps and torches.

For more than 10 years the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and its predecessor institutes have been striving to reduce the risk of poisoning from lamp oil by raising awareness of the hazards, by statutory provisions and by cooperating with industry. Childproof closures on storage containers, warnings and a ban on coloured, scented lamp oils containing paraffin did lead to some initial success. Nevertheless, there is still a risk that must not be ignored. After all 70 cases, some severe, of poisoning of small children with lamp oil were still reported to German paediatric clinics in 2006 alone under the BfR monitoring scheme. Most of the children had drunk the oil from the still non-childproof oil lamps or torches which had been filled with colourless, unscented oil containing paraffin. Although a European standard was published in 2003 (DIN EN 14059) on the initiative of BfR which stipulates safety requirements and test methods for oil lamps for ornamental purposes, the manufacturers and distributors have so far failed to develop or place childproof oil lamps on the market for use in the home. For outdoor use, too, only very few childproof oil lamps and torches are available.

Out of concern for children’s health the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM), with the support of BfR, has come up with a design for a childproof burner for lamp oils. This is a very simple, low-cost design that can be constructed without any major technical outlay. Existing lamps can be retrofitted. The burners are designed in such a way that children can no longer open and drink from the oil lamps. It is also much more difficult for them to access the wick. BAM, the responsible public agency, makes this design available to manufacturers and distributors free of charge on the Internet. Manufacturers can then incorporate it into their own marketable products thereby considerably increasing the safety of their products in line with the Product Safety Act.

The BAM and BfR activities should be seen more particularly against the backdrop that the actual share of less dangerous substitutes for lamp oils containing biodiesel, mineral oil or coconut oil is small. Following the ban on dangerous coloured and scented oils containing paraffin, most consumers simply switched to the non-prohibited clear, unscented paraffins. There is, therefore, still a risk that infants could be poisoned with oil from these non-childproof lamps.

Further information on lamp oil poisoning can be accessed on the BfR website (www.bfr.bund.de) by entering “lamp oil” in the search field. Further information on the requirements of European Standard 14059 and on the construction design of a childproof burner for oil lamps is available in german language on the BAM website (www.bam.de).

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