Sponsor segment - Arçelik (BEKO and Glen Dimplex Group) gas cooker carbon monoxide deaths

Tuesday 15 December 2020

Under certain operating conditions the design of some models of domestic gas cookers manufactured by Arçelik and sold in the UK and Ireland by BEKO and Glenn Dimplex Group resulted in the release of excessive concentrations of carbon monoxide and tragic deaths, which led to changes to relevant European and National Standards.

Issues regarding Arçelik’s design of the appliances and BEKO’s nature and speed of response to the identification of the danger were referred to on 23 November 2020 by Assistant Coroner Mr G Williams in the Inquest findings into the deaths of five people in Cornwall that involved these Arçelik cookers after 2009.

Carbon monoxide deaths

On 8 November 2008 Mr Alexis Landry died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the property he occupied in County Cork, Ireland. It was quickly identified that the incident involved a gas cooker manufactured by Arçelik of Turkey, sold by Glen Dimplex Group.

BEKO, the UK and Ireland subsidiary of Arçelik, was notified of the incident by the Irish authorities. Concurrently, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (then the Commission for Energy Regulation), the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (then the National Consumers Agency) and the National Standards Authority of Ireland instigated a detailed investigation into the incident, commissioning Burgoynes to carry out that investigation.

Burgoynes undertook tests at the incident property, at Gas Networks Ireland (then Bord Gáis Networks) premises, and subsequently at Advantica, a UKAS accredited test house for CE certification of gas appliances. Those tests confirmed that the incident cooker grill burner combustion performance complied with the relevant European Standard when operated with the grill door open, but illustrated the propensity of the incident cooker and similar Arçelik appliances to produce excessive concentrations of carbon monoxide when their grills were operated with the grill door closed.

The tests carried out at Bord Gáis Networks’ premises included a selection of other cookers from different manufacturers, none of which produced such dangerous results. The key to the deadly performance of the particular Arçelik appliances was concluded to be that they were fitted with full, continuous grill door seals: other manufacturers’ appliances were found to have only partial door seals. A ‘simple’ modification to avoid the issue, was to remove parts of the seal allowed sufficient air circulation through the grill compartment with the door closed.

The first incidents described above led to a review of the relevant European Standard by the authorities and industry representatives in 2009 and resulted in changes to the standard designed to improve the safety requirements.

Appliance safety

Tragically, experience has shown that Mr Landry was not the only person to die through operating the grill of an Arçelik appliance with the grill door closed. A similar incident resulted in the deaths of two people in the UK in November 2008, with more deaths attributed to the Arçelik cookers between 2010 and 2015, and there may still be some unchanged, dangerous cookers in use.

These incidents highlight important lessons for the safety of cookers and of appliances in general. The manufacturer’s instructions for the cookers stated that the grill should only be operated with the grill door open. However, there was no requirement for a permanent warning on the appliance itself, or for any safety device to be fitted to switch off the grill burner if the grill door was closed. The European and National Standards required that appliances should be safe under all foreseeable operating circumstances. Designing out danger in the first place is most important.

Ultimately, it may be for the Courts to determine whether or not Arçelik should have foreseen and accounted for the possibility that users may operate the grill burner with the grill door closed. It is also important that manufacturers take appropriate note of safety related incidents involving their appliances and take swift action to limit or eliminate the risks to their customers and the public.

More often than not, when manufacturers issue product recalls or seek to carry out modifications or repairs ‘in the home’, there is limited success in locating many of the affected appliances. Landlords should employ a system to monitor recalls and check domestic appliances to ensure what is provided in their homes are safe and suitable for use by tenants.

Richard Siddons (richard.siddons@burgoynes.com) is a Partner at Dr J H Burgoyne & Partners LLP. Richard began his career with the East Midlands Gas Board providing technical advice on gas utilisation, equipment design and standards and codes of practice in the industrial and commercial sectors. He joined Dr J H Burgoyne and Partners LLP in 1995 specialising in the forensic investigation of fires, explosions and fossil fuel related incidents.

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