GOVT LETTERS ADVISING TENANTS OF POTENTIALLY DEADLY HEATERS INADEQUATE
There are 6,525 Victorian public housing tenants potentially at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from faulty Vulcan and Pyrox Heritage gas heaters in Public Housing properties. These tenants have been warned in a letter from the Department not to use the faulty heaters until they are tested and if necessary replaced.
In a statement to the ABC, a spokesperson for Public Housing said tenants were advised "not to use the heater and to contact the department if they require alternative temporary heating". But the department did not respond to the ABC's questions about how long it had known about the problem.
The DHHS is also doing a complete safety check of all other gas heaters in their properties, a further 47,000 bringing the total number of safety tests to 53,500.
According to Energy Safe Victoria, the recommendation is for all gas heaters to be checked every two years by a licensed gas fitter. What process does the government have in place regarding the servicing of its gas heaters in public properties, and has this process been followed? Or is the government now embarking on a full safety check of all its heaters, because they have been prompted to do so, by the death of public tenant, Sonia Sofianopoulos from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2017?
The letters sent to public tenants regarding potentially fatal heaters falls short of the government's Duty of Care, because there is no adequate translation provided in the correspondence.
Public housing communities are very multicultural. Many tenants from migrant backgrounds would have had difficulty understanding the Department's letter. Since there is nothing in their language to immediately alert them, how would they know that their heaters are dangerous to them and their families?
With the cold weather coming, power bills surging and windows closed to keep out the cold, the current risk of tenants using risky heaters that leak carbon monoxide due to being uninformed, is very real.
Here are pics of the letter - back and front. A second page has pictures of the dangerous heaters in question.
The translation advice on the back of the letter, see below, is stock standard, and is printed on the back of most DHHS communications with public tenants. It basically says that the front of the letter refers to matters of government accommodation such as rent, tenancy rights, housing and security and provides numbers where a translator is available. The body of the letter written in English concludes with the sentence 'If you do not understand this information please call this number" ---- hardly helpful to tenants who can't read English.
In view of the fact that these are potentially lethal heaters, the government should have included a few sentences in the various languages spoken on Public Housing estates alerting them of the danger, such as 'The heaters pictured are potentially dangerous to you and your family as they can leak unsafe levels of Carbon Monoxide which can be fatal. If you have a heater such as these in your home DO NOT USE them. Phone this number for more information---
Do we have to wait for further tragedies like public tenant Sonia Sofianopoulos, or the two little boys, Chase and Tyler Robinson who died of carbon monoxide poisoning while living in private rental accommodation?
Sonia - described by neighbours as kind and generous,
always doing something for someone.” And below Chase and Tyler
The newspaper articles linked below, talk of the hardship presently experienced by public tenants, many with disabilities and on low incomes, left without adequate heating during the cold weather.
( Next blog post- Friday 18 May )
'Energy Safe Victoria's energy safety deputy director, Mike Ebdon said the recommendation that gas appliances be checked every two years for carbon monoxide levels and safety by a gas-qualified plumber would help save lives'.‘‘It is not a job for a handyman or a different class of plumber, it is a job that is only for a licensed gas fitter,’’ Mr Ebdon said.
'The coroner who investigated the deaths of two young brothers poisoned by a gas heater has urged statewide agencies to better educate people about the danger of carbon monoxide and to have home appliances serviced every two years.'
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-29/6500-public-housing-tenants-told-not-to-use-their-heaters/9598358 18 Mar 2018
https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/sonia-s-death-from-heater-prompts-urgent-inquest-20180320-p4z5as.html 20 Mar 18
https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/safety-check-for-more-than-50-000-public-tenants-amid-gas-heater-fears-20180405-p4z7vi.html 5 Apr 2018
https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/public-housing-tenants-left-in-the-cold-amid-gas-heater-fears-20180510-p4zeij.html 11 May 18