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Coroner confirms Cohuna carbon monoxide death from modified campervan fridge

Wednesday 5 July 2023 at 11:11 pm

Energy Safe Victoria is reminding the community never to use outdoor gas appliances indoors, after the Coroners Court of Victoria confirmed carbon monoxide poisoning as the cause of a 2022 death at a Cohuna campsite.

An 88-year-old woman was found dead inside an unventilated campervan parked at a campsite, northwest of Echuca, while a gas-powered fridge operated beside her.

Following an Energy Safe investigation, it was determined and reported to the Coroner that the fridge had been modified with a flue extender to release carbon monoxide.

Whenever the fridge was in operation, it required manual placement of a flue extender hose through one of the campervan windows to ensure the proper escape of carbon monoxide.

Despite the clear warning on the fridge, indicating that it should not be used in enclosed areas like tents or motor vehicles, the woman's body was discovered with the hose still inside the campervan while the fridge was running.

The campervan windows were closed, creating a situation where carbon monoxide was unable to dissipate, posing a significant risk.

The Energy Safe investigation suggested fatal levels of the gas would have filled the unventilated campervan within six hours. The woman was reportedly inside the campervan for more than 10 hours.

The Coroner concluded that the woman either forgot to place the flue through the window or forgot to turn the fridge off for the night. The woman cannot be named at the request of her family.

In 2011, the Australian Standard was amended, requiring portable gas fridges to display a danger label, advising consumers to use them outdoors.

In 2019, the Standard was again amended, requiring gas fridges to include a shut-down mechanism when oxygen levels decreased resulting in excessive levels of carbon monoxide. Energy Safe was involved in both amendments.

Energy Safe CEO Leanne Hughson said the tragic incident served as a reminder to Victorians never to operate or modify gas appliances designed for outdoor use, inside tents, caravans and campervans.

“Outdoor gas appliances should never be taken indoors, and that includes tents, campervans or caravans,” Ms Hughson said.

“Gas appliances, including fridges, patio heaters and barbecues, should never be modified or re-purposed as this only raises the safety risk.”

Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause serious and long-term health conditions with symptoms similar to the flu, including headaches, tiredness, dizziness or nausea.

In more severe cases, confusion, shortness of breath or chest pain can be symptoms. Very high levels of carbon monoxide can be fatal.

For more information visit www.esv.vic.gov.au.

Media contact: Adrian Bernecich 0437 729 194