Claims about safety of fire bunkers false, warns watchdog

Claims about safety of fire bunkers false, warns watchdog

14 October 2009

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Australia — The state’s fire authority has warned against installing fire bunkers until national standards have been developed – on the same day the consumer watchdog clamped down on bunker manufacturers making false claims about their products.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has pursued three manufacturers who claimed their products met Australian safety standards, when none exist.

The businesses, all in Melbourne, spruiked the safety credentials of their bunkers by quoting building code standards that referred to standards for septic tanks, explosives and concrete structures.

The chairman of the ACCC, Graeme Samuel, said his organisation had only ”scratched the surface” of erroneous claims being made in an industry that has grown significantly since the Black Saturday disaster this year: ”This isn’t just about people being duped into spending money improperly, it’s about believing they’re safe and secure and that their families are safe and secure from the ravages of a bushfire.”

Seven people died in bunkers during the Victorian disaster, while many others credited the structures with saving their lives.

The three manufacturers have since removed the claims.

The Australian Building Codes Board is expected to release national standards next year.

The Assistant Commissioner with the Rural Fire Service, Rob Rogers, said householders should wait until those standards have been delivered before installing a bunker in their home. ”It may well be that bunkers have a place, but we believe there needs to be some national standards on those before people go to the trouble of installing them.

”People may put their faith in something that does not provide as much safety as if they had left the area,” he said.

Manufacturers the Herald spoke to welcomed the new guidelines. Craig Morrison from Fire Proof Shelters – which was not found to be breaching standards – said his company strived to ensure the quality of its products by using individual components that met other fire safety standards, and stressed they were not a full-proof solution.

”We tell people this is your last resort, if they can get out then do, but what happens if a fire starts up overnight?” he said.

Mr Samuel said even recommending the safety of individual components was a ”grey area”.

”A fire door that meets ‘industry standards’ may well be an industry standard for an office door or a residential door, but whether that is satisfactory to meet the extreme conditions of a bushfire is another issue.”

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