Senators will probably remember that, some time ago, there was a certain amount of public disquiet here and in Britain because of the fire hazards associated with particular types of oil heaters. There were, unfortunately, a number of fatal accidents in Britain which emphasised the necessity to examine this problem at once. Many of the oil heaters which are in use in this country have been imported from Britain, and some contain features which are recognised as representing a fire hazard in certain conditions of operation.
I have had under consideration for some time past the action which might best be taken here to deal with the fire hazard associated with oil heaters, and I have had the benefit of discussions with assemblers, importers and distributors of oil heaters. The action taken in Britain in this matter has, of course, been helpful in our consideration of the problems associated with the use of these heaters. It will be recalled, perhaps, that a report on oil heaters was furnished to the British Government in March of this year by the British Joint Fire Research Organisation. Subsequent to this, a British Standard Specification was prescribed for oil heaters, and a Bill is now going through Parliament, the effect of which will be to prohibit the sale of dangerous oil heaters in Britain.
While the danger attaching to the use of oil heaters can, perhaps, be exaggerated, nevertheless, I think that the situation is one which requires action on the part of the Government. We appear to have had very few accidents resulting from the use of these heaters, but it must be recognised that under certain operating conditions, some of these heaters do represent a serious fire hazard, and the public interest requires that whatever corrective action may be possible ought to be taken as soon as practicable. A situation is likely to develop in which large numbers of sub-standard oil heaters manufactured in Britain, the sale of which will henceforth be prohibited in Britain, will become available for export markets. It would be a very unfortunate development if large numbers of defective oil heaters were imported and sold to the public.
I am sure that the introduction of this Bill will make it clear that the Government intend to take action to deal with the types of oil heaters which represent a fire hazard, and importers and firms engaged in the manufacture or assembly of oil heaters here will be expected to make sure that the heaters which they are placing on the market are of a safe type and do not incorporate the features which have made some of these heaters a hazard to human life and property.
The broad effect of the Bill will be to empower the Minister for Industry and Commerce to make regulations requiring that oil heaters which are offered for sale comply with an approved specification which will ensure that the risk of fire will be eliminated as far as possible. There will be a requirement to attach to oil heaters instructions about their use so that the public will be properly informed about the correct use of these heaters. There will, also, be a requirement that heaters should have attached to them an indication that they comply with the specification prescribed by the Act. This will facilitate the purchasing public, since it will be an easy matter for persons to assure themselves that an oil heater which they propose to purchase complies with the approved specification.
As soon as possible after the enactment of the Bill, I shall arrange that standards of safety will be prepared with the assistance of the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards. It will be necessary, of course, that manufacturers, assemblers and distributors of oil heaters should be consulted so as to obtain their views on the standards of safety which are proposed and the form which the Regulations to be made under the Bill will take. I am not in a position to indicate when the preparation of safety standards and consultation with interested parties will have been completed but every effort will be made to expedite matters with a view to making the Regulations at the earliest possible moment.
I think that it is important that the dangers associated with the use of oil heaters should not be exaggerated. Indeed, we cannot be unmindful of the fact that accidents are frequently associated with the use of gas fires, electric heaters and coal fires, and they can arise in many other ways as well. The exercise of reasonable care by everyone is probably the most important factor in accident prevention, and this is especially true in the home where unfortunately so many accidents occur.
I hope that the proposals contained in this Bill will be acceptable to the House and that there will be general agreement concerning the course of action which is proposed. It is now almost midnight and would seem an appropriate time to discuss a Bill such as this.