The ingestion of small amounts of lamp oil for decorative oil lamps may lead to irreversible lung damage and to death. Under the leadership of the Consumer Council a European standard has been developed which prevents the access of small children to the lamp oil. It includes among other things “child-resistant” filler openings, prevention of leakage even if the oil lamp is turned around as well as a wick guard to keep children from sucking on the wick. The design of the lamp must not be attractive for children. This standard was adopted in 2002 and is also de facto obligatory.
Oil used for decorative oil lamps may lead to severe lung damage with fatal con-sequences when ingested. Just a small amount of lamp oil getting into the lung suffices to have fatal consequences. Small children who drink the oil directly from the lamp or from refill bottles are at particular risk. Due to their physical properties (viscosity, surface tension) these paraffin or isoparaffin oils can easily pass the epiglottis and spread across the lung. The symptoms comprise cough, fever, vomiting, respiratory insufficiency and eventually chemical pneumonia.
One sip can be fatal
Just one sip (8 - 15 ml) can lead to irreversible lung damage and even to death. In some cases sucking on the wick in amounts not exceeding 1 ml is sufficient to give rise to serious symptoms of poisoning. According to the German Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine (BgVV) there are about 250 - 300 cases of chemical pneumonia in Germany per year. The German poison information centres annually receive about 1.000 enquiries regarding oil lamps. In Austria altogether 25 poisonings requiring hospital treatment were recorded between May 1994 and February 1997. Ten cases per million inhabitants are assumed to occur in the EU.
Consumer Council chairs working group
Within the framework of the European chemicals regulations it was stipulated that lamp oil may be sold in child-resistant containers only. In addition, coloured and perfumed oils are no longer allowed. These regulations are to be complemented by a specification for “child-resistant” oil lamps. A mandate concerning this matter was approved by the European Commission in 1997. The Consumer Council at the Austrian Standards Institute applied for the chairmanship and secretariat of the responsible working group of the European standardisation organisation CEN which was eventually granted. After finalisation of the financial negotiations with the Commission work could be initiated in spring 1999.
Major issues are the tightness of the lamps (oil must not leak, even if the lamp is turned round), child-resistant design of the closure of the oil container and measures ensuring that the wick is not accessible to a child’s mouth. During the course of the project a first prototype of such an oil lamp was developed in co-operation with TÜV-Austria. To this end, a Swedish Lamp, which had already a screwed wick holder and not a loose one, was rebuilt. The wick was made tight by means of a guide and the screw cap was replaced by a bayonet joint, which requires a simultaneous push and turn movement for opening. Finally, a funnel-shaped guard was built in around the wick to ensure that children cannot suck on the wick. In addition, a set of normative requirements and corresponding test methods have been prepared.
First successful tests
In co-operation with the Norwegian consumer institute SIFO child panel tests have been carried out based on standards for child-resistant packaging (ISO 8317 and EN 28317, respectively) with this prototype. The children are given 5 minutes twice to open the closure. If they do not succeed during the first half of the test, opening is demonstrated by the tester. In all, no more than 20 % of the children are allowed to gain access to the contents during the full test period. The results of the child panel test were quite satisfactory: a few children only were able to open the bayonet joint.
The standard will contain a number of further elements, e.g. requirements concerning mechanical strength (pendulum impact test), stability and marking. In addition, it is ensured that the lamp design is not attractive for children. The products currently available on the market do not at all comply with the envisaged requirements. They will (have to) be substituted in due course by products with a radically improved product design.
A European Draft Standard (prEN 14059 “Oil lamps - Safety requirements and test methods”) was published in November 2000 and submitted for public enquiry. The reactions were mainly positive. Thus the standard could be finalised without major changes. It was finally approved in July 2002. With the publication of the reference to this standard in the Official Journal of the EU in April 2004 it became de facto compulsory in Europe.