Burns and scalds are a common injury to children under five, and around 1200 a year end up in hospital emergency departments – they're the single largest group of burns victims. But while parents are alert to the dangers of hot baths, unguarded pots left on the front of stoves, kettles tugged down by their cord or hot cups of coffee pulled from the table, there's another hazard you'd probably never have thought of: tipping stoves.
Upright stoves are top-heavy, and if not securely anchored to a wall, can topple forward. The usual scenario is a child using an open oven door as a step. The results include fatalities and children needing months, sometimes years, of burns rehabilitation.
Stoves involved in such incidents either hadn't been correctly installed with brackets, or hadn't been installed with brackets at all.
The relevant Australian standard has been tightened so that free-standing cooking ranges and ovens must be able to withstand a load on the door of 22.5 kg without any stabilisation, and a load of 50 kg with stabilisation.
If you have an upright stove, particularly if there are toddlers or elderly or infirm people in the house or you ever use the stove to steady yourself, make it a priority to have it checked to see if it's adequately anchored.
If you think it isn't correctly installed, contact an installer or the manufacturer, or your landlord if you're renting.
A reader's story
Michele Pope's horrifying experience began when she was living in a Department of Housing home in Albury, NSW, with her six young children.
In 1999 her electric upright stove was replaced with a new one — a Simpson Celebrity. Three months later, while sterilising some bottles on the back elements of the stove, Michele nipped to the back of the house to get the vacuum cleaner.
Alerted by screams, she rushed back to the kitchen to find her two youngest daughters — Courtney, then two and half, and Bethany, one and a half — had come into the kitchen, and the stove had tipped on top of them. Both were badly scalded by the hot water from the saucepan that had tipped onto them.
Courtney, suffering scalds to a quarter of her body, was in hospital for two weeks, returning to later for a series of skin grafts. Unsurprisingly, both girls and their mother have felt the after-effects of the shock and trauma for years.
Determined to prevent this happening to anyone else, Michele took court action, and in 2003 she won an action against Simpson, the manufacturer of the stove.
In the judgment it was found that while the stove had been properly installed, its design meant it was easily disengaged from the back bracket intended to brace it, after which it could be tipped using pressure applied by just one finger. While Simpson had provided instructions for the stove to be stabilised with brackets, it was easy to unintentionally move it off these brackets, rendering it unstable. In the judgment Simpson was found to have contravened the Trade Practices Act because the defect was inherent in the stove as designed and manufactured, and was ordered to pay compensation.
Electrolux (the current manufacturer of Simpson products) told CHOICE it stopped making the model of stove named in the case in 2000.