A coroner has warned families and caregivers of the elderly to check that heaters are being properly used this winter after a 90-year-old Christchurch man died from the accidental inhalation of LPG heater fumes.

Retired builder Albert Wylie died at his flat in the St Albans area of Christchurch between July 22-23, 2015.

The direct cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning, it was found.

But a newly-released coroner's findings concluded that the "antecedent cause" was accidental inhalation of LPG space heater fumes.


Coroner Brigitte Windley referred to a report that said both causal factors identified in the fatal accident: a fault in the heater, and the failure to use it within ventilation guidelines, could be managed by the end-user.

The expert report writer recommended that cabinet heaters only be used in larger rooms and not in bedrooms or bathrooms.

He also found that they should be serviced regularly, preferably at the beginning of each heating season.

Since Wylie's heater was purchased in 2009, new regulations have been implemented for all gas appliances imported or manufactured in New Zealand, the coroner said.

The Gas (Safety & Measurement) Regulations 2010 require that before being supplied, all gas appliances must comply with a gas appliance certification regime. The European Standard EN 449 for flueless LPG heaters is the standard that includes cabinet heaters.

And since April 2011, suppliers of cabinet heaters must, as part of WorkSafe's approval, provide evidence of certification to the European Standard (EN 449); a test report that demonstrates the appliance meets the standard; evidence of satisfactory combustion performance on NZ LPG or its equivalent gas type; and evidence that the heater is sold with the proper health and safety warnings, which includes minimum room size, positioning and ventilation requirements, and recommended annual servicing.

On the experts' analysis, if Wylie's LPG heater had been used in an appropriately sized and ventilated space, it is "possible his death may have been avoided, or his outcome may have been improved".

"I note that Mr Wylie's heater was found to have a warning plate advising end-users not to use the heater in a bedroom or similarly confined space and to ensure the room is well ventilated when the heater is in use," Coroner Windley says.


Now that WorkSafe and the LPG industry publicise clear safety messages and practices, the coroner did not consider the need for any further comments or recommendations which could reduce the chances of further deaths occurring in similar circumstances.

"That said, Mr Wylie's death in circumstances where important safety messages were displayed on the heater, but for whatever reason, were not heeded, highlights the need for ongoing publication and reminders of these safety messages, in particular at the start of each winter season," Coroner Windley says.

"Families and caregivers of the elderly and those with cardio-respiratory vulnerabilities can also play an important part in avoiding harm caused by unsafe operation of LPG heaters.

"Strict adherence to the safe operation practices ... including regular servicing, is essential to avoid potential harm to end-users."