Coroners Court inquest into the death of Sonia Sofianopoulos

On 22 August 2018, Coroner Hawkins handed down her eight recommendations after conducting an inquiry into the tragic death of Ms Sonia Sofianopoulos. The Coroner found that the death of Ms Sofianopoulos was a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, caused by “a confluence of events that proved to be fatal”.

Victorian Government response

On 18 October 2018, the Victorian Government released its response to the Coroner’s recommendations. The Victorian Government offers its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Ms Sofianopoulos and supports or supports in principle all eight of the Coroner’s recommendations. The full Government Response can be found here (PDF and word).

Phase out of open flued gas space heaters

The Victorian Government took steps to implement the Coroner’s recommendations and additional actions to improve public health and safety.


In response to the Coroner’s recommendations, the Victorian Government supported-in-principle the recommendation to consider a phase out of open flued gas space heaters through a regulatory impact statement (RIS) process.


The RIS was open for public consultation on the Engage Victoria website between 29 December 2020 to 22 February 2021. The RIS identified the costs and benefits of different options for phasing out open flued gas space heaters in accordance with the Coroner’s recommendation. Following detailed consideration of all submissions, the preferred approach to phase out open flued gas space heaters through fast-tracked Australian Standards was implemented. A Gas Technical Regulators Committee Technical Guidance Bulletin, published on 19 May 2021, announced the requirement that open flued gas space heaters adopt stringent new safety requirements by 1 January 2022.

Mandating standards for Type A gas appliances

During the open consultation for the phase out of open flued gas space heaters, stakeholder feedback highlighted the need to mandate compliance with AS 4575. Currently, AS 4575 provides minimum standards for servicing of Type A appliances, however these are not prescribed in Victoria.


Through this RIS, DELWP is considering two options, with accompanying sub-options, that will assist in establishing monitoring, auditing and enforcement of gas servicing and in turn higher safety standards.


Following detailed consideration of all submissions, the preferred approach to mandate AS 4575 will be implemented through the amendment of the Gas Safety (Gas Installation) Regulations.

The RIS was published on the Engage Victoria website for public consultation from 15 February to 22 March 2022. DELWP has reviewed all responses. The Minister for Energy Environment and Climate Change has made the decision to proceed with the regulatory amendment based on the preferred option (Option 1b), as detailed in the RIS. A Statement of Reasons has been published on the Engage Victoria website. The new regulations will come into force on 1 June 2022.

Your safety is our priority

The safety of Victorians is the Government’s first priority. The Government is acting in response to the Coroner’s recommendations to deliver strengthened safeguards for Victorians.

Victorian Government response: summary

RECOMMENDATIONRESPONSE

KEY ACTIONS

STATUS
1. Phase out open flue gas space heaters Support-in-principle On 13 July 2021, DELWP announced the outcome of the RIS process and published a Statement of Reasons on the Engage Vic website. The Statement of Reasons notes that if the Minister is not satisfied that the preferred approach has been effectively implemented, the Minister and Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) will consider taking appropriate regulatory action, as set out in the RIS in Option 1.

Standards Australia published updated Australian Standards – AS/NZS 5263.1.8 and AS/NZS 5263.1.3 – for decorative appliances and gas space heating appliances on 19 November 2021; these came into effect on 1 January 2022.

DELWP with the support of ESV will actively monitor sales of OFGSHs certified under previous requirements. If sales in the lead up to winter 2022 are found to be DELWP will recommend taking regulatory action as specified in the RIS.
In progress
2. Mandatory continuous professional development for plumbers Support DELWP is developing a continuing professional development (CPD) scheme for registered and licensed plumbers (including gasfitters) to assist them in keeping up to date with latest developments in technology relating to their profession. The scheme is expected to be introduced through new regulations in 2022. In progress
3. Climate Technologies to publish articles warning of the importance of servicing Support Climate Technologies to publish advertisements in The Herald Sun and The Age on 2 October 2018. Complete
4. Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) to publish an article in their quarterly newsletter on CO spillage testing Support ESV published articles about the importance of carbon monoxide spillage testing and guidance material on equipment in the Energy Safe Magazine Winter 2018 edition and in each of its quarterly newsletters since the release of the Coroner’s report. Complete
5. The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) to review requirements for certificates of compliance Support The VBA has undertaken an assessment of issues associated with the provision of compliance certificates for servicing, testing and maintenance of open flued gas heaters. That assessment identified four possible options for improvements.

Introduction of some the four options may require legislative amendments. DELWP will work closely with the VBA to finalise options and lead any policy work necessary to support change.
In progress
6. Chairman of Australian Standards Committee to consider adding Appendix R of AS/NZ 5601 Support The Standards Australia – Committee Responsible for Australian Standard: 4575 Gas Appliances – Quality of Servicing has approved the amended standard AS 4575 and published it on 9 August 2019.    

A Regulatory Impact Statement - Amending the Gas Safety (Gas Installation) Regulations 2018 to Mandate AS4575 for Type A Appliance Servicing was released for public consultation from 15 February 2022 to 22 March 2022. The Minister for Energy Environment and Climate Change has made the decision to proceed with the regulatory amendment based on the preferred option (Option 1b), as detailed in the RIS. A Statement of Reasons has been published on the Engage Victoria website. The new regulations come into force on 1 June 2022.        
Complete
7. ESV to review communication of guidelines, changes and updates Support ESV has commenced a research project to review its communications approach to all stakeholders and a program to restructure its website to improve communication through the site.

To ensure communications are wide‑reaching ESV has developed communications on gas heater safety across multiple formats including: information sheets, social media posts and newspaper advertising.
In progress
8. Media and public awareness campaign on open flue heaters Support ESV continues to run the ‘Be Sure’ carbon monoxide awareness campaign each winter since 2019. The campaign encourages Victorians to take action and get their gas heaters serviced by a qualified gasfitter at least once every two years. Ongoing

Frequently asked questions

The Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) amending the Gas Safety (Gas Installation) Regulations 2018 to mandate AS 4575 for Type A gas appliance servicing was prepared to determine the best approach for prescribing minimum compulsory servicing standards for Type A gas appliances.

The RIS is now closed for submissions. It was open for public consultation on the Engage Victoria website from 15 February 2022 until 22 March 2022. DELWP reviewed all responses and the decision has now been made to proceed with the regulatory amendment based on the preferred option (Option 1b), as detailed in the RIS. A Statement of Reasons has been published on the Engage Victoria website. The new regulations will come into force on 1 June 2022.

After a coronial inquest into the death of Ms Sonia Sofianopoulos in 2018, it was recommended that the Australian Standard 4575 for Type A gas appliance servicing (AS 4575) be updated to include a carbon monoxide (CO) spillage test.

Although the standard has been updated, compliance with the standard is currently voluntary in Victoria. Stakeholder feedback has suggested that in the interests of safety and consistency, this standard be mandated. The RIS analyses options for mandating the adoption of AS4575 in Victoria through amendment of the Gas Safety (Gas Installation) Regulations 2018.

The RIS also considers other potential measures for improving the quality of gas appliance servicing. This includes appropriate administrative, information management and record keeping requirements to enable adequate monitoring, audit and enforcement of servicing activity moving forward.

Mandating minimum servicing standards of Type A gas appliances will improve the consistency and quality of servicing for consumers.  There is currently no mandated minimum standard for the servicing of gas appliances, particularly gas heaters, other than the requirement to leave the appliance safe following the completion of work.   The lack of minimum servicing standards heightens the public safety risks associated with ineffective servicing, including the potential for spillage of combustion products and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Ensuring Victorians can safely use gas appliances is a key priority of the Victorian Government. The proposed regulatory amendments are expected to:

● Improve safety for households in relation to the use of Type A appliances.

● Support an effective compliance and enforcement regime informed by appropriate information.

● Improve consumer confidence in Type A appliance servicing

Type A gas appliances are generally domestic gas appliances. Type A appliances include domestic and light commercial type appliances such as cookers, space heaters, central heaters, water heaters, and catering equipment and can be found in buildings, as well as in caravans, mobile homes, boats and house boats

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) commissioned Pricewaterhouse Coopers to prepare the RIS, which was informed by consultation with key stakeholders.

Yes, the standard has already been updated as per the Coroner’s recommendation. Mandating the standard will ensure it is applied consistently across Victoria.

The new regulations come into effect from 1 June 2022.

Under Option 1, gasfitters would be required to apply AS 4575 for every Type A appliance they service, irrespective of its risk-profile.

Under Option 2, a more targeted approach would be applied where gasfitters would be required to apply AS 4575 for servicing of open flued gas appliances only.

The two sub-options (a and b), which could apply to either option 1 or 2, consider the record keeping or reporting of servicing that gasfitters should take into consideration as part of mandating AS 4575, as per below.

Sub-option A outlines that gasfitters would be required to retain a copy of the record of service for a minimum 7 years from the date of servicing.

The consumer would also be provided with a record of service within five days of the service taking place. The record keeping of servicing may be subject to auditing by the regulator and the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) could require access to a gasfitter’s servicing records as part of its compliance certificates.

Sub-option B (preferred) would require gasfitters to provide a record of servicing to the VBA within five days from the date of servicing. This would allow the VBA to audit and inspect the work as required and as a result all servicing activity for Type A appliances would be recorded.

Government initiatives to support gas heater safety include:

  • The $335 million heater replacement program which will assist in replacing older heaters with efficient heating options such as reverse-cycle air conditioning in 250,000 low income and vulnerable households;
  • Energy Safe Victoria’s long-running ‘Be Sure’ CO public awareness campaign about the risks of CO poisoning and the importance of regular servicing;
  • The updated Residential Tenancies Regulations 2021 which prescribe mandatory gas safety checks for gas appliances installed in rental properties;
  • The phase out of open flued gas space heaters (OFGSHs) through increased safety requirements in Australian Standards from 1 January 2022;
  • The current Department of Health and Human Services program of removing OFGSHs in public housing;
  • Regular servicing of heaters in schools; and
  • Increased CO detection (i.e. CO spillage) training and guidance material for gasfitters.

Page last updated: 23/05/22