Death in caravan caused by gas

19:12, Dec 12 2012
carbon monoxide sensor
SAFETY DEVICE: A carbon monoxide sensor.

There are "clear safety messages" to be taken from the death of a Timaru man who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a caravan, a coroner investigating his death has found.

Coroner Richard McElrea said the Energy Safety website should be warning caravan users about the dangers of gas appliances after the death of Ian Philip Joyce, 82.

However, a family member is hoping efforts to raise awareness go further.

Mr Joyce, who had a background of severe coronary atherosclerosis, died at the Lake Alexandrina camping ground on December 30 or 31, 2010. An inquest into his death was held in October.

The incident highlighted the need for proper ventilation, the importance of regular maintenance of gas appliances in caravans, and the need for carbon monoxide sensors, Mr McElrea said in his formal findings, made public yesterday.

The source of the carbon monoxide was a poorly maintained refrigerator unit, but may have been contributed to by a portable LPG heater in the unit, or a cooker griller, he said.


"The absence of ventilation was a key factor."

Toxicology reports showed Mr Joyce's blood had a carbon monoxide level of 54 per cent. A level of 50 per cent is generally fatal without medical intervention.

Mr McElrea recommended the Energy Safety website, run by the Economic Development Ministry, should promote regular maintenance of gas appliances, safety with LPG equipment in caravans and carbon monoxide hazards.

He agreed with Energy Safety senior technical officer Anthony Smith's evidence that safety messages needed to be reviewed, particularly that LPG appliances should not be used in confined spaces such as caravans, campervans and tents.

Mr Joyce's daughter, Kerry Irvine, said yesterday there was still a long way to go in raising awareness.

"The concern is that people are still unaware . . . and taking gas appliances into small areas and not realising the consequences."

She suggested warnings could be included in the vehicle registration process.

"Just a wee piece with your registration that comes out in the mail or something."

She and her husband suspected the cooker had played more of a role than the refrigerator in her father's death.

However, she felt "resolved" with the coroner's findings.

The Timaru Herald