News

Hotpot diners: Gas cooker explosion? It won't happen to me

Business still brisk a week after portable cooker explosion

Less than a week ago, five women were taken to hospital with bad burns after they were scalded by hot soup when a portable butane cooker exploded in a hotpot restaurant at Beach Road.

But that has not stopped diners from flocking to the many hotpot or steamboat eateries in the area.

Last evening, seven such joints at Liang Seah Street, off Beach Road, were bustling with customers.

All the diners approached by The New Paper had heard of last Saturday's incident, but were not too worried.

Mr Bryan Goh, 36, a visual merchandiser who has hotpot in the area once a month, said: "I think it's an isolated case. I was a little hesitant, but I still feel that it's quite safe."

Mr Jason Wu, 27, a personal service executive, said he trusts the cookers are safe because of the Safety Mark issued by Spring Singapore, the national standards and accreditation body.

"At most, we just have to be more careful when eating hotpot. I'm sure the authorities will make sure that such incidents don't happen again," he said.

A diner at another hotpot outlet felt such an accident would not happen to him. Mr Teo Chun Kiat, 30, who deals in property, said: "I'm not scared and I think it's okay. I heard about it from Facebook, but it won't happen to me."

The "it won't happen to me" line was echoed by several other diners. All of them said there was no reason to ban such cookers here.

When TNP asked to speak to the bosses of these hotpot outlets, the staff at every outlet said they were overseas.

Those who use the cookers at home also saw little need for a ban.

Miss Carol Yuen, 19, a sports programme scheduler, said her family used a portable cooker in the past.

"They are convenient, so I didn't really think about the risks," she said.

Her family switched to an electric cooker seven years ago. Her father, Mr Yuen Hock Min, 62, said spot checks by the authorities would be sufficient instead of a ban.

Last Saturday, a portable butane cooker exploded at Chong Qing Original Old Steamboat at Beach Road, sending hot soup spewing and scalding five diners. They were taken to hospital with first-, second- and third-degree burns.

Similar portable cookers have been banned in Australia after a man was killed when one of them exploded.

In a TNP online poll yesterday, about 85 per cent of respondents called for these cookers to be banned here.

Like Chong Qing, the restaurants at Liang Seah Street were using cookers with the name Goldenfuji, which is manufactured and distributed by Swee Huat Heng Engineering.

At the company's premises at Loyang yesterday, a man who gave his name as Mr Naresh said the general manager was not in Singapore.

Mr Naresh, who said he is an assistant to the GM, said: "But he has been trying to contact the victims. We have also been in contact with the authorities and are cooperating with them. This is the first time we have had such an incident with our product."

He added that its range of products, which include various home and kitchen appliances, carry the Safety Mark.

The Consumers Association of Singapore said it had not received any complaints involving portable cookers or stoves exploding for the past three years.

A spokesman for Spring Singapore said gas cookers and canisters used for household purposes are among the 45 categories of controlled goods that must be registered and carry the Safety Mark.

The spokesman said: "For this particular case, Spring is working with the Singapore Civil Defence Force to conduct the investigations and will provide an update when these are completed."

Mr Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade & Industry, said he was "concerned" and that the agencies were looking into the matter.


BY THE numbers

85%

Percentage of respondents in an online TNP poll, as of 9.30pm yesterday, who favoured a ban on portable gas cookers for safety reasons.


Related reports:

POLL: Should portable gas cookers be banned for safety reasons?

Exploding hotpot: Woman badly scalded at Beach Road restaurant

Ban them here, says fire safety expert

A fire safety expert, who likened improperly maintained portable gas cookers to potential time bombs, wants them banned in Singapore.

Greencross Safety Fire and Equipment chief executive William Lee, 70, told The New Paper that without regular maintenance, the cookers could become rusty and prone to gas leaks.

"It's like a bomb, because a gas leak can cause an explosion if there is an open flame from the cooker or other cookers around," said Mr Lee.

Mr Lee, who has been a fire safety consultant for more than 40 years, said the cookers pose a danger if restaurants use them for long periods and without proper maintenance.

He suggested safety measures such as flashback arrestors being built into the cookers as these would stop flames from travelling back into the canisters and causing them to explode.

Another option is to use electric cookers.

Users can check for gas leaks by applying soapy water and looking out for bubbles.

However, the best way to prevent an accident is to exercise proper usage and maintenance, he said.

In a TNP poll online, as of 9.30pm yesterday, 243 of the 287 respondents - almost 85 per cent - favoured a ban on portable gas cookers for safety reasons.

Mr James Foo wrote on the TNP Facebook page: "We do not need more injuries to justify its ban unless high safety measures are introduced (for) this equipment."

Mr Nick Tan wrote: "For the sake of all diners... I sincerely wish there will be a regulation to make it mandatory for restaurants to use electric-operated grills instead."

Portable cookers were banned last month in the Australian states of New South Wales and Western Australia, where they are commonly used for camping, reported The West Australian.

The ban came after many cases of injury caused by exploding portable cookers.

In one case, a 33-year-old man died after his cooker exploded and the blast ripped through his caravan.

An estimate suggests that half a million such cookers do not meet Australian standards, while thousands are at an unacceptable risk of exploding.

Most of the banned models were Asian-made from countries like China and Vietnam.

MORE TROUBLE FOR RESTAURANT?

Chong Qing Original Old Steamboat switched to electric cookers yesterday.

The workers said the restaurant owner was overseas, but the staff had changed the cookers as the safety of the diners was of utmost priority.

The owner had told TNP on Tuesday that he planned to stop using portable butane cookers.

Despite that, the restaurant could still be in trouble for storing more than 200kg of petroleum and flammable materials on its premises without a valid licence.

On Tuesday, the Singapore Civil Defence Force inspected the premises and found the large amount of flammable materials, The Straits Times reported yesterday.

Fire safety rules dictate that eating establishments need approval and a licence before they can store petroleum and flammable materials above 200kg.

First-time offenders can be fined up to $5,000 while recalcitrant and repeat offenders can be fined up to $10,000, jailed up to six months, or both.

PREVIOUS INCIDENTS

1992

Seven members of a family were injured when a portable gas stove exploded during a steamboat dinner in their Teban Gardens flat.

They were celebrating Chap Goh Mei on Feb 18 when the tube connecting the gas canister to the cooker caught fire and exploded.

The blast could be heard from three blocks away, resulting in nearby residents gathering at the block. One family member said: "It was as if a cannon had been fired from our home and everyone was curious."

Four of the injured were warded in the Burns Unit of Singapore General Hospital.

1990

A man was hosting a shabu shabu, or Japanese steamboat, dinner at his friend's Bayshore Park apartment on July 1 when the portable gas burner blew up.

He had bought the cooker a week earlier at a department store.

There was a loud bang, which one guest thought was the sound of something falling from the table. Some 10 guests suffered cuts and bruises but no one was seriously injured.

Singaporehotpot