Since 1999 more than 2,000 children under the age of six have suffered burns from glass enclosures on gas fireplaces, according to Fair Warning, a nonprofit publication concerned with health and safety issues.
Gas fireplaces can include glass fronts, doors or paneling, and they have become more popular over the years as a cleaner alternative to wood-burning stoves.
Voluntary industry standards allow for the glass on gas fireplaces to reach 500 degrees. Manufacturers do provide warning labels and brochures about the burn hazards of fireplace glass, but additional, and perhaps more effective safety steps could be taken. For example, Hearth and Home Technologies, a manufacturer of gas fireplaces, has begun including a mesh screen that surrounds the glass, providing an additional barrier between tiny hands and hot fireplaces.
Carol Pollack-Nelson, an independent safety consultant, is petitioning the industry to address this issue, and is currently waiting for a response to her latest query. Pollack-Nelson used to work with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and became involved with fireplace safety after serving as an expert witness in a class action suit against a manufacturer. Pollack-Nelson strongly believes that there needs to be a physical barrier to prevent severe burn injuries from contacting hot fireplace glass. “I have screens on all three of the gas fireplaces in my home. They do not detract in the least from the aesthetics of the flowing fire.”
The argument could be made that hot fireplaces are inherently dangerous to young children, regardless of glass parts, and many would argue that common sense or parental supervision could keep children safe. But since there is a practical, affordable way to add an extra layer of protection, why not include it in all new gas fireplaces.