The humble clothing bin could be a ‘death trap’. Picture: AAP.
The humble clothing bin could be a ‘death trap’. Picture: AAP.

Unlikely everyday killer in our midst

It's one of the most seemingly benign objects in suburbs across Australia, popping up in cars parks and shopping centres everywhere. It has only been seen as a force for good.

But a recent spate of bizarre deaths in Canada has highlighted the inherent dangers in the humble charity clothing bin.

Since 2015, eight Canadians have died due to injuries sustained by the bins, two of those deaths have occurred in the last two weeks alone.

Some of the victims have been found upside down with their legs dangling in the open.

So dire has the situation become that community leaders in the country have urged the bins be modified or removed altogether.

"They are like a death trap," said an engineer.

Seemingly benign clothing bins in Canada have proved surprisingly effective at killing people.
Seemingly benign clothing bins in Canada have proved surprisingly effective at killing people.

Many Australian charities, including the Smith Family, St Vincent de Paul and Anglicare, use similar bins of which there are thousands across the country.

But all are silent on the safety of their bins despite the death of a Sydney man in 2015.

In the latest incident, a woman in her mid-30s, identified only as Crystal, was found partially wedged inside a clothing bin in Toronto on Tuesday.

Firefighters attempted to cut the woman free from the bin and performed CPR but she died at the scene.

Toronto's city council has now said it will look at whether the bins are unsafe.

Deaths have also been reported in the US and Europe.

QUIET KILLERS

So how can something as docile as a donation bin cause enough injury that it can kill two people in two weeks and many more over a period of years?

In most cases, the victims have been people trying to retrieve items from the bin or seek shelter within them.

University of British Columbia engineering professor Ray Taheri said the metal contraptions are designed to prevent pilfering but not to allow those who pilfer to escape their clutches.

Most bins have an opening not dissimilar to a post box that is supposed to make it harder for people to rummage inside.

Smith Family bins in New South Wales. Picture: AAP Image/Sue Graham.
Smith Family bins in New South Wales. Picture: AAP Image/Sue Graham.

But they are no match for the full weight of someone pushing or launching themselves into the bin. As the person pushes themselves in, they can become wedged against the metal flaps and find it extremely difficult to extricate themselves.

"They get stuck there. They try to crawl in, but the further they go they get more stuck," Prof Taheri told CTV News.

"Most of the deaths, I believe, are caused not because the person succeeded to get inside, but that he or she got kind of suspended or stuck between the inside and outside," Prof Taheri said.

"Due to the compression to his or her chest and a lack of oxygen, this is kind of like a death trap."

Last week, a 34-year-old man died in Vancouver after becoming trapped in a bin. A woman in her 30s died close by in another bin in July last year.

In 2015, a Salvos worker died in an eastern suburb of Vancouver after she was discovered dangling upside down in a bin after she'd tried to grab a blanket to give to a homeless person.

Being suspended upside down for long period can lead to a stroke as the blood collects in the head or a heart attack.

Even using the bins normally has proved fatal for some. In 2017, a woman from the US state of Pennsylvania died after her arm became trapped in a charity donation bin.

She had been standing on a stool to help reach the bin when the stool gave way trapping her arm. She is thought to have died of hypothermia after being stuck for at least six hours.

The body of a man is removed from a tent covering a charity clothing bin in Rosebery, in Sydney in 2015. AAP Image/Dean Lewins.
The body of a man is removed from a tent covering a charity clothing bin in Rosebery, in Sydney in 2015. AAP Image/Dean Lewins.

HAPPENS IN AUSTRALIA TOO

Deaths from clothing bins are rarer in Australia, perhaps because the warmer weather means fewer people seek shelter in them or look to swipe as many blankets.

But they do happen.

In 2015, in the inner Sydney suburb of Rosebery, police found a man had died with his legs sticking out of a bin. Just like in Canada, the assumption was he was foraging for clothes.

"Clearly you could see part of his body from the outside because that's how the person who saw him knew he was there," Inspector Sam Crisafulli told the Sydney Morning Herald at the time.

Despite the dangers it's unclear what precautions Australian charities are putting into place to prevent similar injuries and deaths.

News.com.au contacted The Smith Family, Anglicare and Vinnies to ask what types of bins they used, if they had escape mechanisms and if they had public warnings on the boxes.

Australian charities who own clothing bins were tight lipped.

Smith Family spokeswoman Jacqui Ooi said, "To date, The Smith Family has not experienced any safety issues with our clothing bins."

But the organisation didn't address questions about whether they believed their bins were safe and if there was even safety warnings on them. Vinnies and Anglicare were equally silent on the issue.

Prof Taheri said modifications could be made to the bins in order to save lives. The openings could be made smaller; motion detectors could be installed to detect the movement of humans or a lever could unlock the bin from the inside.

Another option would be to add a foot pedal which would only open the metal flap if pushed down. That might prevent people from launching themselves into the bins.

The company that made the bin in which the Toronto woman died said such incidents had been rare in the past.

But Rangeview Fabricating spokesman Brandon Argo said it was now time for action and the company would cease manufacturing the boxes until newer, safer designs had been created.

For the time being he encouraged charities to disable the security features that might have played a role in the incidents.

"We're kind of saying to our charities, 'you're going to have to deal with the theft because public safety is number one. If someone is going to go into your bin and take your product, that's going to have to be how it is,'" he told Huffpost.

For now, some Canadian local councils have taken the matter into their own hands and sealed up the clothing bins, fearful the chilly winter weather may encourage other people to die searching for a warm blanket.

The bin in which the man was found once prized open. Picture: AAP Image/Dean Lewins.
The bin in which the man was found once prized open. Picture: AAP Image/Dean Lewins.

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