Portable electric space heaters are commonly used to provide supplemental heat during the colder months. Unfortunately, space heaters can increase the risks of fire and electric shock if not used properly. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that there were 21,800 home fires involving stationary or portable space heaters in 2007. These fires resulted in 490 civilian deaths, 1,180 injuries and $330 million in direct property damage.
Space heater safety is not just a residential concern. Portable electric space heaters are also used in workplaces across the country and can pose a major workplace safety hazard. Fires can be caused by space heaters without adequate safety features, space heaters placed near combustibles, or space heaters that are improperly plugged in. If an employer does not have a written policy specifically forbidding the use of space heaters on company property, it is critical that they establish and publish guidelines for their safe use.
Educating employees about safe space heater practices can reduce the risks to employees and facilities. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) offers the following space heater safety tips:
- Employees should be required to obtain approval from a supervisor or facility manager prior to using a space heater at work.
- All space heaters should have the certification of an independent testing laboratory.
- Proper placement of space heaters is critical. Heaters must be kept at least three feet away from anything that can burn, including papers, clothing and rugs.
- Locate space heaters out of high traffic areas and doorways where they may pose a tripping hazard.
- Plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Do not use an extension cord or power strip, which could overheat and result in a fire.
- Do not plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater.
- Operating space heaters should never be left unattended. They should be turned off and unplugged at the end of the work day or whenever the employee leaves the room.