Safe Use of Space Heaters

Posted by Melissa Hall in #YHSafetyTips, Nov 28, 2018

As it gets colder, you may be trying to find a way to stay warm when working at your home or office. Some might be considering investing in a portable space heater for use at your desk or individual workspace. Before purchasing a space heater, it is important to understand the risks involved with improper use.

Facts About Space Heaters

Space heaters are defined as self-contained appliances, usually powered by electric, designed to heat a single, small area. In addition to electric, space heaters may also be powered by natural gas, propane, or wood pellets. Space heaters can be stationary or portable units. Portable space heaters are usually electric, allowing them to easily be transported from one location to another.

According to a 2018 report from the National Fire Protection Association, heating equipment is the second-leading cause of U.S. home fires, and the third-leading cause of home fire deaths. Between 2011 and 2015, portable and stationary space heaters accounted for more than 43 percent of U.S. home heating fires and 85 percent of home heating fire deaths.

Home heating fires occur most often during the winter months including December, January, and February.

The majority of space heater fires occur when combustible items such as paper, clothing, or curtains are placed too close to the heater causing them to catch on fire. Portable electric space heaters have a higher risk of fire than fixed electric heating devices.

Requirements for Space Heaters

  • All space heaters must be approved by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratory, Inc.
  • Before using a space heater, you should inspect the power cord and base of the heater to ensure the cord is in good condition and is not pinched, worn or frayed
  • If any parts are broken or missing including the knobs, grills, or stands, discontinue use of the unit
  • Space heaters must have an automatic safety or tip-over switch that will turn the unit off if it is accidentally tipped over
  • All space heaters should have a thermostatic control that ensures the unit will turn itself off to prevent overheating
  • Place heating units a minimum of three feet away from any combustible items, including paper, furniture, or curtains
  • Space heaters should be kept away from water and wet environments to avoid an electrical shock
    • If a space heater must be used in an area with running water such as a kitchen or bathroom, the heater must be plugged into an GFCI outlet to protect against electrical shock
  • Only one space heater should be plugged into an individual electrical circuit and extension cords should not be used

If you wish to use a space heater in your office, you should check with your supervisor before use as some employers may regulate the use of space heaters. If you receive approval to use a space heater in your office, you should always turn off your space heater anytime you leave your workspace – Space heaters should never be left on while unattended.

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