As the temperature begins to drop in many parts of the country, there’s often one familiar sight at workplaces. Portable heaters are a popular way for employees to stay warm on the job, but they can spell trouble when people become lax or cavalier.
An incident wouldn’t happen at your workplace, right? Think again. Statistics about damage caused by portable heaters in the workplace are not readily available, according to the federal Office of Compliance. However, if statistics related to residential incidents are any indication, there’s cause for concern. Between 2005-2009, space heaters caused about a third of home heating fires or structural fires and resulted in thousands of injuries and deaths. This is to say that although convenient, space heaters on site can be more of a liability than an asset.
It is my firm recommendation that permanent heaters are installed when permanent heat is needed. Permanent heaters deliver fuel in the safest possible way and are placed to avoid contact with combustibles. Portable heaters are intended for unusual circumstances that are temporary or short-term (like thawing a truck before work can be performed or protecting a remote water source during extreme low temperatures). To that end, if they’re permitted in the workplace, safety managers need to keep the following in mind in order to minimize risk.
- Portable heaters need to be approached the same way as other appliances or devices. Don’t rely on extension cords for power if they’re going to be a more permanent heat source. The same goes for power strips. These devices are not designed to handle the high current flow needed for a space heater and can overheat or even catch fire due to the added energy flow.
- Portable heaters need to be secured and in plain sight, so there’s no danger of them getting knocked over. And if they’re powered by propane or natural gas, the delivery needs to be carefully executed.
- If you utilize any unvented fuel-fired heaters, make ventilation a top priority. Unvented fuel fired heaters are a leading cause of dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the air — and even CO poisoning.
It should be mentioned that if you do not have a formal policy prohibiting the use of space heaters within your facility, it is important to educate employees on safe use. Taking these measures may help reduce the risk of fire damage to your property and/or injury to your employees.
Stay warm, stay safe!