Space Heaters — More Dangerous Than You Might Think

We all know that during the winter there are major fire hazards that need to be watched for inside commercial buildings and properties. Winter is known as “fire season” because statistically there are more fires that occur from November-March than any other time of the year. The reason for this is simple, there are more lights being used, more time spent indoors, and the heater is being used on a daily basis. But a major reason that fires happen inside commercial buildings during fire season is due to space heaters.

“Statistics about damage caused by space heaters in the workplace are not readily available, according to the federal Office of Compliance. But public information is available on the effects of poorly utilized space heaters in the home. Between 2005-2009, space heaters caused 32% of home heating fires or structural fires and resulted in thousands of injuries as well as civilian deaths.”

But just because there aren’t any statistics on how much damage they cause inside the workplace doesn’t mean that damage does not occur. For example, in 2012 a space heater caused the evacuation of Albany’s tallest building. This 44-story building caught fire by a space heater that was kept under a worker’s desk. Thankfully, no one was injured. But stories like this happen all the time.

If you are going to have a space heater in your office, the Office of Compliance recommends following the requirements listed below:

  • Space heaters must be approved by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) such as Underwriters Laboratory, Inc. (UL). Those not approved should not be used.
  • Space heaters must have an automatic safety switch (tip-over switch) that turns the unit off if it is tipped over.
  • Space heaters must have a thermostatic control which ensures that the unit will turn itself off and prevent overheating or creating an electrical hazard.
  • Space heaters may be regulated by your employer. Check with your supervisor before deciding to use one.

Because keeping a portable space heater in your office requires proper placement and monitoring, the Office of Compliance urges the following:

  • Space heaters should be kept away from water and wet environments to avoid electrical shock.
  • If an electric space heater is used in an area with running water, like a kitchen or bathroom, make sure to plug the device into an outlet with a ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) to protect against electrical shock.
  • Space heaters must be kept at least three feet away from any combustible items, such as paper, furniture, draperies, etc.
  • Make sure to only plug one space heater into an individual electrical circuit. The use of multiple heaters could overload the electrical circuit and cause injury or property damage.
  • Space heaters should not be used with an extension cord.
  • Space heaters should also not be used if they have missing or broken parts, such as knobs, grills, or stands.
  • Inspect the power cord and base of a space heater before using it to make sure the cord is in good, serviceable condition and is not pinched, worn, frayed, or missing the ground prong.
  • Always make sure to turn off your space heater every time you leave your workspace; it should never be left on while unattended.

We understand that accidents are going to happen. But when it comes to space heaters, you want to make sure to be as safe as possible because of the significant amount of damage they can cause. If an accident does happen on your commercial property, we would love to help. We are extremely knowledgeable in fire damage restoration and can help get your business back on its feet. Click here for more information.

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