By Michael Campbell
Heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires in the U.S. More than 65,000 home fires are attributed to heating equipment each year. These fires result in hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries and millions of dollars in damage.
Portable space heaters can be a convenient source of supplemental heat for your home in cold weather. Unfortunately, they can pose significant fire and electric shock hazards if not used properly. Fire and electrical hazards can be caused by space heaters without adequate safety features, heaters placed near combustibles, or heaters that are improperly plugged in.
Safety should always be considered when using heaters.
Here are some tips for keeping your home safe:
— Make sure your space heater has the label showing that it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory.
— Before using any space heater, read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels carefully.
— Inspect heaters for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use. If frayed, worn or damaged, do not use.
— Never leave a heater unattended. Turn it off when you’re leaving a room or going to sleep. Don’t let pets or children play too close to a space heater.
— Space heaters are only meant to provide supplemental heat and should never be used to warm bedding, cook food, dry clothing or thaw pipes.
— Install smoke alarms on every floor of your home and outside all sleeping areas and test them once a month.
— Proper placement of 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.
— Place space heaters on level, flat surfaces. Never place heaters on cabinets, tables, furniture, or carpet, which can overheat and start a fire.
— Always unplug and safely store the heater when not in use.
According to Fort Leonard Wood Regulation 420-2.14.J: “If portable electric heaters are needed to temporarily supplement the installed heating system, the heater must be UL or FM listed, labeled, and equipped with a tip-over switch for safety. Heater(s) must never be left unattended and must have a minimum clearance on all sides of the heater no less than 36 inches from any combustible materials.”
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 safe use.
The same safety rules you use at home also apply for heaters used in the office.
Employees should obtain approval from a supervisor or facility manager prior to using a space heater at work.
For more information on fire safety, call 573.596.0886.
(Editor’s note: Campbell is a fire inspector with the Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department.)