Space Heaters: A Major Workplace Safety Hazard

Source: Mihail Dechev - 123RF

As winter approaches, you may be considering using a portable space heater in your work area.

According to Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), fires can be caused by space heaters:

  • Without adequate safety features;
  • Placed near combustibles; or
  • That are improperly plugged in.

If space heaters are used improperly, are not kept clear from combustible materials, or are not functioning properly, they can cause a fire, electric shock or produce carbon monoxide (CO) gas.

As an employer, if you do not have a formal policy prohibiting the use of space heaters within your facility, it is important to provide guidelines for safe use, which may help reduce the risk of fire or injury to your property and employees.

OSHA rules require that electrical equipment must be used according to manufacturer specifications on the unit’s label and in the user manual. Extension cords, if used, must be rated to handle the electrical load (Many employers prohibit their use with space heaters).

ESFI recommends the following tips regarding the use of a space heater in an office:

  • Require employees to obtain approval from a supervisor or facility manager;
  • Ensure the device is certified by an independent testing laboratory;
  • Position the heater at least 3 feet away from flammable materials such as papers, clothing, and rugs;
  • Keep heaters out of high-traffic areas, such as doorways, where they can be a tripping hazard;
  • Don’t use extension cords or power strips, as these can overheat and start a fire. Instead, plug the device directly into a wall outlet. Refrain from plugging additional devices into the same outlet as the space heater; and
  • Never leave the heater unattended while in operation. At the end of the workday, unplug the space heater.