Space heaters are a quick way to heat things up in a drafty office or workspace, but they can increase the risks of fire and electric shock if not used properly. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not specifically prohibit use of portable electric heaters, but the safety agency does require that any electrical equipment be used according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Space heater hazards
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that heaters resulted in 490 deaths, 1,180 injuries, and $330 million in direct property damage in a recent year. Space heaters without adequate safety features can cause fires. Other hazards are present when space heaters are placed near combustibles or are improperly plugged in.
The Electrical Safety Foundation International says employers get into trouble when they fail to develop policies specifically banning the devices on company property. The foundation encourages employers to educate their employees about space-heater practices.
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Space heater safety tips
If you allow the use of space heaters in your organization, train employees to follow these safety procedures:
- Require employees to get approval from a supervisor or manager before using a space heater in their workspace. This allows you to know where the heaters are located in case an incident occurs.
- Make sure all space heaters have the certification of an independent testing laboratory.
- Keep heaters at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn, including people, paper, clothing, and rugs.
- Keep space heaters away from high-traffic areas and doorways where they may pose a trip hazard.
- Plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Do not use an extension cord or power strip, which can overheat and cause a fire.
- Do not plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater.
- Never leave operating space heaters unattended. Turn them off and unplug them at the end of the workday or when you leave the room.
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On the other hand, if you decide to ban space heaters, make sure your heating system is working optimally. Encourage employees in chilly parts of the building to dress in layers. Suggest that office employees get up and move more often—for example, by delivering messages in person rather than e-mailing coworkers.