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Space Heaters in the Workplace: How to Use Them Safely

Toby Graham /
electric heater on wood floor

Pumpkin spice is back on the menu. That’s a signal that it’s time to brush up on our cold weather standard operating procedures. Some employers keep space heaters around for the cold months. Others allow employees to bring their own heating units to work. Even when they aren’t allowed to, many workers sneak in heaters nonetheless.

Space Heaters in the Workplace: We’re not just talking about comfort.

Consider the fact that worker productivity plummets during winter. A drop of less than 5º Celsius can increase errors by as much as 15%, according to research from Cornell. Women are disproportionately impacted, as studies show that women perform better at temperatures above current standards—and that higher ambient temperatures can boost overall workforce productivity regardless of gender.

But while they may help in terms of productivity, space heaters can pose serious danger in the form of increased fire and injury risk.

Do you know the difference between electric and kerosene heaters? How about what labels to look for, or the minimum safe distance a heater should be kept from combustible materials?

For the answers, be sure to check out a recent article in EHS Daily Advisor. The article offers quick tips on proper portable heater use, so you can train your workers to keep themselves and your organization safe. Read “Warm Up Your Workers with Portable Heater Safety Training.”

9 Tips for Space Heater Safety

If you are going to use them, follow these guidelines to ensure a safe work environment:

  • Never use space heaters in the areas where flammable materials are stored and used.
  • Ensure the space heater has been approved for use by a recognized safety testing laboratory.
  • The heater must have an automatic safety switch that turns off the unit if it is tipped over.
  • Before using the heater, inspect the electrical cord. Look for frayed wire or cracked insulation. If there are any defects in the cord or unit it should not be used.
  • The heater should be plugged directly into the wall; outlet and extension cords should not be used.
  • Never leave the unit on while unattended.
  • Do not place the heater near combustible materials. Allow at least three feet between the heater and combustible material. Space heaters need space.
  • Do not place the heater in or near wet areas or in high traffic areas, such as exit ways.
  • Register your space heater with the manufacturer so any recall or safety notices can be communicated in a timely manner.

Have questions about how to safely use space heaters at your facility? Our small army of Risk Management Consultant has answers for you. Contact us >>

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