Electric space heater safety in the workplace

July 30, 2021 | SECURA Insurance

Nearly all businesses have cool spots within their buildings during the coldest part of the heating season. Employees often seek to improve their comfort by supplementing the heating system with electric heaters.

Properly constructed and installed electric heaters can provide greater employee comfort and offer cost savings by allowing less use of the central heating system. However, improper use, construction, and installation of electric space heaters lead to burn and shock injuries and thousands of dollars of property loss in the United States every year.

All business owners should insist on following minimum standards for space heater use:

  • The building services manager should give approval before a heater is purchased or used.
  • The space heater should be listed by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as UL.
  • Preference should be given to heaters that are fully enclosed. These units have no external hot surfaces that could ignite combustibles. Oil-filled heaters are a prime example of this technology.
  • The heater must be kept accessible, and no combustibles should be placed within three feet of the unit. The #1 cause of heater fires is from violating this rule.
  • The heater must have thermostatic controls and automatic safety controls, such as a shut-off feature when the unit is tipped.
  • The heater should be plugged directly into the outlet. Light-duty cords and strip plugs can start fires when high-wattage appliances draw too much current.
  • An electrical smell or a cord, plug, or receptacle that is warm to the touch is a warning sign that something is wrong. Continued use may cause a fire. Unplug the unit and call your building services manager.
  • The unit must be grounded and have a three-pronged plug. Never use a cheater plug to adapt a three-pronged plug to a two-pronged outlet.
  • Do not use space heaters in wet areas.
  • Avoid tripping hazards by keeping the power cord out of walking lanes or by covering it.
  • At the end of the day, turn off the unit and unplug it.