Offices, warehouses and other work areas do not always offer comfortable working conditions. Construction factors, such as concrete floors or large windows, often create chilly work environments. Employers and workers may attempt to raise the temperature to a more comfortable level by using space heaters. Unfortunately, outdated, damaged or improperly located heaters are a major fire hazard. Following recommended guidelines will reduce the risk to both the business owner and employees.
Safe Work Area
Remove flammable materials from the area surrounding a space heater. To be safe, keep three feet of clear space around portable heating equipment when it is in use. Stacks of paper, packing material and wood present a fire danger. Do not hang clothing where it might come in contact with the heater. Avoid setting a space heater on a rug or carpet when it is in operation. Locate an electric heater away from sources of water, such as sinks, showers and toilets. Accidental contact with water makes an electric heater a shock hazard.
Heater Operating Condition
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A space heater must be well-maintained to minimize its fire risk. Power cords should not be frayed and electrical plugs should be free of cracks and breaks. The equipment's original grills, knobs and stands should be present. Missing or damaged parts need to be replaced before the heater is used. Select a heater that is equipped with an automatic shut-off device in case the appliance accidentally tips over.
Certified Safe Equipment
Use only space heaters that have been approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and that meet specific commercial-operation guidelines. OSHA-recognized testing organizations include Underwriters Laboratories, the Canadian Standards Association and Factory Mutual. Replace old and obsolete heaters that do not meet OSHA standards. Extension cords should not be used with electric space heaters because of potential current overloads. No other electrical tools or appliances should be plugged into the same outlet when a heater is in use.
Employees' Personal Heaters
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Workplace safety personnel should inspect all personal space heaters that employees bring into their work areas. The heaters should bear a label from an OSHA-approved testing laboratory. In addition to providing guidance on locating and using a heater safely, managers and supervisors should remind employees to turn off and unplug the appliances when no one is in the work area. Heaters should not be placed in doorways or high-traffic areas because of tripping hazards presented by power cords.
Susan Kerr began her writing career as a food columnist in 1987 before moving to business journalism as a reporter and managing editor in the Penn State area. Since then, Kerr has contributed content to military-related magazines, not-for-profit websites and other online media. In addition, she writes a weekly column for her hometown newspaper