Advice on using portable heaters at work

Health & Safety

Take care, and actively manage the use of these devices

During the cold winter months, the use of portable heaters at work becomes more common. However, while they can be handy for warming up cold spaces, organisations need to be aware that they can also pose a fire hazard.

Portable heaters are typically used in workplaces when the main heating system is inadequate, or when fixed heating systems are too costly or impractical to install or operate. While these devices have their place, remember that it can be very difficult to find a temperature that satisfies everyone in the workplace.

So, what temperature is the right temperature?

Guidance from Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Workplace health, safety and welfare, Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Approved Code of Practice and guidance (L24), advises that the temperature of indoor workplaces where the activity is mainly sedentary, for example offices, the temperature should normally be at least 16 °C. And if work involves physical effort it should be at least 13 °C, unless it is impractical to maintain the recommended minimum temperature e.g. where food needs to be kept cold.

Fixed heating systems are safer

Portable heaters are more likely to cause fires than fixed heating systems, so use the latter wherever possible. Yet, despite the risks involved, sometimes their use is unavoidable. L24 even suggests that “If a reasonably comfortable temperature cannot be achieved throughout a workroom, local heating or cooling (as appropriate) should be provided”.

Where it is decided that portable heaters will be provided, they must be carefully managed to address potential problems which could lead to fire, such as inappropriate selection, faulty appliances and misuse.

 Top tips for using portable heaters

If you’re considering using these heaters or have them in place already, here are our top tips for using them correctly:

  1. Check with your insurers before approving their use at work. Insurers may have requirements for the type of heaters permitted, and/or apply policy restrictions.
  2. Always include the provision and use of these heaters in your fire risk assessment. Where the risk is not controllable, other recommendations should be made to address thermal comfort issues. Considerations could include: checking the functionality of existing fixed heating systems; adjusting air flow direction and velocity; screening or re-siting workstations away from sources of cold; or recommending that management review the provision of fixed heating.
  3. Consider the type of appliance selected. Oil filled radiators are safer than fan or electrical heaters with exposed elements.
  4. flammable warning sign relevant to siting of portable heatersPortable heaters should also be selected based on their compatibility with the environment they are to be used in e.g. where flammable gas, vapours or combustible dusts are present.
  5. They should be electrically powered and be able to be plugged directly into an electrical outlet i.e. without the use of an extension lead.
  6. Heaters should have a built-in thermostat to prevent overheating and be of a type approved by the British Electrotechnical Approvals Board (BEAB).
  7. Ensure you can site heaters as per the manufacturer’s instructions and in locations where they will not be subject to damage or being knocked over, and away from combustible materials.
  8. Management processes should be implemented to ensure heaters are used safely; this should include not leaving heaters in operation and unattended, monitoring their location and proximity to combustible materials, and ensuring they are turned off at the end of each period of work.
  9. Heaters should be suitably maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, be subject to regular visual inspections to check for damage and incorrect operation, and be included in a portable appliance testing regime in line with guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSG107).
  10. post it note saying put of orderDamaged heaters should be taken out of service and be labelled to show that they should not be used until repaired or replaced.
  11. Educate employees about the hazards that come with the improper use of portable heaters, to help achieve buy-in on controlling heater use.

checklist box with tick indicating need to fully assess multiple factors before using portable heatersDownload useful guidelines on using portable heaters

RISCAuthority have produced RC15: Recommendations for the use of portable heaters in the workplace, which contains a checklist to help with suitable selection and control of these devices.

>> Download the RC15 guidelines >>

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