Now that Mother Nature is introducing its wave of cold weather, workplaces are shifting from cooling to heating the building environment. For comfort and energy conservation, offices are normally maintained within a temperature range deemed to be suitable for most of the occupants. Unfortunately, we have all experienced those mornings at workstations when one just couldn’t get warmed up fast enough. This leads to individuals taking matters into their own hands by bringing in a space heater from home. Space heaters can be used safely in the workplace if proper precautions are taken. A space heater used in the workplace should be approved at an accredited safety testing facility, such as the Canadian Standards Association or the Underwriters’ Laboratories of Canada. However, even with safety certification, the portable space heater can pose a major workplace fire safety hazard. Fires can be caused by space heaters that lack adequate safety features, proximity to combustibles, or use which exceeds safety ratings. Given that such fires have occurred in the workplace, building facilities and operations managers have taken a serious look at preventive fire safety measures for use of the space heater in their buildings. Multiple-plug power bars, the new version of the octopus, have also come under investigation as they are commonly used in offices to supply electricity to the space heater. These outlet bars are a convenient way to connect a number of devices, such as computers, printers, and monitors, to a single electrical source. However, care must be taken not to overload a circuit. Using non-approved power bars without separately grounded outlets or internal circuit breakers may result in overheated wiring and a fire.
With these kinds of fire risks, building operators and management personnel are starting to reserve the right to approve or block the entry of space heaters into their buildings. In some cases, building authorities do permit the use of space heaters, provided that each appliance is inspected for its safety features and the user signs an instructional safety form. The space heater must also be equipped with a tip-over switch to ensure it will turn off automatically if knocked on its side. The instructional safety form outlines key safety items, such as the need to maintain at least 3 feet of clearance around the heater at all times and ensuring that combustible materials like paper, plastic, and cloth are well away from the heater. In addition, the use of extension cords with space heaters is prohibited as most are not rated for the higher power demand: low-rated extensions can become overloaded and catch fire. In the event that extreme hazardous and careless use is witnessed, such as mounting the space heater on a filing cabinet or desk, the user may be advised to immediately disconnect the heater and take it home at the end of the business day. Even with such proactive fire safety measures, the space heater is still a risk when the user fails to turn it off when they leave the work station. Timer features on space heaters may prevent the appliance from being left on overnight. Regular inspection of the space heater power cord for worn insulation or a damaged plug also reduces the fire hazard. Equally important is keeping the power supply cord away from any hot surface on the space heater. Although detailed statistics regarding damage caused by space heaters in the workplace are difficult to establish, public information regarding improper use of space heaters and the potential for structural fires is available on the internet. Users are reminded to read and follow the manufacturer’s manual for detailed operational instructions, recommended maintenance procedures and the first steps towards safety.
This article was contributed by Firepoint Inc, serving the GTA since 1997, developing fire department approved fire safety plans for newly constructed and existing buildings. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, the bulletin publishers and authors do not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current and shall not be liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the bulletin information. Bulletin reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited without the written consent of Firepoint Inc. Copyright 2021 – All Rights Reserved. See www.firepoint.ca or call 905-874-9400.