As energy costs continue to increase, people may choose to use portable heaters in addition to their central heating systems in residential, commercial or industrial premises. Portable heaters are often more affordable to purchase and operate compared to central heating systems. This affordability makes them an attractive option for individuals looking to reduce heating expenses. Also, portable heaters allow them to warm specific areas of their home or office without needing to heat the entire space providing convenient heating solutions where needed.

However, introducing portable heaters to premises can indeed pose a fire hazard if they are not used properly. Portable heaters are more likely to cause fires compared to fixed heating systems, often by being placed too close to combustible materials.

What factors contribute to fires caused by portable heaters?

Portable heaters generate heat to warm up spaces. If not used properly or if placed too close to combustible materials such as curtains, furniture, or bedding, they can overheat these items, leading to ignition and fire. Electrical malfunctions such as short circuits, damaged cords, or faulty wiring can increase the risk of electrical fires. Portable heaters often have combustible components such as plastic casings or heating elements. If the components of portable heaters become damaged or if foreign objects come into contact with the heater, they can catch fire.

What control measures can be taken to minimize the risk of fire from portable heaters?

The type of control measures mainly depends on the environment and location of the portable heaters. For example, when a portable heater is to be sited in an industrial environment, its location and use should be compatible with the hazard zones, i.e. where flammable gases, vapors or combustible dusts may be present.

As general recommendations, portable heaters should be stood on a level, dry, non-combustible surface where they are not liable to be subjected to mechanical damage or be overturned. They should not be sited on escape routes or in confined spaces, cupboards, ducts or passageways. Care should also be taken to ensure that portable electric heaters are switched off and unplugged at the end of each period of work.

Is fire risk assessment required to determine the risk from portable heaters?

A suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment can determine that the risk of the heater being damaged or knocked over is too great in some workplaces and inappropriate in others. The use of portable and transportable heaters in the workplace should be sanctioned by a designated person. This person should ensure that the use of such equipment is considered as part of the fire risk assessment undertaken to comply with fire safety legislation.

Also, a specific fire risk assessment should be undertaken in any workplace prior to the introduction of a liquid fueled heater because the hazards associated with this form of heater are compounded by the need to store the fuel and refill the tank.

To speak to our consultancy team regarding fire risk assessments, click here.