It might seem like an innocuous little appliance, but portable heaters can be dangerous. How safe is your portable heater?
When winter hits, and you pull the portable heater out of the cupboard, it’s easy to plug it in and turn it on without giving much thought to operating it safely. After all, what could go wrong? Actually – a lot! According to Fire and Rescue NSW, there’s a 10% increase in the number of home fires over the winter months, mainly due to increased usage of heaters and electric blankets.
So, how can you use your portable heater safely? What portable heating hazards should you look out for when you’re heating the family home this winter?
Hazard 1: Using a damaged heater
Don’t ever use a heater that you suspect to be damaged. When you get the heater out of the cupboard, inspect the cord to make sure that it’s not twisted or frayed. If there is any sign of damage don’t use the heater until you have had it tested. Fire and Rescue NSW estimate that almost 40% of residential home fires are caused by faulty appliances or electrical faults. If you’re using a heater in the workplace and it isn’t carrying a current tag when you take it out of the cupboard, then it needs to be tested and tagged before it can be used. Contact Jim’s Test & Tag to get your heater tested.
Hazard 2: Leaving a heater unattended
Don’t ever use a portable heater unattended. Fires take hold very quickly and by the time you realise that there’s a problem in another room, it could be way too late to get it under control. Although you might think you’re leaving the heater in a safe position, anything can happen. A heater that’s been knocked over by a pet, for example, could quickly set materials around it alight.
Hazard 3: Having flammable items too close to the heater
Give any heater one metre’s clearance on all sides – from all materials, flammable or not. Drying clothes too close to a portable heater is a common source of heater fires as fabric can heat up quicker than you think. If you need to dry your clothes near the heater, keep them more than one metre away and only dry them while you’re in attendance.
Hazard 4: Putting things on top of the heater
It stands to reason if you’re following the one metre rule, that hanging or draping things over the heater is an absolute no-no! Don’t put anything on top of the heater and definitely don’t stand the heater on anything other than the solid floor as it could become a tip hazard and increase the risk of fire.
Hazard 5: Not following the manufacturer’s instructions
Follow all manufacturer’s instructions including the maintenance instructions. Not following the correct instructions on how to use the product could be increasing your risk of fire.
Hazard 6: Using heaters bought overseas
Australia has very stringent safety standards when it comes to electrical appliances — much more stringent than many other countries. So, if you bought your heater overseas, get it tested to check that it meets Australian safety standards before you use it. It’s not enough to just plug it into a power converter and hope for the best.
Hazard 7: Plugging heaters in using power boards and extension cords
Power boards and extension cords are commonly used in Australian homes and businesses. But you should still be careful to use them safely.
Extension cords should only ever be used as a temporary measure and shouldn’t be used with heaters. When you use an extension cord with a heater, there’s an increased trip hazard because of the longer cord and a heater that gets toppled presents an immediate fire risk. Heaters draw a lot of energy and there’s also a risk that your heater will draw more energy than the rating for the extension cord.
Power boards are a convenient solution for connecting multiple appliances to a power point. But your heater shouldn’t be one of them. Heaters draw a lot of power and if you plug your heater into a power board along with other appliances you could easily overload the power board presenting an increased risk of electrical fire.
Hazard 8: Running the cord under a rug or the carpet
It’s normally safest to plug your heater into the nearest possible power point so that you don’t have the electrical cord running across an area where it could pose a trip hazard or could be easily damaged.
And if you have a long cord, don’t run it under a rug or the carpet. It might look neater but you’re greatly increasing the fire risk from your heater, because if the cord becomes damaged, it’s out of sight and in close proximity to a combustible material – two ingredients that you don’t want to mix. Always keep the cord for your heater where you can see it.
Hazard 9: Leaving the heater on high all the time
Leaving a portable heater on high all the time isn’t just going to send your electrical bill skyrocketing, it also poses a fire risk. It’s easy for heaters to overheat and there’s more risk of that happening when a heater is kept on high for an extended period. Think of other ways to manage your portable heater. One helpful tip is to turn on your ceiling fan to help move air around the room. Hot air rises so the fan will help to disperse the warmer air through the room.
Hazard 10: Using a portable heater near water
Never touch a portable electric heater while you’re wet and keep your heater away from water to minimise the risk of electric shock and electrocution.
When in doubt, consult the experts
Electrical safety is everyone’s business and regardless of whether your heater is in the home or in a workplace, it’s important to ensure that it’s used safely and maintained properly. Jim’s Test & Tag conduct testing of portable electrical appliances to ensure that they’re free of electrical faults, phone 13 15 46 for more information or to arrange a quote.