Updated Dec 1, 2022

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How to stay warm safely

On the 2nd day of Christmas Cedrec gave to me, tips for keeping warm safely.

Electric heaters

Around 4.3 million more people, an increase of 8% year-on-year, are planning on using electric heaters to stay warm through the cost of living crisis.

Electrical Safety First, as part of its annual Electrical Fire Safety Week campaign, says heaters could cause devastating fires if they are not used with care.

Chief executive Lesley Rudd, said: "While portable heaters can be useful to heat a small space, they can pose a risk to your home and your life if mistakes are made when using them".

"With more heaters likely to be used this winter there is increased likelihood of misuse, so it is imperative that people are careful when using them to avoid a devastating outcome".

A survey carried out by the charity found that out of 3,000 adults across the UK, 42% of people are either definitely using or considering using an electric heater this winter, but more than a third have never used one before, prompting the safety warning.

Although electric heaters are not inherently dangerous in itself, fire services have warned of the potentially deadly consequences of using them.

Ben Turner from Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, said: "We were called to a house fire we later discovered was caused by an electrical heater".

"‘The fire had started by the heater being too close to the fabric of the armchair, which has ignited and engulfed it in flames. Nothing prepares you for that".

Richard Poole, crew manager at West Sussex Fire and Rescue, added: "We were walking through this home that was destroyed when a plug-in heater was accidentally knocked over".

"Everything was black, everything was charred and smoke damaged. It’s heart wrenching".

How to stay safe while using an electric heater

Electrical Safety First provided these tips on how to safely use an electric heater:

  • put your heater on a level surface, well away from anything or anyone that could knock it over;
  • make sure your heater is well away from combustible materials such as paper, furniture or curtains;
  • never use the heater to dry clothes;
  • never leave your heater unattended for long periods or while you sleep;
  • never power your heater from an extension lead;
  • regularly inspect your heater for damage or deterioration;
  • make sure you buy directly from manufacturers or retailers that you know and trust;
  • avoid second-hand heaters, but if you do purchase one ask the seller what safety checks have been carried out;
  • register your appliance and ensure you check your heater has not been recalled;
  • ensure you have a working smoke alarm on every floor in your house and test it regularly.

Other heaters and "real" fires

There are many other kinds of heaters and ways to heat your home, which also come with safety risks.

London Fire Brigade provided tips on how to safely use gas fires and biofuel heaters:

  • gas heater cylinders should be changed in the open air, and if they have to be changed indoors all rooms must be ventilated;
  • store spare propane or oxygen cylinders upright and outside whenever possible, never store them in basements, under stairs or in cupboards containing electric meters or equipment;
  • ensure empty cylinders are collected regularly;
  • fireboxes and containers should always be placed on a stable surface;
  • when using biofuel always follow the manufacturer's guidelines and instructions;
  • do not overstock fuels of any type including paraffin or biofuel, and store them safely;
  • never add fuel to a burning fire, or refill a firebox fuel container that is still hot.

For log burners and open fires:

  • keep chimneys and flues clean and well maintained;
  • always have your chimney swept by a specialist, at least once a year for coal, and twice if burning logs;
  • make sure you use a fireguard to protect against flying spares and hot embers;
  • before you go to bed, make sure fires or hot embers are under control and guarded;
  • store logs away from solid fuel burners as radiated heat can cause them to burn;
  • keep clothing and fabric well away from open fires and log burners;
  • supervise children and pets carefully and use fire guards.

It is also really important to fit a carbon monoxide alarm in all rooms containing solid fuel gas, or paraffin heaters.

Keeping warm in the workplace

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations SI 1992/3004 Approved Code of Practice and Guidance states the minimum temperature in an indoor workplace should normally be at least 16°C or 13°C if much of the work involves rigorous physical effort.

The Regulations require employers to provide a reasonable indoor temperature in the workplace dependent on the work activity and environmental conditions.

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations SI 2015/51 require reasonable workplace temperatures for indoor areas of construction sites. When the site is outdoors, you must provide protection from adverse weather.

Temperature in the workplace is one of the risks that should be assessed and controlled under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations SI 1999/3242.

What can employers can do to keep staff warm

For indoor workplaces, an employer should provide:

  • a reasonable working temperature in workrooms;
  • local heating (through heaters or radiators) where a comfortable temperature cannot be maintained throughout each workroom;
  • rest facilities where necessary (warm clothing in cold stores);
  • heating systems which do not give off dangerous or offensive levels of fumes.

To keep people as comfortable as possible when working in the cold, employers should:

  • provide adequate workplace heating to ensure areas are warm enough when they are occupied;
  • design processes that minimise exposure to cold areas and cold products;
  • reduce draughts while still keeping adequate ventilation;
  • provide insulating floor coverings or special footwear when workers have to stand for long periods on cold floors;
  • provide appropriate protective clothing for cold environments.

For outdoor working, an employer should:

  • ensure the personal protective equipment (PPE) issued is appropriate;
  • provide mobile facilities for warming up, and to have soup or hot drinks;
  • introduce more frequent rest breaks;
  • consider delaying the work until warmer times of the year without compromising on safety;
  • make sure workers can recognise the early symptoms of cold stress, such as a cough or body aches

Employers could also introduce more flexible working patterns or job rotation, and provide enough breaks to allow workers to get hot drinks or warm up in heated areas.

What employees can do to keep warm

Employees can help keep themselves and their colleagues warm by:

  • adding layers of clothing;
  • talking to their employer if the workplace temperature is not comfortable;
  • taking regular breaks to heat up.

For more information on this subject, see:

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