fssAs Britain comes back into the cold for February, community manager from Fire Safety Supplier, Natasha Sabin, looks at what offices can do to ensure they are fire safe:

Believe it or not, most house fires occur during the winter months. The biggest culprit is January, which hosts 13% of all fires in the home, followed closely by February, the month in which 12% of house fires occur.

The reason why January and February see an increase in the number of house fires is that during colder seasons, people use heating appliances more often.

In fact, according to Lichfield County Council, heating appliances are one of the top five causes for workplace fires, topped only by general electrical appliances, waste build ups and smoking materials.

Personally, I’ve yet to work in an office that doesn’t have one or two portable heaters scattered about during the winter seasons.
The problem with portable heaters – let’s go back to basics

If you go back to the fire triangle, you might remember that for a blaze to begin, three elements must come together at the same time; fuel, heat and oxygen:

  • A portable heater, of course, gives you heat by nature. But many are also electrical appliances; if misused or faulty, they can give off sparks. Government statistics tell us that from 2011 to 2012, faulty appliances and leads were the leading cause for fires in non-domestic dwellings bin the UK.
  • Portable heaters are close to the ground. This puts them in close proximity to carpeting, bags, waste paper bins and other potential sources of fuel. Some heaters also run using gas, paraffin or oil – again, sources of fuel.
  • It goes without saying that oxygen is readily available and there is little we can do to prevent this. However, in many offices, doors are continuously being opened and closed, increasing the supply of oxygen.

How to reduce risks

1. Make sure your heater carries the BSI Kitemark, and is brand new. Never buy a second hand heater.
2. Make sure your heating appliances are PAT tested annually. This means that you can check for, and replace, faulty leads, cables, wires and plugs that could be a potential source of ignition.
3. With a gas heater, brush soapy water onto the flexible hose and fittings to search for gas leaks. If one is found, take the heater and cylinder into open air and don’t use them until the faulty part has been replaced.
4. Ensure your gas, oil and paraffin heater is standing level, in a position where it cannot easily be knocked over, preferably on a non-combustible base.
5. Keep sources of fuel away from your heater. This includes loose paper, waste and anything else that can be burned.
6. Position heaters so that they are facing the room, away from furniture.
7. Make sure you don’t sit too closely to a heater as your clothes could also ignite.
8. When changing a gas cylinder, check that the valve on the empty cylinder is closed before disconnecting the heater. Do not turn on the valve of the new cylinder until the heater is securely connected.
9. Make sure your gas and paraffin heaters are only used in a well-ventilated area, but keep them clear of draughts when you ignite them.
10. Be careful not to overload the electrical outlet your heater is attached to. To find out if you’re overloading, you simply divide the amount of watts you’re using by the number of vaults available in your office. That will tell you how many amps you’re using. You can then find out how many amps your electrical outlet is, to see if you’re overloading. 

Natasha Sabin is a community manager from Fire Safety Supplier. The team are on a mission to help improve fire safety in the home and workplac by offering a range of specialist fire safety productsto meet popular demand.