Last updated: 19/10/2020, 12:17 PM

Brigade issues heater warning ahead of work from home winter

19/10/2020 12:00
Safety warnings

London Fire Brigade is urging people to take extra care when heating homes as many prepare for a work from home winter. In the last five years, portable heaters have caused over 700 fires and injured more than 140 people.

The Brigade is warning of a possible spike in fires as people turn to cheaper ways to heat their homes, without properly considering the fire risks. With more than half of Londoners who are in employment working from home earlier this year*, and many preparing to continue to do so into the New Year, it’s likely that the added time at home could mean that the heating will be on for longer. According to a study by Energy Helpline, the average household energy bill could climb by £107 this winter for those working from home five days a week.

Portable heaters are one of the most common alternatives to turning on the heating that people use to stay warm whilst working in one room, but if they’re not used properly, could cause a devastating fire.

Fires in London involving heaters, which start in the afternoon between the hours of 12pm and 5pm, have almost doubled this year in comparison to the same period last year. As the weather gets colder, there is a concern that fires involving heaters could spike as more people bring them into their work from home set-ups.

Heater safety tips

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Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Charlie Pugsley, said: “You won’t meet that deadline if your desk goes up in flames. Whether you’re set up to work from your dining room table, working on your sofa or have a home office, it’s important that you stay warm, but also take every precaution to stay safe this winter.

“Sitting in one place for a period of time can make you feel cold and portable heaters can be a good way to stay warm without heating your entire home, but it’s important to take a minute to consider how safe your workspace really is. If you have a heater under your desk or your paperwork leaning up against them, you could be putting yourself, your home and your family at risk.”

Earlier this month, a fire started at a house in Plumstead after a halogen heater was left too close to clothing. Two women and a baby were treated for smoke inhalation and the baby was taken to hospital, but luckily discharged the same day.

Burnt portable heater with clothes on top

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Pugsley added: “Fires involving heaters like this are all too common and have sadly claimed 13 lives in the last five years. They usually start when items, like clothes or bedding, are placed too close to the heater and ignite.

“It’s absolutely vital that heaters are kept well away from curtains, furniture, paperwork and are never used to dry clothes. Always sit at least a metre away from the heater, as it could set fire to your clothes or your chair, and position them where they won’t be knocked over. Make sure you turn them off and allow them to cool before you move them or put them away.”

It’s important to consider the fire risk of using alternative ways to heat your home. Don’t be tempted to leave the cooker, oven or hob on for heating. A build-up of heat can cause a fire or carbon monoxide fumes could cause poisoning, or even death. It’s a good idea to fit carbon monoxide alarms in your home, especially in rooms with solid fuel, gas or paraffin heaters.

There is help available if energy costs are getting beyond your budget. Citizens Advice provides lots of information about grants and benefits to help you pay your energy bills or you can contact your energy company for advice.

Firefighters’ tips for using portable heaters safely

  • Make sure heaters are well maintained and in good working order.
  • Check that your heater isn't on a recall list – there have been many fires in the past year due to heaters that have been recalled.
  • Never install, repair or service appliances yourself. Make sure anyone who does is a registered professional.
  • Don't take risks with old heaters – if it's sparking, wires are loose or if it’s showing signs of damage, replace it with a new one or get it tested and repaired by a qualified electrician.
  • Keep heaters well away from clothes, curtains and furniture and never use them for drying clothes.
  • Always sit at least one metre away from a heater as it could set light to your clothes or chair.
  • Before attempting to move your heater, turn it off and allow it to cool first.
  • Gas heater cylinders should be changed in the in the open air, if you have to change them indoors, make sure all rooms are ventilated and open the windows and doors.
  • Never store cylinders in basements, under stairs or on balconies and get empty cylinders collected regularly.

* Statistics from ONS show that in April 2020, 57.2% of workers living in London did some work from home

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