10 November 2014

People are playing with fire in their efforts to find cheaper heating options this winter, research by Electrical Safety First has revealed, and many are unaware of the dangers that the alternatives can pose.

With concerns about rising energy prices forcing people to use portable heaters in order to warm their homes, the charity is joining forces with Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service to warn of the risks associated with these electrical items as part of Electrical Fire Safety Week, which runs from today (November 10).

Money worries

Electrical Safety First’s research found that 78% of people were worried about the rising costs of energy bills and over half would use portable heaters as an alternative to keep warm this winter.

However, it was also revealed that many could put themselves and their loved ones at risk by using the heaters incorrectly. More than a third of people admitted that they would leave a heater switched on and unattended, whilst 21% would leave one switched on overnight.

And with portable heaters having caused 73 deaths, around 1,000 injuries and over 3,800 fires since 2009/10, the dangers posed by using them incorrectly are very real.

The elderly are particularly vulnerable – those aged 80 and over make up nearly 40% of the fatalities caused by portable heater fires last year.

How to stay safe

In order to minimise the danger, Electrical Safety First and Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service are offering the following guidance for heating the home safely:

  • Never leave portable heaters unattended
  • Never leave them on whilst sleeping
  • Ensure that they are positioned well away from anything which could knock them over
  • Ensure they are at least a metre away from any combustible materials, such as paper or curtains
  • Never buy second hand halogen heaters
  • Never power a halogen heater from an extension lead – these can easily be overloaded and cause fires
  • Regularly inspect your heater for damage. If it’s damaged – don’t use it

Baz Fox, prevention and community protection manager for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “With winter approaching, people will be considering the costs of heating their homes and many will be seeking cheaper alternatives. Yet the cost counting may not stop there if portable heaters are used incorrectly.

“Instead of saving money, you could be looking at fire, injury and even death. It is therefore vital that people take our messages on board and follow the advice provided.”

Emma Apter, of Electrical Safety First, added: “Having a warm home this winter is something everyone deserves, so we welcome portable heaters as a low cost option at a time when energy costs are spiralling.

“However, it is vital that the dangers associated with these items are understood – particularly as our research suggests that people are putting themselves and their loved ones at risk by using them in an unsafe way.

“By following our short, simple guidance, people can stay safe and stay warm this winter.”