fire risk

Portable heaters present a considerable fire safety risk. That’s why a recent campaign has been launched by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service to raise awareness and encourage the safe use of heaters around the home. And this is an issue that’s every bit as applicable to the private rented housing sector as it is to domestic homeowners. When it comes to fire safety, where should landlords stand on the use of portable heaters in their properties?

The 'Stay warm safely this winter' campaign

The 'Stay warm safely this winter' campaign was launched in January in response to the fact that there have been 150 fires in Greater Manchester over the past three years that were caused by portable heaters and fireplaces. These fires resulted in 44 people suffering injuries, and others facing serious damage to their homes. In 2021, there were 38 incidents that involved heaters, fires and other forms of heating equipment.

Greater Manchester is not the only Fire and Rescue Service highlighting the risks posed by portable heaters. London Fire Brigade cites figures showing that in a five-year period, 819 fires were caused by electrical heaters. Heaters were involved in a third of electrical fires that resulted in a fatality. Portable heaters present a very real fire risk and landlords do need to consider what they can do to reduce that risk to both their tenants and their property.

Could increased energy costs have an impact too?

There’s an additional consideration to be mindful of at the moment due to the soaring prices of energy. If tenants have to pay for the central heating themselves, they might try to reduce costs by cutting back on the number of rooms they’re heating or turning the thermostat down low and instead opting to use a portable heater in the room where they’re spending most of their time. It’s possible that appliances like electric heaters could start to be used more often than normal and that could add to the fire risk.

Should you ban the use of portable heaters?

So how far should landlords go when it comes to managing the risk? You might be keen to completely ban the use of portable heaters by building it in as one of the terms of the contract, but this needs to be considered carefully. As the landlord you must ensure the property can be kept warm: to minimum temperatures of 18°C in bedrooms and 21°C in living rooms when the temperature is minus one outside. You must be confident that the heating system you do provide is sufficiently effective and reliable, making sure it’s well maintained and quickly responding if there’s a problem with it. Otherwise tenants might feel they have no choice other than to use portable heaters.

Agree safe use rules with tenants

You might decide it’s better to talk to tenants about adopting rules that ensure if portable heaters are used, they’re used carefully and safely.

One of the biggest factors contributing to portable heater fires is putting them too close to items that are combustible; the types of items that are most likely to ignite include clothing, bedding and curtains. It’s really important to stress to tenants that if they do have to use a portable heater, they should keep it a safe distance (at least one metre) away from easily combustible materials. Also remind them that it’s dangerous to attempt to dry clothes by putting them onto heaters.

Portable heaters can malfunction too, particularly if they’re older. If tenants are using heaters, ask them to do everything they reasonably can to make sure they’re in good working order and not use them if they have any doubts. Heaters must be located on level surfaces to minimise the risk of them being knocked over and should never be powered via extension leads which can become overloaded, creating an additional fire risk. Portable heaters left unattended also present a significant risk – so make sure tenants are aware of the importance of remembering to switch heaters off especially if they are going out or going to bed.

The fire safety risks apply elsewhere too

While Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue’s campaign is mainly targeting householders, there’s a message in there for other business owners too (particularly those who are trying to reduce costs by switching the office central heating down). Make sure you are careful about the use of these types of appliances in your premises and that employees understand the risks and precautions they need to take if they are using heaters.

If you need any help managing fire safety risks in your property, including carrying out your fire risk assessments then please do contact us.