Take extra care when using heating appliances

Electric fire safety

Following the rise in heating costs, and with winter not yet over, Herefordshire & Worcestershire Fire and Rescue Service (HWFRS) is reminding people to take extra care when switching to heating appliances such as electric blankets, space heaters and wood burners to save on central heating.

During the 10 year period 01/01/2012 to 31/12/2021, 234 house fires in Herefordshire and Worcestershire were caused by heating appliances, resulting in 53 injuries in 37 incidents, and four fatalities.

Although it is tempting to bring old equipment back into use, it could be damaged or unsafe, presenting fire, electrical and other hazards, such as faulty wiring, exposed heating elements and risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In recent years, up to a half of electric blankets failed safety checks in testing sessions around our two counties, with many of the blankets – some of them decades old – having potentially life-threatening defects, such as exposed wires or other visible damage.

Additionally, even new appliances, if bought online, can be sub-standard. Online marketplaces have become more popular as a convenient and cheap way of buying equipment, especially when it has been harder to get to the shops during the pandemic.

HWFRS is therefore encouraging people to check their electrical heating appliances and have their chimneys swept if overdue to avoid fires and accidents.

HWFRS Head of Prevention Emma Roberts said:

“Portable heating equipment and electric blankets that haven’t been used for a while should be checked for broken cabling or exposed wires, and no portable heating appliance should ever be covered or left unattended.

“I’d particularly urge everyone to check that their older or more vulnerable friends and family members are not using faulty appliances, by visually checking any heaters and electric blankets that they may be relying on to stay warm.

“It’s also vital, if buying online to ensure you buy from a trusted retailer, either direct from the manufacturer’s website or a well-known High Street name. That way if something goes wrong, you can return the product for repair or a refund.

“You can also check a product’s status at Electrical Safety First’s free ‘Check It Out’ site, identifying third party sellers on popular online retailers and helping make an informed buying decision. Find out more at www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/check-it-out/.

“Having bought an item, don’t forget to register it for free at registermyappliance.org.uk .

“Why not contact us on 0800 032 1155 to see if you qualify for a free Home Fire Safety visit or would like fire safety advice?”

Here are some simple visual checks that people can carry out to keep themselves, and friends and family, safe:

  • check that electric blankets are in good condition and that manufacturers’ instructions are followed.
  • do not store flammable ‘clutter’ near the electrical intake or on top of microwaves.
  • make sure that any portable heaters are being used safely. They should not be used to dry or heat clothes and should not be left switched on and unattended.
  • watch out for trailing cables that can cause a trip hazard.
  • If an electric blanket is more than ten years old, consider buying a new one from a trusted retailer.
  • watch out for overloaded plug sockets – many people use four-way bar adaptors to plug more appliances in, particularly in older properties that do not have as many sockets – but it might not be safe to do so.
  • visit www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/overloadingsockets to check what appliances an extension lead can be used for before plugging them in.
  • make sure that your electrical products have not been subject to a recall or safety notice – you can do a simple product checker search at www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/recall .
  • For more advice on electrical safety for older people, visit: https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/guides-and-advice/for-older-people/
  • if you have a woodburning stove or a real hearth, get your chimney swept if overdue.