Older People at Risk from Incorrect Use of Portable Heaters

Keeping warm in winter is especially important for older people but Electrical Safety First are highlighting the need to take particular care if they are using portable heaters.

Those aged 80 and over made up nearly 40% of the fatalities caused by portable heater fires last year[1] but research by Electrical Safety First found that 33% of people would use a portable heater to keep an elderly relative warm.

Electrical Safety First discovered more than half of those surveyed  would use portable heaters as an alternative to keep warm this winter – yet 38% admitted that they would leave a heater switched on and unattended, with 21% saying they would leave one switched on overnight. And with portable heaters having caused 73 deaths, around 1000 injuries and over 3,800 fires since 2009/10,[2] the dangers posed by using them incorrectly are very real.

To minimise risk, Electrical Safety First and Fire and Rescue Services have produced the following guidance:

  • Never leave portable heaters unattended
  • Never leave them on whilst sleeping
  • Ensure they are positioned safely, away from anything which could knock them over
  • Place them at least a metre – around three feet – away from combustible material, such as paper or curtains
  • Never buy second-hand halogen heaters
  • Don’t plug halogen heaters into an extension lead – these can be easily overloaded and cause fires
  • Regularly check your heater and, if it is damaged, don’t use it.

“Portable heaters can be a low-cost option that can help cut the cost of fuel bills”, explains Phil Buckle, Director-General of Electrical Safety First. “But our research suggests 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 warm this winter.”


[1] DCLG Fire Statistics Great Britain https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/fire-statistics-great-britain

[2] DCLG Fire Statistics Great Britain https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/fire-statistics-great-britain

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