Your heater can kill you

The dangers of heaters

Australians may enjoy milder winters than people living in the Northern Hemisphere, but many of us still have heating devices in our homes. This can range from air conditioning units, to gas heaters, to bar heaters, to open wood fires and wood heaters.

All forms of heaters may serve to lessen the bite of the winter cold, but all of them have their downsides: air conditioning and electrical heaters can be expensive to run, gas exposes us to possible carbon-monoxide poisoning, and many other heating devices carry a fire or injury risk.

Many Australians also sustain burns from accidental contact with heating devices.

Taking great care when heating your home is essential and according to, more than 40% of all deaths from fire occur during winter. And, last year, according to, many Australian homes were once again damaged by fire. Pollution from wood fire heaters now also poses a major health threat to people living in Sydney, according to The Sydney Morning Herald (June 2014). People with asthma, emphysema and/or chronic bronchitis are particularly at risk when it comes to the fine particle pollution that results from using these heaters.

Stay safe and healthy this winter by taking note of these heater-related dangers:

Electric shock. All electrical devices, heaters included, can cause accidental electrical shock. This could be because of faulty wiring, incorrect use, or defects in the manufacturing process. Regularly check and service your electrical heater.

Overloading the circuit. Electric heaters use a lot of electricity and they can overload circuits. This can cause a power failure, or even a fire. Don’t use extension cords and multi-plugs when switching on the heaters in your home.

Burns. All heating devices can become extremely hot, with the possible exception of panel heaters.

Bar heaters, paraffin heaters, open fires in fireplaces, coal heating devices and even oil heaters can all cause nasty burns if you come into accidental contact with them. Children and pets are at high risk for burns from heating devices.

House fires. Make sure there are no flammable materials close to the heater. Some heating devices can set clothing, curtains, rugs or other objects on fire. Never leave heaters unattended, or leave them on when you go out. Some heaters, such as small bar heaters, can easily overturn and cause fires. Never put anything on top of a heater, even when it’s switched off. You, or someone else in the household could switch it on, forgetting there’s something on top of it.

Carbon-monoxide poisoning. This isn’t a danger with electrical heating devices, but certainly with everything else: petroleum, gas, paraffin, oil, coal, wood, and charcoal. You can’t see, smell or taste carbon monoxide, which is what makes it so dangerous. By the time you notice that something is wrong, it may already be too late.

Carbon monoxide is produced as a result of the incomplete combustion of any carbon-based fuel. Faulty appliances used in enclosed spaces pose a high risk, as do home-made coal fire drums and paraffin stoves. Built-in gas furnaces are becoming very popular, as they’re relatively cheap to run and are very efficient at heating living spaces. But a leaking gas pipe could cause a fire or carbon-monoxide poisoning.

Some quick safety tips:

  • Never switch on the oven to heat your home.
  • Follow the instructions to the letter on how to use heating devices.
  • Have a one-metre pet- and kid-free zone around all heating devices.
  • Never leave any heating devices unattended.
  • Make sure fireplaces have screens to prevent sparks setting the house on fire.
  • When using any heater except an electrical one, make sure there’s good ventilation in the room.
  • Never leave heaters on when you go out.
  • Newer put anything on top of a heater – even when it’s switched off.
  • Make sure there’s nothing that can catch alight within a metre of the heating device.
  • Check electrical wiring on heaters and don’t use extension cords, multi-plugs or any device with frayed wiring.


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