As always, the cold season sneaks up on us quickly. Last year, one of our operators suffered a $151,000 loss as a result of their attempts to stay warm. A portable heater was left too close to a combustible surface and it burst into flames. It was overnight so fortunately nobody was injured but as you can see below, the damage was significant. Something like this serves as a reminder that even the simplest things can escalate and get out of control fast.
I recently had the opportunity to visit several car washes where I observed portable heaters ready to be placed throughout the tunnel. While I’m certain they will keep employees warm, will they be safely utilized? If your business doesn’t have company policies and procedures in place, I fear any safe use of this equipment will be based solely on luck. Not a comforting thought.
The following are some points that should be considered as a part of ownership of these devices. These are courtesy of Dave Snyder in McNeil’s Risk Management department and are:
- Management needs to determine where and how to place these devices.
- Under no circumstances should they be used within 10 feet of any combustible materials.
- If an extension cord is necessary, be sure it conforms to the manufacturer's standards before use. If you choose this option, keep in mind the additional tripping hazard it would present.
- When considering using a fuel-based unit, use caution during refueling operations. Make sure fuel is stored in approved, properly labeled receptacles that are stored in cabinets specifically designed for flammable materials.
- Prior to any use, each heater must be inspected to ensure there is no damage, leaking fuel, or frayed cords.
- Never leave the unit unattended while running.
- Only portable heaters approved by management are acceptable.
- Be certain that all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are checked regularly. Remember to document this inspection each time it's completed.
- All portable fire extinguishers must be properly mounted and checked to ensure they are in working order. Be certain that all appropriate placards are visible as well.
- Employees should be properly trained on fire extinguisher operations.
Remember that operating these units in enclosed environments can pose the potential added risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. The following are a few symptoms to learn in anticipation and recognition of this danger:
Once again, my personal thanks to Dave Snyder and Risk Management at McNeil for contributing these very important facts. They are able to assist with any help with designing a company policy for the safe use of portable heaters. Don’t put it off till something goes terribly wrong, start now!
Remember a safe wash helps protect people and profits!