Temporary heating devices are a vital part of being able to work effectively in cold weather. They allow temperature-critical work to continue on schedule, and provide for more comfortable working conditions. However, as a result of poor selection and careless use of portable heaters, injuries and damaging fires occur every year.

If improperly used, temporary heating equipment can lead to burns, fires, explosion, carbon-monoxide poisoning, and the creation of oxygen-deficient atmospheres. So, with the winter season upon us, it’s important to review the many types of temporary heating devices that are available, and be sure they are used safely.

There are a variety of devices to choose from. Temporary heat units can be fired either directly or indirectly. They can be electric or fueled by liquefied petroleum gas (propane), natural gas, liquid fuel (kerosene, fuel oil, coal oil and some diesel oils) or solid fuel (wood, coal, coke, etc.). Solid-fuel heaters are the most uncontrollable, and therefore the most potentially dangerous. Because of the inherent hazards associated with solid fuel, temporary units cannot be used inside or within 25 feet of any building or structure. This safety requirement makes their use for most temporary heating situations impractical.

Always follow safety guidelines: The most important instructions will be found on the side of the heating unit, though instructions will not be the same for all equipment. What was safe to use in one location may not be so in another. Remember the old saying: “When in doubt, read the instructions.” This is critical advice when using heating equipment, to avoid creating a hazard.

Other Important Tips:

  • Never use a fueled heater within 10 feet of any debris piles, temporary enclosures, tarps, combustible materials or flammable material.

  • Maintain a good fresh air supply to avoid oxygen-deficient atmospheres; flames use oxygen.

  • Every heating unit must have a working fire extinguisher immediately available.

  • Never leave an operating heater unattended during non-working hours.

  • The use of temporary heaters in confined spaces never is recommended; when they are used, sufficient ventilation and temperature control must be provided.

  • Allow the heater to cool down before it is re-fueled.

  • Always turn off the gas supply when the heater is not in-use.

  • Never store used or extra LPG containers inside. Only those in use should be present.

  • Temporary heaters should be placed at least six feet away from the liquefied petroleum container, and not fired toward the container unless the heater is an approved integrated unit.

  • Never manifold together more than three 100-pound liquefied petroleum gas cylinders.

  • Liquefied petroleum cylinders must be secured in the upright position and protected from damage.

  • Never use liquefied petroleum gas below grade level. Be aware that gases such as propane are heavier-than-air, and will settle into any low spots, such as a basement. If there is no way for them to exit, a spark or flame can ignite and explode the concentration of gas, causing great damage and injuries.
Temporary heaters are great tools, allowing work to continue in cold and damp weather. But remember – they can be dangerous. Learn how to operate them properly, and don’t take them for granted.