OSHA Rules for Workplace Fire Extinguishers

Posted on 3/3/2015 by Lion Staff

We all pass by fire extinguishers on a constant basis: in our homes, in public buildings, and in our workplaces. But how many of us know how or when to use them?

Many companies have portable fire extinguishers on hand to help prevent the spread of fires. Because extinguishers are common in the workplace, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains a portable fire extinguisher standard that governs the use, maintenance, and testing of these devices. [29 CFR 1910.157] The standard also outlines specific training requirements for employees who may be called on to use a fire extinguisher in an emergency.

If your company requires employees to use the extinguishers, you must provide education and training to authorized employees. [29 CFR 1910.157(g)] This feature is not a replacement for a fire extinguisher training program, but will help employees understand the basics of OSHA's fire extinguisher safety standard.

Assessing Risk Before Using a Fire Extinguisher

Before using a fire extinguisher, employees must assess any situation involving fire. In some instances, the employee should evacuate the area instead of fighting the fire.

When assessing a fire, the employee should consider three issues:
  1. How big is the fire? Fire extinguishers have a limited amount of extinguishing agent and are meant only for small fires. If a fire is too big, a fire extinguisher will not be effective.
  2. What is the atmosphere like in the vicinity of the fire? Employees should ensure that there is adequate breathing air as the fire will begin to burn up any surrounding oxygen and possibly even produce toxic gases. Also, the fire may produce high levels of heat and smoke. The effects of heat are apparent, but people often underestimate the smoke. In fact, the leading cause of death in a fire is not burns; it is actually smoke inhalation.
  3. Is there an accessible evacuation path in case you are unable to put out the fire? This is a critical question to consider before attempting to use an extinguisher in a fire emergency. If the answer is "no," the employee should immediately evacuate the area.
P.A.S.S. Method for Using Fire Extinguishers
Fire Extinguisher
If an employee determines that using a fire extinguisher is a good idea and can be done safely, he/she should approach the fire using the four-step "P.A.S.S." technique. The acronym "P.A.S.S." stands for: pull, aim, squeeze, and sweep.
  1. Pull: The first thing you need to do is PULL the pin at the top of the extinguisher that keeps the handle from being accidentally pressed. This will also break the tamper seal on the extinguisher.
  2. Aim: Next, you need to AIM the nozzle of the extinguisher low towards the base of the fire.
  3. Squeeze: Then, you need to SQUEEZE the handle of the fire extinguisher to discharge the extinguishing agent.
  4. Sweep: Finally, you need to SWEEP the nozzle back and forth at the base of the fire until the fire appears to be out. Remember, though, to watch the area carefully afterwards to make certain the fire doesn't re-ignite.
Always use extreme caution when you deal with fire.

Post-Fire Actions

Besides a lingering unpleasant odor, an extinguished fire poses its own challenges. Depending on contributing factors and outcomes of the fire incident, additional OSHA workplace standards may apply.

If any employee sustained injuries from a workplace fire, they may have to be recorded/reported under OSHA's injury and illness recordkeeping standard. Any fire incident that was the result of a Process Safety Management mishap requires that employers perform an after-action review. Fires involving RCRA hazardous waste, or resulting in the generation of hazardous waste, require employers to follow applicable parts of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

Expert OSHA 10-hour and Fire Extinguisher Training

To help you meet OSHA's training requirement for employees who use fire extinguishers, Lion offers the Fire Extinguisher Safety Online Course. Flexible, 24/7 access allows employees to complete this self-paced online course without sacrificing productivity.

The comprehensive 10 Hour General Industry Online Course will prepare your employees to identify and protect themselves and their colleagues from hazards in general industry workplaces. The course has been updated to include OSHA's new GHS rules, and students gain the critical knowledge and tools needed to ensure site compliance with OSHA workplace safety regulations.

Tags: osha, safety training, workplace safety

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