Celebrate Fire Prevention Week With an OSHA Compliance Check

Posted on 10/7/2015 by James Griffin

Since 1922, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has observed Fire Prevention Week during the week around October 9, commemorating the Great Chicago Fire of October of 1871.

This year's theme is "Hear the BEEP where you SLEEP: every bedroom needs a working smoke alarm."

Smart fire safety protects your family at home and is critical to protecting employees in the workplace. While a property inspector may disapprove of faulty fire alarms in your house when it's time to sell, an OSHA inspector can arrive at any time to check that your workplace fire safety program complies with specific standards.

OSHA Requirements for Fire Detection & Employee Alarm Systems [29 CFR 1910.164—1910.165]

OSHA requires most workplaces to take steps to protect against fires (29 CFR 1910, Subpart L) and plan for common emergencies (29 CFR 1910, Subpart E). This can include fire detection and employee alarm systems (29 CFR 1910.164–1910.165), as well as written plans for preventing fires and dealing with emergency situations (29 CFR 1910.38–1910.39).

Every workplace must have an alarm system for alerting employees to fires or other emergencies (29 CFR 1910.37(e), 1910.38(d)). Employee alarm systems must conform to the standards of 29 CFR 1910.164. Alarm systems are not required when all employees in the workplace can promptly see or smell a fire or other hazard in time to provide adequate warning to them. It is an unusual workplace that qualifies for this exemption.

Fire safety in the workplace

Automatic fire detection systems (§1910.165) are only required by OSHA as part of automatic fire extinguishing systems installed at facilities storing and handling flammable liquids (§1910.106), explosives (§1010.109), liquefied petroleum gas (§1910.110), and certain flammable substances designated in §1910, Subpart Z.

OSHA sets specific requirements for installing, maintaining, and testing fire detection and employee alarm systems in the workplace. These standards include:
  • Installation:
    • Employers must install an appropriate number of detectors and alarms, in appropriate locations (based on field experience and/or consensus standards).
    • Detectors and alarms must be securely installed, with independent means of support.
    • Detectors and alarms must be located so that they are protected from impact.
    • Detectors and alarms installed outdoors or in hazardous atmospheres must be protected so that they remain operable.
    • Employers must maintain or replace power supplies as often as necessary to assure a fully operational condition. Backup means of alarm must be provided when systems are out of service.
  • Maintenance and Testing:
    • Employers must maintain alarm and detection systems in operable condition, except during repairs or maintenance.
    • Alarm and detection systems must be tested on a regular basis.
    • Service, repair, and testing of alarms and detection systems may only be performed by trained persons.
    • After each test or alarm, the employer must return detectors and alarms to operable condition as soon as possible.
OSHA Requirements for Emergency Action & Fire Prevention Plans [29 CFR 1910.38—1910.39]

Emergency action and fire prevention plans are only explicitly required for facilities handling grain (29 CFR 1910.272), hazardous waste operations (§ 1910.120), process safety management facilities (29 CFR 1910.119) and workplaces with employer provided portable fire extinguishers (§ 1910.157). Other workplaces are not explicitly required to have emergency action plans. [§ 1910.34(a)]

Emergency action and fire prevention plans must be in writing, kept in the workplace, and available to employees. Employers with 10 or fewer employees may communicate their plans orally.

Emergency action plans must include, at a minimum:
  • Procedures for reporting a fire or other emergency;
  • Procedures for emergency evacuation, including type of evacuation and exit route assignments;
  • Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate;
  • Procedures to account for all employees after evacuation;
  • Procedures to be followed by employees performing rescue or medical duties;
  • The name or job title of every employee who may be contacted by employees who need more information about the plan or an explanation of their duties under the plan; and
  • Designation of trained employees who will assist in a safe and orderly evacuation of other employees.
Fire prevention plans must include, at a minimum:
  • A list of all major fire hazards, proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials, potential ignition sources and their control, and the type of fire protection equipment necessary to control each major hazard;
  • Procedures to control accumulations of flammable and combustible waste materials;
  • Procedures for regular maintenance of safeguards installed on heat-producing equipment to prevent the accidental ignition of combustible materials;
  • The name or job title of employees responsible for maintaining equipment to prevent or control sources of ignition or fires; and
  • The name or job title of employees responsible for the control of fuel source hazards.
OSHA's fire safety and emergency planning standards were based on 1970 NFPA standards. Compliance with current NFPA standards, instead of the OSHA standard, is also suitable. [29 CFR 1910.35; §1910, Subpart B, Appendix B]

OSHA Fire Extinguisher Safety Training

Be confident your employees are ready to respond to a fire on site and meet OSHA's training standard for designated employees with the convenient, interactive Fire Extinguisher Safety Online Course. Employees learn how to select and use a fire extinguisher and how to inspect, maintain, and test the extinguishers provided in your workplace.

Tags: fire safety, osha

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