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Risk Management Bulletin


By January 1, 2009No Comments

According to OSHA, workplace fires kill about 200 workers and injure another 5,000 persons each year. In a typical recent year, more than 75,000 workplace fires caused more than $2 billion worth of damage.

Fires are the most common type of emergency for most companies – and many fires start out small enough to be put out with a portable fire extinguisher. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all employees need to know how to use extinguishers. According to OSHA, if a fire breaks out; companies have three basic choices for employees: (1) All employees must evacuate the building immediately when they hear a fire alarm, or (2) certain designated and trained employees are authorized to fight fires with portable extinguishers, while all others are required to evacuate immediately, or (3) all employees are authorized to fight fires with portable extinguishers.

You need to decide if you want to provide fire extinguishers for employees to use. This decision might not be easy: while it’s obviously helpful if employees know how to put out small fires, this also exposes them to a higher level of danger than if they’re simply required to evacuate. Moreover, employers that want employees to fight small fires can’t just mount a few fire extinguishers and leave it at that – they’ll need to meet the OSHA compliance standard on Portable Fire Extinguishers (29 CFR 1910.157), which include:

  • Minimum distances for distribution of fire extinguishers throughout the workplace (for example, no more than 75 feet of travel distance to the nearest Class A extinguisher)
  • Requirements for regular visual inspections, maintenance, and testing
  • Education and training for employees in how to use fire extinguishers.

What kind of training will you need? Although OSHA training requirements aren’t very specific, they call for a program that “familiarizes employees with the general principles of fire extinguisher use,” while informing them about the hazards of fighting small fires. For companies that designate only certain (rather than all) employees for fire fighting, training should be more in-depth and include the use of various kinds of equipment that are appropriate for the workplace. After employers provide training, they must renew it at least once a year and document the process.

For more information on implementing your workplace fire-fighting policy, just contact any of our risk management professionals.