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You may have fire extinguishers around your workplace, used to control or extinguish fires that are small or have just begun. But did you know that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) prohibits employees from using this tool unless they’ve had training?
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act: “Where the employer has provided portable fire extinguishers for employee use in the workplace, the employer shall also provide an educational program to familiarize employees with the general principles of fire extinguisher use and the hazards involved with incipient stage firefighting.”
In other words, workers must be trained to:
Organizations are required to provide this training when employees are first hired and annually thereafter. Employers are also advised to establish a policy clarifying who is qualified to use fire extinguishers, the situations when they can and should be used, and the proper procedures for their use.
Exemptions from Training
There are a couple of important exemptions to OSHA’s training requirements.
In these cases, only OSHA’s fire extinguisher inspection, maintenance and testing provisions apply.
According to a July 1991 OSHA Interpretation Letter, employers do not have to start and extinguish fires to simulate emergency fire conditions during employee training. “Hands-on training does not necessarily mean ‘live fire’ demonstration,” the letter states. “As a minimum, hands-on training should include the actual discharging of fire extinguishers appropriate for the type of fires expected, unracking of standpipe hoses, and test-sounding of fire alarm boxes.”
Responding to a Fire
Before trying to control a fire with a portable extinguisher, the worker who discovers the fire should activate the alarm, enabling others to evacuate to a safe area, OSHA advised. The fire department should be called at this time.
General procedures for responding to a small, incipient-stage fire are as follows:
If your facility has a sprinkler system, evacuate, letting the sprinklers run, advised OSHA.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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Training Is Critical in Preventing Workplace Fire Casualties,
SHRM Online Safety & Security, October 2012
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