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Employees Must Be Trained to Use Fire Extinguishers

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:

  • Recognize when to use a portable fire extinguisher.
  • Correctly operate the fire extinguisher.

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.

These include:

  • When the employer has established and implemented a written fire-safety policy that requires the immediate and total evacuation of all employees upon the sounding of a fire alarm and that includes an emergency-action plan and a fire-prevention plan that meet OSHA’s requirements.
  • When the company has an emergency-action plan that designates certain employees to be the only ones to use the available portable fire extinguishers and that requires all other workers to immediately evacuate the affected area after the fire alarm sounds.

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:

  • Identify a safe evacuation path before approaching the fire.
  • Do not allow the fire, heat or smoke to come between you and your evacuation path.
  • Use the PASS technique from a safe distance: PULL the pin; AIM low, pointing the extinguisher nozzle at the base of the fire; SQUEEZE the handle, to release the extinguishing agent; SWEEP from side to side at the base of the fire until it appears to be out.
  • Evacuate if the extinguisher runs out of fluid and the fire is not out.
  • Evacuate if the fire progresses beyond the incipient stage.

If your facility has a sprinkler system, evacuate, letting the sprinklers run, advised OSHA.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

Related Article:

Training Is Critical in Preventing Workplace Fire Casualties, SHRM Online Safety & Security, October 2012

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