Fire extinguisher safety tips and regulations

A well-placed, well-marked and well-maintained fire extinguisher can prove critical in an emergency – it can keep a wastebasket flame from igniting building-wide devastation. For employers, it's important to know exactly where to place fire extinguishers and fire extinguisher signs throughout the facility, even in places where it seems unlikely for a fire to occur. In the interest of Fire Prevention Week, read on to learn more about the best practices surrounding fire extinguishers in the workplace.

The placement
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Fire Prevention Agency, fire extinguishers will vary by the type of combustibles present in the area where they're located. Here are some of the most important considerations for fire extinguisher placement by class, as per OSHA and NFPA guidelines:

  • Class A: Areas like classrooms, offices and assembly halls require a 2-A extinguisher placed every 75 feet for materials like wood, paper or fabric. A compliant sprinkler system is also acceptable.
  • Class B: In workshops, garages, manufacturing areas or other areas containing flammable liquids or gases, an extinguisher is necessary at least every 50 feet. Specific areas have different requirements – highly flammable materials in large quantities call for a 40-B extinguisher every 30 feet or an 80-B unit every 50 feet.
  • Class C: In the presence of energize electrical equipment, the fire extinguisher size and placement corresponds with the Class A or Class B hazard.
  • Class D: Facilities that produce flammable metal powder, shavings or other fine materials must have a Class D portable fire extinguisher no more than 75 feet from the hazard.
  • Class K: When cooking media like oil and fat is present, there must be a Class K fire extinguisher within 30 feet.

The signage
It's important that fire extinguishers can be recognized from a distance and in short notice, and the proper signs can help. OSHA requires fire extinguishers to be "identified," Curtis Chambers, president of OSHA Training Services, told the Society for Human Resource Management. That means if a fire extinguisher can be blocked from view by people or supplies, there should be a clear sign mounted above the unit so it can be seen from far away. Depending on the nature of the jobsite, that sign might need to be up near the ceiling – it depends on the materials or obstacles that might obstruct someone's view of the fire extinguisher.

Make sure your fire extinguisher is clearly visible
Make sure your employees are trained on how to use a fire extinguisher.

The training
Not everyone is automatically permitted to use a fire extinguisher, Chambers pointed out – employees must first be trained on how to operate it and recognize when it is necessary. With that said, organizations are also required to train each new employee upon hiring and provide training sessions every year from then on. In addition, individual state regulations may require further training or call for specific methods. 

The maintenance
A fire extinguisher is useless if it hasn't been charged or checked for functionality – employers are responsible for regular maintenance and inspection on a monthly basis, according to OSHA. These inspections include determining if the unit is easily accessible, if the instructions are visible and facing outward, if the pressure gauge indicates a full charge, if the pin and seal are intact, and if the extinguisher appears to be in generally good condition. A fire extinguisher tag can tell employees that the unit has been inspected and is ready for use.

By following these best practices, employers can be sure their staff is prepared to access fire extinguishers in the event of an emergency. Accidents do happen, but fire extinguishers are there as a way to keep damage local and minimal rather than allow it to spread and threaten injury and extensive damage.