Some workers may fight fires while others evacuate
Date Posted: 08/10/2020
Employers might choose to provide portable fire extinguishers for employees to fight incipient stage fires. An incipient stage fire is generally defined as one that can be controlled or extinguished using portable fire extinguishers. However, the regulation on portable fire extinguishers at 29 CFR 1910.157 provides alternatives for employers that do not want employees fighting these fires.
Many employers plan to evacuate employees to a safe location in the event of a fire. However, training some employees on fire extinguisher use may be necessary. For example, workers assigned to a fire watch after welding or other hot work are generally trained to use portable fire extinguishers. Potentially, some of your employees are trained to use fire extinguishers, while others would evacuate.
Employers who opt for evacuation do not have to comply with certain requirements of 1910.157, depending on the option chosen. These options are:
- Evacuate all employees when a fire occurs. Employers who select this option are relieved from compliance with 1910.157 unless some other regulation requires that portable fire extinguishers be provided. If the employer opts to evacuate everyone, it must have an emergency action plan compliant with 1910.38.
- Evacuate all employees except those designated to use portable fire extinguishers. Employers who select this option need not comply with the distribution requirements of 1910.157(d), which describes the distance to an extinguisher based on the class of fire. Under this option, the employer makes extinguishers available to the employees who are designated to use them. Complying with the emergency action plan provisions is still required.
- The employer has portable fire extinguishers but does not want employees fighting fires and evacuates everyone to safety. Fire extinguishers may be required by insurance companies or local fire departments. However, extinguishers not intended for employee use may still pose a hazard if they are not properly maintained. Employers who follow this option must comply only with the extinguisher maintenance, inspection, and testing requirements of 1910.157.
Extinguishers for everyone
The other option is to provide portable fire extinguishers for use by any employee to fight incipient stage fires. In that case, the employer must comply with 1910.157 in its entirety, but there is no requirement to comply with the emergency action plan provisions of 1910.38.
If any employee could grab an extinguisher to fight an incipient stage fire, the employer must provide an educational program for all employees that covers the principles of fire extinguisher use. Employees expected to use portable fire extinguishers must be provided with “hands on” training in the use of the equipment, and this training must be repeated annually.
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