Fire evacuation and headcount FAQs

Date Posted: 11/21/2022
Fire evacuation on stairway

Employers should train workers about fire hazards and what to do case of a fire. For example, if everyone will evacuate, employers should train everyone on evacuation procedures. And if employers expect some workers to use fire fighting equipment, they should provide the appropriate equipment and train workers to use it safely. These requirements raise a number of questions that OSHA has answered.

Does OSHA require annual evacuation drills?

Not specifically, but OSHA does require including evacuation procedures in the emergency action plan and ensuring that all employees understand their responsibilities. Conducting drills helps meet these obligations. Insurance providers might expect annual drills, and annual drills are a best practice.

Does OSHA require portable fire extinguishers?

No, but if employers provide them and expect workers to use them, the employer must provide hands-on training with annual refresher training.

Some workplaces provide portable fire extinguishers but don’t expect employees to use them. If fire extinguishers are not intended for employee use (everyone evacuates), the employer must still comply with the requirements in 1910.157(e) and (f) regarding inspection, maintenance, and testing.

Does OSHA require fixed extinguishing systems?

No, but fixed extinguishing systems are common. OSHA requires that employers who have fixed extinguishing systems:

  • Substitute (temporarily) a fire watch of trained employees to respond to fire emergencies when a fire suppression system is out of service.
  • Ensure that the fire watch is included in the fire prevention plan and the emergency action plan.
  • Post signs for systems that use gaseous agents (e.g., carbon dioxide, clean agents, etc.) posing a serious health hazard.

How do employers ensure safe evacuations?

Every workplace must have sufficient exits to enable everyone to evacuate quickly. The number and location of exits depend on the type of structure, number of persons, fire protection, type of industry, and other factors. Generally, two or more exits are required for a building or area with a capacity of 50 or more, and employees should not need to travel more than 150 to 200 feet to an exit, though this distance varies based on building type and materials stored.

Exit doors must not be blocked or locked when employees are inside. Exit routes from buildings must be free of obstructions and properly marked with exit signs.

How do employers account for employees after evacuation?

Procedures to account for employees might include designating employees to sweep areas, checking offices and rest rooms before leaving, and/or conducting a roll call in the assembly area. Many employers designate an “evacuation warden” to assist others and to account for personnel. Consider how to account for customers, vendors, contractors, or other non-employees.

Employers should designate assembly areas with sufficient space to accommodate everyone. When designating an assembly area, consider (and try to minimize) the possibility of employees interfering with rescue operations. For example, if employees will gather in a parking lot, make sure they won’t interfere with emergency vehicles.

How Safety Management Suite Can Help

Most employers have portable fire extinguishers, which requires conducting regular inspections and testing. In fact, many regulations and best practice require regular inspections and self-audits. The Audits feature in Safety Management Suite provides numerous ready-to-use checklists with questions on dozens of topics. The results can help you identify potential hazards or compliance issues and fix them before anyone gets hurt.

E-mail Newsletter

Sign up to receive the weekly EHS Insider email newsletter for safety articles, news headlines, regulatory alerts, industry events, webcasts, and more.