WORKPLACE SAFETY DIVISION
Directorate of Analysis and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Novosel, Alabama
The observation of Fire Prevention Week, which this year runs Oct. 8 through 14, provides an opportune time to emphasize the importance of people knowing how to protect themselves and their co-workers should a fire happen. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace fires and explosions kill about 200 workers each year and injure nearly 5,000. In many of these workplace fires, inadequate fire extinguishing systems and locked fire exits contributed to the losses. To prevent those losses, it’s important to take a closer look at inspections, exits, fire extinguishers and training.
When inspecting workplaces, at a minimum, be sure to check for the following:
- Ensure extension cords are not being used in place of permanent wiring. If additional receptacles are needed to power appliances and equipment, have a certified electrician install them.
- Do not run power cords for appliances and equipment under carpeting. Over time, the protective insulation can be worn or frayed, resulting in bare electrical conductors arcing and starting a fire.
- Ensure flammable materials are properly stored either outside the workplace or in an approved fireproof storage cabinet.
- Permit smoking only in designated smoking areas and ensure noncombustible receptacles are available.
- Do not store combustible items near electrical appliances or equipment. Also, keep the area around this equipment clear to ensure proper ventilation and cooling.
- Check electrical appliances and equipment for the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) label before purchasing them.
Ensure you check fire exits when doing workplace inspections. Consider the following as you develop your checklist: • Ensure your facility has a sufficient number of exits. Each workplace should have at least two separate means of escape. • Inspect emergency lighting to ensure it properly illuminates the paths to exits. • Check the exit routes from your building to be sure they are properly marked as exits and are free and clear of obstructions. • Be sure to keep doors marked as fire exits unlocked at all times while employees are in the building. Firefighting equipment
Fire extinguishers are an important part of your fire prevention program. When used properly, they can save lives and property by putting out small fires or controlling them until the professionals arrive. In addition, fixed systems can enhance fire safety within a facility by detecting fires, sounding an alarm and releasing a fire suppressant.
Ensure your workplace has enough fire extinguishers and they are the proper type for the fire hazards present. The types and uses of fire extinguishers are listed below:
- Type A: Use for ordinary combustibles such as paper and wood.
- Type B: Use for flammable liquids such as grease, solvents and gasoline.
- Type C: Use for electrical fires involving equipment such as fuse panels, computers and other energized equipment.
- Type D: Use for combustible metals such as magnesium, titanium and potassium.
- Type K: Use for kitchen fires involving combustible cooking liquids and fats.
Conduct monthly visual inspections of fire extinguishers for proper marking, maintenance and serviceability. During your inspection, be sure there are no obstructions blocking access to the extinguishers. If your workplace is equipped with a fire suppression system, be sure it is inspected and properly maintained.
Workers need to know how to properly use fire extinguishers and should be taught, at a minimum, the following:
- Sound the fire alarm and notify the fire department.
- Before approaching a fire, identify a safe evacuation path and ensure nothing obstructs it.
- Use the appropriate extinguisher for the type of fire encountered.
- Discharge the extinguisher within its effective range using the PASS (Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep) technique (see info box below).
- Move away from an extinguished fire just in case it flares up again.
- If the fire extinguisher has been fully discharged and the fire is not out, evacuate the workplace immediately. Be sure workers also understand they are to evacuate immediately if the fire progresses beyond their ability to control it.
For more information on preventing workplace fires, visit the OSHA website at https://www.OSHA.gov.
Can You P.A.S.S. This Test?
Do you know what to do if you have to fight a fire with an extinguisher? If not, familiarize yourself with the simple P.A.S.S. technique described below:
- Pull the pin. This will also break the tamper seal.
- Aim low, pointing the extinguisher’s nozzle, horn or hose at the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the handle so it will release the extinguishing agent.
- Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire until the extinguisher is empty and the fire is out.
The U.S. Fire Administration has a wealth of information on its Workplace Fire Safety page, including safety tips, presentations, employer messaging, and ready-to-use social media posts and graphics. Check it out at https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/workplace-fires.