Here in the United States, we have a proud tradition of setting things on fire. Starting with the Revolutionary War—up through the most recent Transformers movie—our nation has continually expressed a unique love of infernos, gunfire, rockets, and explosions. Where else can you chomp down on a chargrilled burger while waving a sparkler in the air and watching a monster truck blow flames out of its exhaust?
Yes, there’s truly no country like the US. But the freedom to play with fire comes at a cost: the risk of injury, loss of life, lawsuits, fines, or regulatory action that follows fire-related accidents.
With the 4th of July happening next week, we’ve been thinking a lot about environmental health and safety. (We’re a compliance company—what do you expect?) Namely, we’ve been contrasting intentional and unintentional fireworks: what should and shouldn’t go up in flames, and what to do in the event of a dangerous fire.
As we celebrate our nation’s independence, let’s review a few fire extinguisher basics:
Know the Differences Between Fires, and the Different Kinds of Fire Extinguishers
In the US, fires are classified into 5 types: A, B, C, D, and… K (what happened to E through J?). Each class refers to the kind of fire by the fuel it burns:
- Class A fires are the result of paper, wood, and other kinds of combustibles that leave behind ash.
- Class B fires are characterized by the presence of flammable liquids such as oil and gasoline.
- Class C fires are electrical equipment fires.
- Class D fires happen when flammable metals (such as sodium, potassium, or lithium) burn.
- Class K fires are kitchen” fires—that is, fires involving cooking oil or grease.
Not every fire extinguisher is designed for every kind of fire. Water-based extinguishers only work for Class A fires, for instance, and could actually intensify and spread flames in other instances (this is why you should never try to put out a kitchen fire with water). Your workplace’s fire extinguisher(s) should be labeled with their classification.
Many offices have multi-purpose, dry chemical extinguishers that can be used in the event of a Class A, B, or C fire. Class D and K extinguishers are typically found in laboratories and commercial kitchens, and tend to use different coloring—yellow for Class D, silver for Class K.
Follow OSHA Guidelines on Fire Extinguisher Installation and Training
OSHA requires that all employers follow certain regulations for fire extinguisher installation, training, use, inspection, and testing. Here are a few of the agency’s requirements, direct from the source:
- Provide portable fire extinguishers and mount, locate, and identify them so that they are readily accessible to employees without subjecting the employees to possible injury.
- Use only approved portable fire extinguishers.
- Not use portable fire extinguishers that use carbon tetrachloride or chlorobromomethane extinguishing agents
- Assure that portable fire extinguishers are maintained, fully charged, operating properly, and kept in designated places at all times except during use.
- Remove from service all soldered or riveted shell self-generating soda acid or self-generating foam or gas cartridge water type portable fire extinguishers that are operated by inverting the extinguisher to rupture the cartridge or to initiate an uncontrollable pressure generating chemical reaction to expel the agent.
Training and Education
- Provide an educational program to familiarize employees with the general principles of fire extinguisher use and the hazards involved with incipient stage fire fighting.
- Provide this education when employees are first hired and once a year thereafter.
- Train employees (who have been designated to use fire fighting equipment in the emergency action plan) in the use of the equipment.
- Provide this training when employees are first given this assignment and once a year thereafter.
Inspection, Maintenance, and Testing
- Inspect, maintain, and test all portable fire extinguishers in the workplace.
- Visually inspect portable extinguishers or hoses monthly.
- Perform an annual maintenance check on portable fire extinguishers. Stored pressure extinguishers do not require an internal examination.
- Record the annual maintenance date and retain this record for one year after the last entry or the life of the shell, whichever is less.
- Make the record available to the Assistant Secretary upon request.
- Empty and maintain dry chemical extinguishers (that require a 12-year hydrostatic test) every six years. Dry chemical extinguishers that have non-refillable disposable containers are exempt from this requirement. When recharging or hydrostatic testing is performed, the six-year requirement begins from that date.
- Provide alternate equivalent protection when portable fire extinguishers are removed from service for maintenance and recharging.
For a full list of OSHA requirements for fire extinguishers, click here.
Take Care of Accidents Waiting to Happen
Aside from following the relevant laws and regulations around fire safety, organizations of all kinds can take steps to reduce their chances of a fire-related accident:
- Limit access to flammable or combustible materials, and store them in a cool, dry place—away from other materials or devices that could catch on fire.
- Inspect electronic devices, as well as flammable and combustible materials, for damage and degradation. If something is broken or has expired, get rid of it.
- Plan ahead. Use flammable or combustible materials in a safe, open space, and wear proper protective materials. Create an emergency action plan, and train and periodically remind employees what to do in the event of a fire.
- Practice common-sense safety. Don’t light fireworks indoors, in crowded spaces, or during a windy day. Follow the instructions for using flammable or combustible materials. Don’t mix fire and alcohol.
However you choose to celebrate, we hope you have a fun, safe, appropriately explosive Independence Day.
For more compliance tips and guidance, check out our blog.