Fires are the most common cause of small business emergencies according to OSHA. Fires represent a threat to equipment, buildings, employees, and customers. Smoke from even a small fire can damage furniture, equipment, paper documents, and walls. Left uncontrolled, even a small blaze can turn into a building-destroying conflagration. Fires, put simply, are dangerous, and all employees should understand how to respond in the event of a blaze.
OSHA Fire Extinguisher Training
OSHA requires all employees to complete fire extinguisher training at least once a year. To be compliant with OSHA 29 CFR 1910.157(g), a fire extinguisher course must teach employees how to assess a fire safely, the correct use of the fire extinguisher PASS method, and how to determine when evacuation is required.
All fires require a source of fuel, heat, oxygen, and a chain reaction. Fire extinguishers work by removing one of these elements. Your fire extinguisher course will teach you the different classes of fire, based on the type of fuel burned:
- Class A: Combustible Materials (paper, wood, coal, cloth, rubber, and many plastics).
- Class B: Liquid or Gas Fires (gasoline, alcohol, diesel oil, oil-based paints, oil-based lacquers, and flammable gases).
- Class C: Energized Electrical Fire (a fire fed by a power source).
- Class D: Metallic Fires (magnesium, titanium, and sodium).
- Class K: Grease/Cooking Fires (vegetable oils, animal oils, and fats).
Different types of fire extinguishers are required for different classes of fire. Employees should know how to match the correct type of fire extinguisher to its corresponding fire class. Using a fire extinguisher on the wrong class of fire can worsen the fire hazard and endanger lives.
When to Use a Fire Extinguisher?
Assess any fire before using a fire extinguisher. Only attempt to control the fire yourself if:
- The fire is small and controllable,
- You have the right fire extinguisher for the class of fire involved,
- You have a safe evacuation route.
If any of these factors are an issue, evacuate the area and call your local fire department rather than attempting to fight the fire on your own.
How to Use the Fire Extinguisher PASS Method
OSHA fire extinguisher training teaches the PASS method. PASS stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep:
- Pull the fire extinguisher pin while pointing the nozzle away from you, then release the extinguisher’s locking mechanism. Use a twisting motion while you pull to break the safety tie.
- Aim low, pointing the nozzle at the base of the fire. The base of the fire is where oxygen combines with fuel and heat to cause a chain reaction. Aiming high fires the extinguisher over the source of the fire.
- Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly. If using a CO2 extinguisher, the nozzle will get cold enough to cause frostbite if touched.
- Sweep the nozzle from side to side.
When to Evacuate during a Fire
Fire extinguishers are not intended to combat large, out of control fires. evacuate the area immediately and call the fire brigade:
- If the extinguisher empties before the fire is out.
- If the fire has grown too large to safely handle.
- If the fire involves flammable solvents or is in proximity to locations where flammable solvents are stored.
- If the fire is partially hidden behind a wall, ceiling, or floor.
- If the fire cannot be reached with the fire extinguisher from a standing position.
- If the fire grows to more the 60 square feet in area.
- If smoke and heat make the air unsafe to breathe.
- If your planned evacuation route becomes blocked.
- If the environment becomes too hot or smoky for safety.
During an evacuation, fire extinguishers may be used to keep evacuation routes open. It may become necessary to crawl along the route on all fours to minimize contact with heat and smoke, especially if visibility is poor. Leave the building and call for emergency assistance.
Fire Extinguisher Training and Fire Prevention
An annual OSHA fire extinguisher training course will keep your business OSHA compliant while teaching employees valuable emergency skills.
Fire extinguishers are one of your last lines of defense against fires--it’s much better to practice proper fire prevention strategies. Industrial fire prevention differs from fire prevention guidelines for healthcare facilities and offices, as do fire prevention procedures for environments where hazardous waste is present.
Extinguisher efficiency decreases with time, so check regularly to see if your extinguishers need replacing. Ideally, you’ll never have a fire, but if you do, training your employees in the fire extinguisher PASS method could save your business from a serious blaze.