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Fire? It Won’t Happen Here

In the words of Frank Zappa, “It Can’t Happen Here”. That’s the way many perceive the danger of fire in their workplace. Although the chances of a fire at your workplace may be slim, the benefits to be gained from proper fire safety planning are immeasurable.

You undoubtedly do a lot to prevent workplace fires, and perhaps you feel comfortable that your efforts will fireproof your facility. But since you just never know, and since it doesn’t take much for a fire to get started, it’s always best to be prepared and plan for the fire you don’t expect.

Subpart L of OSHA’s general industry standards cover the fire protection requirements, including fixed and portable fire suppression systems, employee alarm systems, fire detection systems, fire brigades, and so on.

The other fire-related part you need to refer to is Subpart E, Means of Egress, which deals with fire exits, emergency action plans, and fire prevention plans.

Here’s a quick review of key requirements, starting with fire prevention plans.

Fire Prevention Plans

Your fire prevention plan (29 CFR 1910.39) must include:

  • A list of all major fire hazards, proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials, potential ignition sources and their control, and the type of fire protection equipment necessary to control each major hazard
  • Procedures to control accumulations of flammable and combustible waste materials
  • Procedures for regular maintenance of safeguards installed on heat-producing equipment to prevent the accidental ignition of combustible materials
  • The name or job title of employees responsible for maintaining equipment to prevent or control sources of ignition or fires
  • The name or job title of employees responsible for the control of fuel source hazards

All employees must be made aware of potential fire hazards in their jobs and work areas and the procedures called for in your fire prevention plan. Your plan should be reviewed with all new employees when they begin work and with all workers when the plan changes.

Fire Exits

Each workplace building must have at least two means of escape, remote from each other, to be used in a fire emergency (29 CFR 1910.35-37).

Fire doors must not be blocked or locked to prevent emergency use when employees are within the building. Delayed opening of fire doors is permitted when an approved alarm system is integrated into the fire door design.

Portable Fire Extinguishers

Each workplace building must have a full complement of the proper type of portable fire extinguishers for the fire hazards present (29 CFR 1910.157).

Only approved fire extinguishers are permitted, and they must be in good operating condition. Proper maintenance and inspection of this equipment is required.

Employees expected or likely to use extinguishers must be properly trained.

Emergency Evacuation Planning

A written emergency action plan for evacuation in the event of a fire is required, plus procedures for accounting for all evacuated employees (29 CFR 1910.39).

Where needed, special procedures for helping physically impaired employees must be addressed in the plan, and it must include procedures for employees who remain behind temporarily to shut down critical equipment before they evacuate the fire.

The preferred means of alerting employees to a fire emergency must be part of the plan, and an employee alarm system must be available and used. The system may be voice communication or signals such as bells, whistles, or horns. (Experts point out that a visual alert such as flashing lights is appropriate for warning hearing-impaired workers.) Employees must know the evacuation signal.

Training of all employees in what to do in the event of a fire is required. Retraining is required whenever evacuation procedures change. And periodic fire drills should be conducted so that employees can practice evacuations.

Fire Suppression, Detection, and Alarm Systems

OSHA says that fixed fire suppression systems, properly designed and installed, enhance fire safety in the workplace (29 CFR 1910.159-163).

When it is necessary to take a system out of service while business continues, you must temporarily substitute a fire watch with trained employees standing by to respond quickly to any fire emergency.

Signs must be posted warning employees about total-flooding fire suppression systems that use hazardous agents. And automatic systems must be equipped with pre-discharge alarm systems to warn employees of the impending discharge and allow time to evacuate the area.

Fire detection and alarm systems are also required (29 CFR 1910.164,165).

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