Fire Prevention and Action Plans in the Workplace

Did you know that fire kills approximately 3,700 and injures 15,200 people in the US annually? Although, most fatalities related to fires are from smoke inhalation and not the actual fire itself. Local fire departments are excellent at fighting fires. Their response time can be amazingly fast. However, fire can cause a tremendous amount of damage in a short amount of time if left unchecked. That is why having a reliable fire prevention and action plan is vital, along with proper fire extinguishers and an educated work staff who know how and when to use them.    

Fire is a rapid chemical reaction (or a combustion). The combustion occurs when fuel and oxygen are brought together with enough heat to support ignition. Remember the fire triangle of fuel, oxygen, and heat? The theory of extinguishing a fire is to remove one of the sides of the triangle fuel, heat, or oxygen, and the chemical reaction will stop.  

Classifying & Responding to a Fire

Experts classify fires according to the fuel that they are burning. Along with this classification, a fire has four stages it can burn through. These stages are incipient, growth, fully developed, and decay. For a fire extinguisher to be useful, the fire must be in the early or incipient stage. If you were to use the wrong type of fire extinguisher, you could very well make things worse. The four common types of fire extinguishers and fires are:

A Class: Wood, Paper, Cloth, Trash, Plastics, and Solids that are not metals

B Class: Flammable Liquids such as gasoline, oils, grease, acetone – this class also includes flammable gases

C Class: Electrical energized “live” circuits or any equipment that is plugged into a live circuit

D Class: Metals such as potassium, sodium, aluminum, magnesium (requires special extinguishing agents)

K Class: Kitchen fires involving animal or vegetable oils    

Staying Compliant

Most business owners do understand they must provide portable fire extinguishers for employees to use in an emergency. Many businesses, however, miss the fact that when extinguishers are present in the workplace, OSHA requires training. This training is required upon an employee new hire onboarding and then annually after that.  

We recommend that companies never tell their employees not to use a fire extinguisher. In an emergency, if an employee chooses to use an extinguisher to defend themselves, that is their decision to make. In response to a fire at work, employees must know they are not required to use a fire extinguisher if a fire is present. Although, they must be trained to act quickly and not wait for direct instruction on how to proceed (whether they choose to fight the fire with an extinguisher or run away and pull the alarm).    

 Portable fire extinguishers are relatively lightweight, ranging from 5 to 30 pounds. They will have a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Class and Rating Label to aid in identifying the type of fire extinguisher you have. Although, fire extinguishers are not without their limitations. Such as the limited capacity of extinguishing agent, short effective range, and the total duration of discharge.  

Before activating a fire extinguisher, it is essential to identify if: 
  • the fire is in its incipient stage
  • what type of fire it is
  • if the extinguisher is appropriate for the type of fire

If you are confident in answering these questions, you will be safe to use the fire extinguisher. When using the extinguisher, remember the acronym PASS.

               P – Pull the pin to break the tamper seal

               A – Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire 

               S – Squeeze the lever to release the extinguishing agent

               S – Sweep side to side   

If the fire reignites, repeat the last three steps. 

 There are many other aspects of fire extinguisher compliance for businesses to consider. The type of extinguisher, size, placement, proper signage, and the various inspections required, including monthly and annual hydrostatic testing. At My HR Professionals, we are ready to help you with fire safety, emergency planning, fire extinguisher compliance, and local team member training.   

For questions or additional information contact us! | (479) 474-7752 |

Written by: David Qualls, My HR Professionals, Director of Risk Management, APSS, OSHA Authorized Trainer

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