Employees should know the questions to ask when considering whether or not to fight a small fire at work, how to safely attempt to put out a fire with a portable fire extinguisher, and what to do if evacuation becomes the only option.
All workers should have a clear understanding of the organization’s fire safety plan. Guidance to employees should include when it might be appropriate and helpful to fight a small fire with a portable fire extinguisher and when it’s the right decision to evacuate immediately.
OSHA Standard 1926.150(a)(1) The employer shall be responsible for the development of a fire protection program to be followed throughout all phases of the construction and demolition work, and shall provide for the firefighting equipment.
Portable fire extinguishers are labeled with color-coded letters and/or pictograms that indicate the type of fire they are designed to extinguish. It is critically important that the right type of extinguisher be used on the specific class of fire to avoid personal injury and damage to property. Using the wrong type of fire extinguisher could be ineffective, result in electrical shock, cause an explosion or even spread the fire.
OSHA Standard 1910.157(g)(1) Where the employer has provided portable fire extinguishers for employee use in the workplace, the employer shall also provide an educational program to familiarize employees with the general principles of fire extinguisher use and the hazards involved with incipient stage fire fighting.
Personnel who are trained and authorized to use portable fire extinguishers must know how to conduct a risk assessment to determine whether or not it is safe to fight a fire or if the best course of action is to evacuate. Before attempting to extinguish any fire, consider these questions first.
How big is the fire?
Only attempt to put out a fire if it is contained to a small area, is in the early stages of developing, and has not started to spread quickly, also known as an incipient stage fire.
Is the atmosphere safe?
If you can see a lot of smoke, feel hot temperatures, have limited visibility or know there are hazardous materials in the area, then do not attempt to stay and fight the fire.
Where is the escape route?
If you attempt to fight a fire, an escape route should be behind you. Do not use a fire extinguisher if your means of evacuation is not clear or compromised.
Is the correct fire extinguisher available?
Make sure the fire extinguisher you have on hand matches the type of fuel that is burning.
Are you calm and in control?
If you feel panicked, overwhelmed or unsure of the situation, do not attempt to fight the fire.
When the decision has been made to attempt to put out a fire, take these actions first, before pulling the pin on the fire extinguisher.
Remember, the best method for using a fire extinguisher is with the acronym PASS, which stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep.
After successfully extinguishing any fire:
Once the fire extinguisher is empty, evacuate immediately if you were unable to put the fire out. If indoors, close the door behind you to help confine the fire. Ensure emergency services has been notified and all other personnel have also evacuated the area or the building.
If no person on site attempts to extinguish the fire, then all personnel should evacuate the area immediately. If indoors, everyone should exit the building, no matter how far away from the fire they are located.
Do not attempt to extinguish a workplace fire if…
Report any fire extinguishers that have been used. Even if the extinguisher was used for a short time, it should be reported as used.
If using a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher, do not touch the plastic horn as it can become very cold and cause damage to skin.
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