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Fire Extinguishers: Frequently Asked Questions and Safety Guidelines

Q. Are there any standards that govern the use of fire extinguishers in a workplace?

A.

Fire safety in the workplace is covered under OSHA standard 1910.157, which requires employers to provide portable fire extinguishers in such a manner that employees can readily access them during an emergency. The standard details the type of extinguisher to be used as well as their distribution and location. Information about equipment maintenance and testing, and employee training and education is also provided. 


Additionally, NFPA code 10 details requirements to ensure that portable fire extinguishers work as required to protect against limited-size fires.

Q. How can businesses determine the rightful location of fire extinguishers?

A.

The placement of fire extinguishers depends on the type and size of fire likely to occur at a workplace based on the combustibles present. These combustibles are divided into classes A, B, C, D, and K, and the type and spacing of extinguishers vary across these classes. 

Class A combustible material containing places such as offices, classrooms, and assembly halls are required to have a 2-A extinguisher for every 3,000 square feet. These should be placed within a 75-feet travel distance of each employee. 

Places such as manufacturing units, research areas, warehouses, workshops, etc., which contain Class B combustibles, should place extinguishers so that employees can reach them without traveling farther than 50-feet. Hazard levels for this category are divided into low, moderate, and high, with different extinguisher types and spacing requirements for each level. 

Establishments that use energized electrical equipment should be equipped with Class C extinguishers, the type and spacing of which depends on hazards covered under Class A or B hazard. 

Class D extinguishers are required to be placed 75 feet from the hazard in places where combustible metal powders, flakes, shavings, or similarly sized materials are generated at least once every two weeks. 

Places at risk of fire from cooking substances such as vegetable/animal oils and fats must install Class K extinguishers within a 30-feet travel distance. 

This OSHA resource provides detailed information about the correct placement and spacing of fire extinguishers. 

Q. How high on a wall should fire extinguishers be placed?

A.

OSHA requires employers to mount portable fire extinguishers such that the carrying handle is 

3-1/2 to 5 feet above the floor for regular size extinguishers and about 3 feet from the floor for larger extinguishers. These should be mounted on brackets or placed inside wall cabinets to be readily accessible and not be moved or damaged.

You should also refer to your local fire code and local building code who may specify a tighter range for the mounting height. It is also a good practice to check and stay updated with the NFPA standard for portable extinguishers. 

Q. Is every employer required to provide fire extinguishers at the workplace?

A.

There are certain exemptions provided by OSHA to installing fire extinguishers at work. Portable fire extinguishers are not a mandatory requirement in workplaces that have a written fire safety policy requiring all employees to immediately evacuate the workplace upon hearing a fire alarm. This exemption holds true unless otherwise required under 1910.157.

 Additionally, in workplaces where only certain employees are authorized to use the available portable fire extinguishers when required while all other employees should vacate the affected area, the employer is not required to comply with the distribution requirements stated in 1910.157.

Q. In what ways can employers ensure that workers can access and use fire extinguishers during an emergency?

A.

One of the most important elements of a robust fire safety plan is employee communication and training. Employees should be aware of the procedure to be followed during a fire emergency. Mock fire drills are also a good way to remind everyone of the fire safety protocol. 


Employees should know where to find extinguishers and how to use them. Visual communication can be rather helpful to this end and is often a mandatory requirement. Installing instructional posters about using an extinguisher and signage to locate extinguishers helps prevent chaos during an emergency and can limit damage to a great extent.

Q. Should fire extinguishers be placed inside cabinets?

A.

Although it is not mandated by OSHA, portable fire extinguishers are often placed inside recessed cabinets to meet the applicable building or local fire code that may require it to be ADA-compliant. According to ADA guidelines, wall-mounted objects with their leading edges located between 27" and 80" above the floor cannot protrude more than 4” into corridors, passages, walkways, or aisles. Recessed cabinets help meet this requirement. Fire extinguisher inside labels and stickers are a suitable way to mark fire extinguisher locations. 


You may refer to this OSHA training resource for more information.

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