Ensuring Workplace Fire Safety: OSHA Requirements for Fire Prevention Plans, Fire Extinguishers, and Exit Routes

Fire safety regulations date back to 1895 when concerns arose from the lack of standards for sprinkler systems and plumbers had logistical challenges when they attempted to install or maintain these systems. Following this initial attempt, the need for fire safety regulations was stressed due to the deadly fire that broke out at the Illinois’ Iroquois Theater. This incident led to the requirement and standardization of emergency exits, clear walkways, and exit signs. Subsequently, in 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire killed nearly 150 people which then lead to the development of outdoor fire escapes and implementation of fire drills.

Fire safety is an incredibly important measure to have in place in any company, including healthcare and dental companies. Fire safety covers a multitude of regulatory areas including fire prevention plans, fire extinguishers, and exit signs.

OSHA Fire Prevention Plan

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has developed a fire prevention plan – 1910.39. This standard states that a fire prevention plan must be: in writing, kept in the workplace, made available to employees for review. If there are 10 or fewer employees, the plan may be communicated orally to employees.

The employer is required to inform employees upon initial assignment about any fire hazards they are exposed to, and they must review the parts of the fire prevention plan necessary for self-protection with each employee. There are other minimum requirements to each fire prevention, including:

  • A list of all major fire hazards,
  • Proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials,
  • Potential ignition sources and their controls,
  • 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 accidental ignition of combustible material, and
  • Name/job title of employees who are responsible for maintaining equipment to prevent/control sources of ignition/fires.

Fire Extinguisher Requirements

Unless there is an explicitly stated statement in a fire safety policy requiring the immediate evacuation of all employees upon the sounding of a fire alarm, all employers must provide portable fire extinguishers. (It should be noted that employers must install and maintain alarm systems with distinctive signals to warn of fire or other emergencies).

There are additional requirements surrounding fire extinguishers for employers, including ensuring:

  • the correct quantity and class of fire extinguishers are readily available,
  • the fire extinguishers are operable and fully charged, and
  • that extinguishers are in a conspicuous, designated location.

If an extinguisher is discharged, it must be refilled and replaced immediately. Additionally, fire extinguishers must be visually inspected monthly and receive an annual maintenance check. Training is also vitally important and required. Upon initial employment and at least on an annual basis, training must be completed on the general principles of fire extinguishers and hazards. One of the most important principles that should be taught is that fighting a fire should never supersede an employees’ safety and they should never put them at risk. Although, those who have been designated to use firefighting equipment must be trained in the use of the equipment upon initial assignment and at least annually.

Exit Route Requirements

Exit routes present many tedious steps that must be taken to ensure that employees are kept safe in the event of a fire. Minimizing danger is key. As an employer, there are certain questions you should respond to with a “yes,” including:

  • Is the exit route free of explosive or highly flammable furnishings or decorations?
  • Is the exit route out of the way of high hazard areas?
    • If so, is it shielded from the high hazard by suitable barriers?
  • Is the exit route free and unobstructed?
  • Are the safeguards designed to protect employees during an emergency in proper working order at all times?
  • Are exit routes adequately lit?
  • Are exit signs illuminated and distinctive in color? Is “Exit” plainly legible?
  • Are exits clearly visible and marked by an “Exit” sign? Is the line-of-sight to an “Exit” sign clearly visible?
  • Are non-exit doors labeled as “Not an Exit” or clearly identified by a sign indicating its use?
  • Are exit route doors free of decorations or signs that could obscure visibility?

If there is construction, repair, or alterations to the company’s building, exit routes must be maintained. Employees may not occupy a workplace until an exit route is safely and easily accessible to them. Additionally, existing fire protections must be maintained, or alternate fire protection must be supplied that provides an equivalent level of safety. Employees must not be exposed to hazards of flammable or explosive substances or equipment used during construction, repairs, or alterations that are beyond the normal permissible conditions in the workplace, or that would impede exiting the workplace.

Fire safety regulations’ history has been marred by tragic events that acted as a catalyst for necessary safety measures. Fire safety is an indispensable aspect of any company, spreading across many regulatory areas such as fire prevention plans, fire extinguishers, and exit routes. It is not just a set of regulations and guidelines; fire safety is a commitment to safeguarding the lives and well-being of employees and visitors alike.