The United States Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970, as an agency of the Department of Labor. OSHA's mission is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths through rules designed to ensure workplace health and safety. A deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Labor is responsible for the issuance and enforcement of the rules. Fire extinguisher regulations are part of the OSHA mandate.
Employers are required to provide portable fire extinguishers that are accessible to employees without risk of injury. These fire extinguishers must not use carbon tetrachloride or chlorobromomethane extinguishing agents. Extinguishers must be identified and maintained in a fully charged and operable condition, and mounted in place at all times except during use. Older fire extinguishers that rely on self-generating soda acid, foam or gas cartridges, which are operated by inverting the extinguisher to rupture the cartridge or generate a reaction to expel the agent, are not permissible under OSHA regulations, as of February 2010.
Selection and Distribution of Fire Extinguishers
Employers are required to distribute portable fire extinguishers in such a way that employees do not need to travel more than 75 feet (22.9m) to reach an extinguisher in the case of Class A fires (combustible materials such as paper and wood, but not liquids and gases). This requirement may be satisfied by uniformly spacing standpipe systems or hose stations within a sprinkler system, as long as employees are trained at least annually in their use, and the system provides total coverage of the area to be protected.
Inspection, Maintenance and Testing
Employers are responsible for inspecting, testing and maintaining all workplace fire extinguishers. Portable extinguishers, hose stations and sprinkler systems must be visually inspected every month. A full maintenance check is required every year. Employers must also keep inspection records. Extinguishers that require hydrostatic testing every 12 years must be emptied and subjected to maintenance every six years. The six-year requirement begins on the date that recharging or maintenance is performed. When extinguishers are removed from service for maintenance or recharging, employers are responsible for assuring alternate equivalent protection.
Hydrostatic testing must be performed by trained persons with authorized equipment and facilities. Before testing, all cylinders and shells must be internally examined. Whenever fire extinguishers show signs of corrosion or mechanical injury, they must be hydrostatically tested. Carbon dioxide extinguishers, nitrogen cylinders, and carbon dioxide cylinders must be tested every five years at 5/3 of the service pressure stamped on the cylinder. Air or gas pressure may not be used for hydrostatic testing. Equipment that fails the hydrostatic pressure test must be removed from service. Employers are responsible for maintaining records of all hydrostatic testing. Employers are also responsible for ensuring that third-party testers comply with all OSHA regulations.
Training and Education
Employers are responsible for providing training and education to all employees in the use of fire extinguishers and the hazards of stopping fires. Employers are responsible for designating employees (within emergency action plans) to use fire-fighting equipment.
- fire extinguisher image by Chris Roselli from Fotolia.com