What the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Standards Require

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards require employers to provide proper exits, firefighting equipment, and employee training to prevent fire deaths and injuries in the workplace. Each workplace building must have at least two means of escape remote from each other to be used in a fire emergency. Fire doors must not be blocked or locked to prevent emergency use when employees are within the buildings. Delayed opening of fire doors is permitted when an approved alarm system is integrated into the fire door design. Exit routes from buildings must be clear and free of obstructions and properly marked with signs designating exits from the building.

Each workplace or building must have a full complement of the proper type of fire extinguisher for the fire hazards present, excepting when employers wish to have employees evacuate instead of fighting small fires. Employees expected or anticipated to use fire extinguishers must be instructed on the hazards of fighting fire, how to properly operate the fire extinguishers available, and what procedures to follow in alerting others to the fire emergency. Only approved fire extinguishers are permitted to be used in workplaces, and they must be kept in good operating condition.

Where the employer wishes to evacuate employees instead of having them fight small fires, there must be written emergency plans and employee training for proper evacuation. Emergency action plans are required to describe the routes to use and procedures to be followed by employees. Also, procedures for accounting for all evacuated employees must be part of the plan. The written plan must be available for employee review. Where needed, special procedures for helping physically impaired employees must be addressed in the plan; also, the plan must include procedures for those employees who must remain behind temporarily to shut down critical plant equipment before they evacuate.

The preferred means of alerting employees to a fire emergency must be part of the plan, and an employee alarm system must be available throughout the workplace complex and must be used for emergency alerting for evacuation. The alarm system may be voice communication or sound signals such as bells, whistles, or horns. Employees must know the evacuation signal.

Training of all employees in what is to be done in an emergency is required. Employers must review the plan with newly assigned employees, so they know the correct actions in an emergency, and with all employees when the plan is changed.

Employers need to implement a written fire prevention plan (FPP) to complement the fire evacuation plan to minimize the frequency of evacuation. Stopping unwanted fires from occurring is the most efficient way to handle them. The written plan shall be available for employee review. Housekeeping procedures for storage and cleanup of flammable materials and flammable waste must be included in the plan. Recycling of flammable waste such as paper is encouraged; however, handling and packaging procedures must be included in the plan. Procedures for controlling workplace ignition sources such as smoking, welding, and burning must be addressed in the plan. Heat-producing equipment such as burners, heat exchangers, boilers, ovens, stoves, fryers, etc., must be properly maintained and kept clean of accumulations of flammable residues; flammables are not to be stored close to these pieces of equipment. All employees are to be apprised of the potential fire hazards of their job and the procedures called for in the employer's FPP. The plan shall be reviewed with all new employees when they begin their job and with all employees when the plan is changed. The minimum provisions that make up an FPP are as follows:

  • • List of all major fire hazards, proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials, potential ignition sources and their control, and type of fire protection equipment necessary to control each major hazard
  • • Procedures to control accumulation of flammable and combustible materials
  • • Procedure for regular maintenance of safeguards installed on heat-producing equipment to prevent the accidental ignition of combustible materials
  • • Name or job title of employees responsible for maintaining equipment or control sources of ignition or fires
  • • Name or job title of employees responsible for the control of fuel source hazards

Any employee assigned to a job must be informed of the fire hazards to which he/she could be exposed. The employee must have received an explanation of the FPP and how it was designed to protect him/her.

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