Your employees are busy working when one notices smoke billowing from behind a machine. As he gets closer, he sees flames. He grabs the nearest fire extinguisher and starts to spray. Within minutes, the fire is under control and the employee is a hero.

Sound too good to be true? It could be. What if your worker didn’t know how to use the extinguisher? What if the extinguisher didn’t work? Or, what if he used the wrong extinguisher and the flames increased? These problems could occur if training on the use of fire extinguishers was not provided. Placing a few units in some strategic locations and expecting your employees to know how to use them just won’t do the trick.

Who Should Be Trained?
Fighting a fire is risky business. Do you want your people involved in something the fire department really should handle? That is an assessment your plant needs to make. OSHA only requires you to train employees in extinguisher use if you want them to fight fires. If you clearly specify in your emergency action plan, and communicate to your employees, that they should always evacuate in case of fire, then you need not train them on how to fight fires. At the other extreme, facilities with fire brigades must provide extensive training.

Most take a middle-of-the-road approach, expecting workers to use extinguishers to fight small, contained fires, but requiring them to evacuate if the fire is large or out of control. Having well-trained workers who are ready to extinguish small fires, rather than wait for the fire department to show up, can keep damage and costs to a minimum.

The ABCs of Fire Extinguishers
The first step in training employees to control fires is to teach them about the different kinds of fire extinguishers and what they are used for. The four basic types and their uses are:

Class A: This type of extinguisher is used for fires that involve wood, paper, trash, rags or cloth. It controls the fire by wetting down and cooling the flames.

Class B: This type puts out fires that involve gases or flammable liquids by cutting off oxygen or reducing flame.

Class C: Suited for electrical equipment and wiring fires, this type contains carbon dioxide or a dry chemical (water conducts electricity).

Class D: This type is used for combustible metal fires such as aluminum, sodium, magnesium or zinc.

Combination ABC or BC: These are used for fires that involve combinations of the A, B and C classes.

Location, Location
Knowing where to place extinguishers throughout your plant is an important consideration. They should be conspicuously located and readily accessible for immediate use in the event of a fire. Locate them along normal paths of travel and egress.

Keep these suggestions in mind:

  • If an extinguisher isn’t visible, arrows should be posted on the wall pointing the way to one.

  • Install extinguishers on hangers, brackets, in cabinets or on shelves.

  • Ensure that operating instructions on the extinguishers face outward.

  • Travel distance for Class A and D extinguishers should not exceed 75 feet and Class B should not exceed 50 feet. There is no maximum for Class C units.

  • Classification markings must be clearly visible.

  • Never block access to extinguishers.

  • Check local government ordinances for additional requirements.

Optimum Condition
OSHA requires you to inspect all extinguishers at least once a year to verify they are charged and in good shape. Mark the inspection tag with the date to document your inspection. Other hints:

  • Store extinguishers right side up.

  • Avoid combining dry chemicals from different manufacturers.

  • Watch out for tampering or seals that have been punctured on cartridge-type chemical extinguishers.

  • Periodically disconnect and inspect hoses to ensure no obstructions exist.

Facing a Fire
The final step is to train your employees on how to use an extinguisher. The National Fire Protection Association advises people to remember “PASS.” The letters of this word stand for the steps to take when using an extinguisher:

  1. Pull the pin on the unit (some types require you to Press a lever)

  2. Aim at the base of the fire, standing about 8 feet away.

  3. Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent.

  4. Sweep from side to side until the fire is out.

NFPA also warns that you should never turn your back on a fire, even if it looks like it’s out. It could flash up again.

Even if workers are trained on using extinguishers, you still need to explain that when a fire is too large to handle, they need to evacuate. If they can’t seem to control a fire, or if it’s just too big, they should get out immediately and call the fire brigade or fire department.

Hands-on training works best. Take a training group on a tour of your plant and point out the different types of extinguishers. Look for potential fire hazards along the way, such as greasy rags, frayed wiring or blocked exits. Practice using the extinguishers outside.

This article is courtesy of TrainingOnline.com, an e-learning division of Business and Legal Reports Inc.