Occupational fire extinguisher safety calls for hand-held suppressors that employees can easily access in the event of a workplace incident. Statistics indicate that portable extinguishers prevent fires from spreading so effectively that sprinkler systems are not triggered.
Strategically placing the proper fire extinguishers, and training staff members on how to use them, can eliminate the need to call local fire departments. Below are facts about the occupational use of fire extinguishers that safety leaders would be well served to consider.
What Industries Experience the Most Fires?
It may seem counterintuitive, but the industries that experience the most fires are not necessarily large smelting plants and businesses in the melting fields. Facilities that use lava-like hot pours appear more prepared to prevent extreme heat and molten metal from starting a fire.
Commercial cooking operations and those that use extensive lighting and heating equipment experience the most indoor fires. These rank among the most vulnerable operations in the industrial and manufacturing sectors, according to an NFPA report:
- Commercial Cooking Equipment: Occupational fire extinguisher safety training is essential to this industry. Equipment such as fryers, open-flame natural gas stoves, and ovens are inherent fire hazards. According to the NFPA, 4 percent of all industrial fires are caused by cooking equipment. More than 60 percent of dine-in restaurant fires are also reportedly caused by cooking equipment.
- Electrical & Lighting Equipment: No major industry is exempt from the threat of electrical fires. At 24 percent, electrically powered lighting and other equipment account for 24 percent of all structural fires. Electrical and lighting equipment also led to the largest number of injuries and property losses, at 9 and 55 percent, respectively.
- Heating Equipment: Heating equipment is responsible for 16 percent of all industrial fires and an equal percentage of civilian injuries. Heating equipment causes approximately 4 percent of the related property damage.
- Torching and Burning: The use of blow torches, soldering guns, and open-flame industrial equipment led to 28 percent of workplace injuries. That figure represents the most of any niche and a disproportionate amount, considering torching and burning occupations were linked to only 4 percent of fires and 5 percent of property damage.
Wearing appropriate disposable personal protective clothing and equipment can also significantly reduce workplace injuries. Open flame occupations caused 3 percent of fires, 5 percent of property damage, and only 2 percent of injuries in industrial settings.
Manufacturing plants suffered the greatest number of unintentional fires from heating equipment at 15 percent. Electrical distribution and lighting accounts for 8 percent, with torching and burning trades, as well as cooking equipment, representing 6 percent. Intentional fires and open-flame exposure equaled 6 percent when combined.
Mechanical failures typically lead to the highest number of structural fires in manufacturing plants. Ignition malfunctions were the primary cause of 28 percent of all incidents. When devices give off sparks, materials such as dust, lint, and combustible liquids can burst into flames and spread rapidly. Strategically placed hand-held suppressors and occupational fire extinguisher safety training help confine flames and prevent buildings from becoming fully incinerated.
Types of Fire Extinguishers and Suppression Agents
Fire extinguishers are typically categorized into five classes. The respective types are designed to handle either general fire suppression needs or niche hazards. Providing employees with occupational fire extinguisher safety training and details about the specific on-site models can significantly improve the chances of stopping a blaze before it spreads.
These are the five types of extinguishers:
- Class A: Designed to extinguish fires driven by common combustible materials such as cardboard, dust, and lumber. Class A products generally use water. Each extinguisher manufacturer is required to post the amount of water and fire it can stop.
- Class B: This type of extinguisher is designed to suppress grease and other flammable liquids and gels. Designed for everyday people to operate, they are usually filled with products such as aqueous film-forming foam or chemicals that include ammonium phosphate and pressurized carbon dioxide. Class B extinguishers are considered standard when companies engage in cooking or handling flammables such as gasoline, oil, and kerosene, among others.
- Class C: Often used to suppress electrical fires, the letter “C” highlights the fact the product uses a non-conductive agent. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a prevalent non-conductive agent found in Class C models.
- Class D: Engineered for use in metallurgy settings, these products are often specifically deployed based on the type of metals and items in the workplace. They do not necessarily have a rating posted on them. Using dry chemicals to suppress flames, materials such as graphite, granular sodium chloride, and copper are considered effective. Class D models can also be used in other settings.
- Class K: This fire extinguisher is specifically designed to provide enhanced fire control and suppression for cooking media. It utilizes an agent that forms a soapy foam that blankets cooking oils, effectively choking out the flames.
Those tasked with installing and maintaining extinguishers can also lean on products labeled “ABC.” The ABC label indicates it can be used to suppress multiple threats. But it’s crucial to understand that Class A products use water, which can spread grease and combustible liquid fires.
What Regulations (NFPA) Cover Fire Extinguishers?
The NFPA calls for strategically positioned fire extinguishers that can be readily accessed in the event of an emergency. Classes of fire extinguishers must be consistent with the processes, risk factors, and materials likely to ignite in the workplace. Although local and state fire safety regulations may differ, these are standard NFPA guidelines.
- Class A fire extinguishers cannot be more than 75 feet apart.
- Class B models have a travel distance of 30 to 50 feet, based on their rating.
- Class C extinguishers typically fall under Class A or B placement guidelines.
- Class D products must enjoy a travel distance of 75 feet or fewer.
- Class K models used specifically for cooking media cannot more than 30 feet away.
The basic principle of fire safety regulations involves access. The farther away an extinguisher is from a potential incident, the more likely it is to spread and ignite other nearby combustible materials. It’s also critical to ensure each fire extinguisher is appropriately maintained and inspected on a regular basis.
Why Fire Extinguishers Must Be Maintained and Examined
Fire extinguishers typically need to undergo an external examination once per year to ensure rust, corrosion, or dents have not diminished pressure levels. Internal assessments are usually required annually or up to every six years, depending on the extinguisher’s classification. Dry chemical extinguishers generally require less frequent internal inspections than those with liquid and foaming agents.
Do Fire Extinguishers Expire?
The short answer is: Yes. Like any product, fire extinguishers have a life expectancy. Traditional hand-held products generally last between 10 and 12 years.
Occupational Fire Extinguisher Safety Data to Consider
According to the Fire Industry Association, portable extinguishers were responsible for suppressing upwards of 93 percent of blazes in 2021. That figure has been trending in a positive direction, up from 80 percent in 2003.
What may be even more significant about portable fire extinguishers is that hand-held models dealt with 83 percent of incidents and those fires did not grow large enough to trigger commercial sprinkler systems. Nearly 2 million flare-ups are promptly suppressed annually without calling local fire departments. Some estimate that portable extinguishers save companies $5 billion in losses annually.
Safety Measures for Portable Extinguishers
The importance of educating workers on occupational fire extinguisher safety methods cannot be understated. One of the most straightforward techniques employees need to learn is the PASS method. This acronym stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep.
Staff members need to know how to “Pull” the extinguisher’s pin, aim at the fire, and squeeze the handle to release suppressing agents towards the blaze. It’s also crucial to steadily cover the area using a “sweeping” motion.
Proactive fire prevention remains a vital step in avoiding workplace incidents. Industrial, manufacturing, and other commercial environments are also tasked with installing and maintaining sprinkler systems. These pressure-driven systems come into play when heat triggers individual sensors. These sites also require routine inspections, as do electrical, lighting, and heating equipment. This also applies to flammable liquid(s) storage facilities.