Fire Prevention Awareness Week falls in October every year, but fire safety is important all year round. It’s our opinion that every business should designate one day each month to focus on ensuring their fire extinguishers are ready for use, thus extinguishing the headaches around annual inspections.
Every year, at least 3,000 fires occur in workplaces, causing more than $112 million in property damage alone—that’s not counting the cost of business interruption. Therefore, creating a culture of safety within your organization is critically important. It can even be turned into a fun learning exercise for your team.
Managers and employees may take those red canisters hanging on the wall for granted, and might not even realize where the nearest ones are located. However, the last place anyone wants to discover that the fire extinguisher is malfunctioning is face-to-face with a raging fire. Instead, it’s a great feeling to be prepared for an emergency.
Here are the basics on how to keep your extinguishers in good working order, leading to safer employees and less risk for your business.
Fire Safety: Required by Law
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers must follow these steps:
- Inspect and test all portable fire extinguishers. A monthly visual inspection is required. Details are below.
- Perform and record annual maintenance checks. The records need to be maintained for a year.
- Empty and maintain dry chemical extinguishers every six years. A hydrostatic test must also be performed every six years. There is an exception to this: dry chemical extinguishers with non-refillable disposable containers.
- Provide alternate and equivalent protection when portable fire extinguishers are removed from the business for maintenance and recharging.
The Monthly Check-Up
Remembering to carry out monthly inspections can be tricky, so we suggest setting a date on your calendar each month, or simply hiring a company that takes care of it on your behalf. In fact, outsourcing routine maintenance can be very cost-effective in addition to being convenient. Should you opt for this route, you can get a sense of average pricing on websites like Thumbtack to ensure you’re paying a fair price.
To carry out a full check, you must:
- Walk up to the extinguisher as if you needed to use it at that moment. Make sure each extinguisher is visible, unobstructed, and in the right location. The number of extinguishers you have in your workplace will depend on the size of your space, but extinguishers should be placed roughly every 75 feet.
- Look for the operating instructions on the nameplate. They must be legible and facing outward. The nameplate contains all the information on how to use a particular type of extinguisher, and the label instructions may vary according to type and size.
- Confirm that the tamper seal is not broken and the locking pin is intact. The seal is proof that no tampering or use has occurred since the last inspection. It also keeps the safety pin from getting loose or falling out. Without that pin, accidental discharging of the extinguisher might occur. The seal will also display the last major inspection date.
- Look for obvious physical damage, corrosion, leaks, or nozzle clogs. Make sure the hose is intact.
- Check that the pressure gauge or indicator is in operating range and make sure the extinguisher is still full (by lifting it).
- Read the tag carefully. The tag is the paper record of inspections, similar to the signs you see in elevators. A licensed fire extinguisher maintenance contractor should have inspected the device within the last 12 months.
- Initial and date the back of the tag once you have carried out all of the above checks. Write legibly.
Two different types of extinguishers exist. A cartridge-operated extinguisher has an indicator rather than a pressure gauge. You will want to make sure that the indicator is not up and charged. It should be depressed.
A CO2(carbon dioxide) extinguisher is self-expelling and will pressurize itself. It doesn’t have a gauge , so you just need to make sure that it is full. Weigh the extinguisher and make sure the weight is the same as what was recorded on the tag.
The Annual Inspection
A professional fire protection company should come to your place of business once a year—like clockwork—with the proper training and tools to ensure compliance. They will spot and fix any potentially dangerous situations, including broken fire alarms, and finally place a date-stamped inspection tag (good for another year) on the unit. If an extinguisher fails inspection, it will need to be repaired or replaced.
Curious about what a professional inspector does during this inspection? Lancashire Fire Protection has a great 2-minute video to show you the basics.
Pass or Fail at Six Years
The in-depth inspection every six years is a hydrostatic test, during which an inspector empties the rechargeable extinguishers, and places themunder water pressures beyond their ratings. If a cylinder fails the test, they destroy it. If it passes, they reassemble, recharge, and return it to service.
Once done, a metallic or similar label will be attached to each extinguisher, indicating the month and year of maintenance and who performed the service. Old labels are removed, and new ones are affixed.
Fire extinguishers generally last between five and 15 years, and many come with a warranty upon purchase. As with any business investment, be sure to read reviews to find reputable professionals.
Ignite Your Team’s Interest in Fire Safety
Fire drills usually garner eye rolls and sighs in most workplaces, but preparing employees is essential to mitigating risk. Like any training, make your fire drills and education sessions fun and interactive. Teach your team members how to use a fire extinguisher and host lunch-and-learns or coffee break trainings that include a video or two.
Want to make your training even more engaging? Create your own themed event and challenge the team to a chili-making contest, or invite your local fire department to stop by and take part in the day of learning. Quiz show formats with prizes, meme-creation contests, and a host of other fun techniques can be used to remove the ho-hum factor from safety training and engage every single employee. You never know who the next company hero might be!
Make Your Next Inspection a Breeze
We at SafetyTek are committed not only to keeping you safe but also to making your work life more manageable. That's why we've created this free checklist for fire extinguisher inspections, which you can download below.