Each year, most companies hire an outside service to come on site to perform annual maintenance checks on fire extinguishers, as required by OSHA. (All of the specifics on this can be found in 29CFR1910.157) This is an excellent way to ensure that the portable extinguishers we have are in good working condition.
But is that all we have to do? Absolutely NOT!
What do you need to do with an extinguisher that has been used? Bring it back to the warehouse for a replacement. What if you only had to use a little bit of the contents to put out a small fire? It doesn’t matter how much of the contents you used. If you’ve Pulled the Pin, Aimed the Nozzle at the Base of the Fire, Squeezed the Trigger, and Swept Side to Side, that extinguisher MUST BE serviced.
If you haven’t used it at all, everything should be OK, right? Not necessarily! We are required to perform a Monthly Visual Inspection on every extinguisher. OSHA requires that record of this visual inspection be made available upon request; which we simply do by initialing the back of the tag on the extinguisher. (In some cases, companies may also have that same outside service back to perform the required monthly visual inspections but some may choose to do this internally.) Who should be performing this Monthly Visual Inspection? In most cases, the person responsible for the vehicle or the work area the extinguisher is located in. What are they visually inspecting? Check the general condition of the extinguisher, the hose, and the mounting bracket if it’s mounted. Look at the gage to ensure it has the appropriate pressure. Also, don’t forget to FLUFF the extinguisher every few months. That can be done by simply turning it upside down once or twice. They should be able to feel the dry powder inside move. If this isn’t done from time to time, it could harden in the bottom and fail to work when they need it.
The first, and most important, purpose of a fire extinguisher is to provide the person working in the area assistance in escaping injury in the event of a fire. The next most important purpose of a fire extinguisher is to completely put out the fire, or at least slow the rate it spreads. If we’re checking all of our extinguishers on a monthly basis, we have a pretty good shot at being successful with one or both of these. And just like any other tool, if we don’t take care of and inspect our extinguishers, that tool may not be in working condition when we need them most. At that point, we could be dealing with a FOOLISH fire; FOOLISH because we may have been able to prevent it IF we had been diligent about our inspections!
Hope this helps,
Wes Dove, SHRM-CP/CHBC
Safety & Human Resource Manager, Blauch Brothers, Inc.