Frequently Asked Questions About OSHA Requirements For Portable Fire Extinguishers

Travis Jolliff

There are many OSHA requirements for portable fire extinguishers that businesses may not be aware of and may be surprised to learned.  Here are four of the frequently asked questions associated with these requirements that help explain some of these requirements to help take away some of the mystery surrounding state and federal OSHA requirements for portable fire extinguishers.

Does OSHA require businesses to document monthly portable fire extinguisher inspections?

OSHA requires a visual inspection of all portable fire extinguishers at least monthly.  There is no OSHA requirement for documentation of monthly inspections. This should not be confused with mandatory annual inspections and periodic maintenance inspections which are required to be documented. Most inspection tags attached to portable extinguishers following annual inspections have a 12-month grid on the back where an inspector can enter the date and initials when the monthly inspections are performed and many business owner choose to use these tags to document their monthly inspections.

WARNING!!! There have been cases where OSHA cited employers who used these tags to document monthly inspections and several months of initials were missing suggesting the inspection were not performed. If you choose to document monthly inspections you must be consistent otherwise your lackluster record-keeping might come back to bite you.

Does OSHA require businesses to document portable fire extinguisher training sessions?

There is no OSHA requirement to document the initial or annual refresher portable fire extinguisher training and education sessions. Again, though, many employers find it easier to manage this aspect of their safety programs by using a system to document these training sessions. Make sure that you capture the names of all trained employees attending the training. All personnel are required to be trained in the proper operation of portable fire extinguishers prior to using them so if you do establish a system to document training it is very important that you identify all of your employees who did not attend the scheduled training and ensure they attend a  make-up session so you can document their training as well.

What are the OSHA mounting requirements for portable fire extinguishers?

OSHA does not identify a specific height above the floor for mounting portable fire extinguishers instead it simply requires that they are mounted such that they are accessible to employees. OSHA does provide guidance however to support this requirement through the following statement: “To prevent fire extinguishers from being moved or damaged, they should be mounted on brackets or in wall cabinets with the carrying handle placed 3-1/2 to 5 feet above the floor. Larger fire extinguishers need to be mounted at lower heights with the carrying handle about 3 feet from the floor.”

In addition to OSHA requirements for mounting portable fire extinguishers, you should consider and incorporate your local fire code requirements (which may specify a tighter range) and local building codes, which often incorporate guidelines from the Americans with Disabilities Act or newer versions of the National Fire Protection Association standard for portable extinguishers.

What are the OSHA requirements for installing fire extinguisher signs?

OSHA requires the location of portable fire extinguishers be “clearly and easily identified.”  It is best to locate fire extinguisher signs as higher as necessary to ensure the portable fire extinguisher can be readily located even when the extinguisher is blocked from view from personnel standing a distance away due to obstacles in the vicinity. Stacked materials, shelving, open doorways or parked equipment can sometimes can prevent the location of the fire extinguisher being identified from a distance unless a sign or some other means of identification is installed above the extinguisher at a sufficiently height.

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