More Is Not Better

 In 2021, Tip of the Week


More is better, right? That is often true when talking about winning the lottery or getting to have your favorite dessert. It is not always true when it comes to things like fire extinguishers (see the above example, picture taken at a client facility). But fire extinguishers can put out a fire, so why are more extinguishers in the workplace not better? Isn’t having extra protection a good thing?

Not always. Here’s why.

Fire extinguishers require time, energy, and money. These units require inspections. To quote 29 CFR 1910.157(e)(2), “Portable extinguishers … shall be visually inspected monthly.” It takes time and energy to inspect the units. The more extinguishers you have, the longer time is spent during this inspection, and the more energy you exert.

This inspection should include making sure the path to the extinguisher is easily accessible, the extinguisher is mounted properly, the gauge at the top of the extinguisher is in the green or shows that it is fully charged, and that it has not been discharged since you last looked at it. SCM recommends an extra step. Pick up dry chemical extinguishers and shake them a little. Doing that keeps the powder from caking at the bottom of the unit.

Extinguishers also must be serviced annually (1910.157(e)(3)). The service must be done by a licensed professional. The servicing costs money. The more extinguishers that need to be serviced, the more it costs. This does not even consider the hydrostatic testing that must be done on the cylinder every six or twelve years, based on the content and construction of the cylinders. The cost of extra fire extinguishers is adding up!

And then there is a potential issue with employees that might get confused. Look again at the picture we provided. Which extinguisher should they use? The one on the right or the one on the left? Is one better than the other? Instead of more being better, we like the idea of keeping it simple.

So, how many extinguishers do you need? That depends on potential types of fires that could be in your workplace, and how big it is. The regulation stipulates the following:

  • If the potential fire hazards are class A (things that leave an ash after they burn), the travel distance to an extinguisher must be 75 feet. This means you can have an extinguisher every 150 feet.
  • If the potential fire hazards are class B (liquid fires, like things that come in barrels), the travel distance to an extinguisher lessens to 50 feet. You can place fire extinguishers 100 feet apart.
  • If the potential fire hazards are class C (electrical, which carries a current), you default to whether the other materials in the area are class A or class B.
  • If the potential fire hazards are class D (flammable metals), the travel distance is the same as for a class A, which is 75 feet travel distance.

Then, place the extinguisher by or in the pathway to an exit. This allows anyone using it to have access to an exit if the fire does not go out when the extinguisher is used.

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