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FIRE PREVENTION WEEK – Don’t forget the fire extinguisher


October 5, 2021
By James Hong

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The earliest “automatic” fire extinguisher on record is said to have been patented by a British chemist, Ambrose Godfrey, in 1723. It was a wooden cask containing a quantity of liquid and a pewter chamber loaded with gunpowder.” (Canadian Fire Fighters Museum 2021)

Today, I’ll be covering portable fire extinguisher inspections in the workplace. At first glance, the portable fire extinguisher, a seemingly uncomplicated tool, requires monthly inspections. Everyone with access to extinguishers in the workplace must be trained to perform an inspection. National requirements for all provinces fall under the NFPA 10 standards, regulated by the international non-profit organization the National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 10 is a hefty set of rules covering 275 codes and standards for effectively every building, process, service, design, and installation including 5 classes and 3 hazard ratings. Let’s get into the details.

Inspection requirements for common office Class A extinguishers ‘Dry Chemical’ are as follows:
Monthly –Inspection (visual)
Annually -Annual Inspection/Maintenance
Six Years -Disassemble and Recharge
Twelve Years – Hydrostatic Test * Note it is usually less costly to buy new.

Monthly visual inspections confirm the location visibility, access, and condition. Items such as the locking pin intact, the tamper seal is unbroken and signs of obvious physical damage including corrosion, leakage, or a clogged nozzle. Other checks; confirming the pressure gauge or indicator is in the operable range or position, checking the gauge, quick lifting the extinguisher to ensure it is still full and further checking that the operating instructions on the nameplate are legible and facing outward is also necessary.

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Basic Visual Inspection – Portable Fire Extinguisher Checklist
ACCESSIBILITY       Where is it, Can you reach it, Are there any Obstructions for Access
LOCATION               Near Exits, Pathways, Sufficient Number for area coverage
CLASS                        Is the Class marking clear
TAGS                         Inspection Date, Recharging Date, Servicing Agent & Person
DAMAGE                 Nameplate legible, Corrosion, Dents, Signs of tampering
SIGNAGE                  Obstructed from view units require Location Signage
SAFETY RING          Ring in place, Ring locking pin in place
TAMPER SEAL        Zip tie lock in place / unbroken, IF Chain – lock in place / unbroken
NOZZLE                    Discharge Nozzle Clear, Nozzle opening / no residue
PRIOR USE               Powder left in nozzle, IF Signs of prior use send unit for servicing
CHARGING               Charge Reading , top of the extinguisher , Quick Lift Test
INSTRUCTIONS      Are Operating Instructions clear, are they facing outward

A few important NFPA 10 portable fire extinguisher installation requirements:
Gross weight > 40 lb: the top of the fire extinguisher not more than 3 ½ ft above the floor.
Gross weight < 40 lb: the top of the fire extinguisher not more than 5 ft above the floor.
Except for wheeled units, the base must be at least 4 inches above the floor.
The travel distance between standard size portable fire extinguishers:
Class A: Required anywhere ordinary combustibles are present. 75’ or <.
Class B: Required where the potential for flammable liquids fires 50’or <
Class C: Required where energized electrical equipment can be encountered. 75’or <
Class D: Required in areas where the potential for fires involving combustible metals 75’ or <

Class K: Required where the potential for fires involving combustible cooking media 30’ or <

All buildings require Class A extinguishers to stop fires on walls, floors, and other parts of the building. Additionally, fire extinguishers rated for class A, B, C, D and K hazards must be installed when those hazards are present. A single fire extinguisher capable of fighting more than one type of fire, such as a combination of ABC dry chemical extinguisher, may meet the requirements for multiple fire types.

 

As per the Canada Labour Code 937-1-IPG-038, employers are responsible for training employees who have access to fire extinguishers in the workplace, as well as providing refresher training with a frequency of not less than 6 months to 1 year. If you need a refresher for equipment operation before that time frame, there are plenty of resources both written and video online. The main take away here, have the correct Class of extinguisher, know where the fire protection equipment is located, know how to operate the equipment, and remember the acronym PASS :
Pull the Pin > Aim at the Base of the fire > Squeeze the Trigger > Sweep the Nozzle.

 

Be safe. Be well.

James Hong is an OH&S consultant for the construction industry and our regular safety columnist in Canadian Rental Service magazine.