OSHA Unsympathetic When Extinguishers Fail

by Aaron Reiter

Regular inspections of fire and life safety systems are required for a reason. These systems require systematic attention and maintenance to ensure they are functional in moment of need. You may be familiar with companies, like Signaling System Solutions, that provides these services, but you may be unfamiliar with how many regulatory agencies have enforcement capabilities. The agencies are called “Authorities Having Jurisdiction”, or “AHJs”, and they are many: your local fire marshal, Joint Commission, and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) represent common agencies who can inspect and fine your business for noncompliance.

Monthly extinguisher inspections are very important – the difference between a good extinguisher and a bad one is a subtle little yellow needle on the pressure gauge and easily overlooked.

In July of last year, there was a small fire in a St. Louis Postal Service maintenance facility. The fire was successfully extinguished with a portable extinguisher. Despite the happy outcome of a scary event, an OSHA investigation of the facility focused on two uncharged fire extinguishers that were identified during the attempt to put out the fire. It is important to note that neither of these unpressurized extinguishers impeded the successful incident resolution, but the discovery of those two devices, along with some other violations, resulted in an $87,297 fine to the Postal Service.

The section of the Code of Federal Regulations cited is CFR 1910.157(c)(4), which states, “The employer shall assure that portable fire extinguishers are maintained in a fully charged and operable condition and kept in their designated places at all times except during use.”

Extinguisher violations are just one thing OSHA or other AHJs look for, and any item, from fire alarm and sprinklers to exit and emergency lighting can result in heavy fines and/or disruption to operations. The headaches of having violations identified are nothing compared to having your fire or life safety equipment fail in an actual emergency, which is why the AHJs are so intolerant of poorly maintained systems, whether a simple fire extinguisher or a fire alarm and sprinkler system.

The best way to avoid either scenario is by making your inspections and testing a priority, then acting quickly on identified corrections or repairs. Inspection and testing companies, like ours, ideally make it their business to keep their customers in full compliance with all AHJ regulations, communicating discrepancies effectively with solutions at the ready. Your safety is our top priority, which means your compliance is our top priority because these concerns go hand-in-hand.

If you feel your company needs better education on this important topic, we are happy to help. Contact us any time.