Having portable fire extinguishers available and ready for use in the workplace is an important step toward keeping your employees and visitors safe. But you cannot assume that everyone knows intuitively how to use a fire extinguisher, especially under stress of a critical situation in which its proper use could be a matter of life or death. That’s why fire extinguisher training should be provided to all employees who might be called on to use one in an emergency.

OSHA requires employers to educate employees on “the principles and practices of using a fire extinguisher and the hazards associated with fighting small or developing fires.” This instruction must be provided when a new employee is first hired, and on an annual basis for all employees. In many cases this can be accomplished through online training, a “tool box talk,” or printed educational materials.

However, if your company has an emergency action plan that designates specific employees to use a fire extinguisher, OSHA requires that they “be trained on how to use the fire extinguishers appropriately in the workplace.” This specialized training must be provided when employees are first assigned these duties and annually thereafter, so that they may develop or improve fire extinguisher competency.

It is a good idea to train ALL employees on the proper use of a fire extinguisher – a skill that will be appreciated when an emergency arises, and one that can be transferred to other settings, including home, other work sites, and public places. You can learn more about fire extinguisher training by clicking here.

In the meantime, here are OSHA’s basic guidelines on using a fire extinguisher.

Using a Fire Extinguisher

The following steps should be followed when responding to incipient stage fire:

  • Sound the fire alarm and call the fire department, if appropriate
  • Identify a safe evacuation path before approaching the fire
  • Do not allow the fire, heat, or smoke to come between you and your evacuation path
  • Select the appropriate type of fire extinguisher
  • Discharge the extinguisher within its effective range using the P.A.S.S. technique (pull, aim, squeeze, sweep)
  • Back away from an extinguished fire in case it flames up again
  • Evacuate immediately if the extinguisher is empty and the fire is not out
  • Evacuate immediately if the fire progresses beyond the incipient stage

Most fire extinguishers operate using the following P.A.S.S. technique:

  1. PULL… Pull the pin. This will also break the tamper seal.
  2. AIM… Aim low, pointing the extinguisher nozzle (or its horn or hose) at the base of the fire.

NOTE: Do not touch the plastic discharge horn on CO2 extinguishers, it gets very cold and may damage skin.

  • SQUEEZE… Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent.
  • SWEEP… Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire until it appears to be out. Watch the area. If the fire re-ignites, repeat steps 2 – 4.

If you have the slightest doubt about your ability to fight a fire….EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY!