Fixed fire extinguishing/suppression systems are commonly used to protect areas containing valuable or critical equipment such as data processing rooms, telecommunication switches, and process control rooms. Their main function is to quickly extinguish a developing fire and alert occupants before extensive damage occurs by filling the protected area with a gas or chemical extinguishing agent.
In this section we will review the employer's responsibilities for operating, testing, and maintaining fixed extinguishing systems that are installed to meet a particular OSHA standard, 29 CFR 1910.160(a)(1), or where its extinguishing agent may expose employees to possible injury, death, or adverse health effects. [29 CFR 1910.160(a)(2)] This section does not apply to automatic sprinkler systems or to systems installed to protect areas where there is no potential for employee exposure. [29 CFR 1910.159]
This section will help you understand your requirements under the fixed extinguishing system standard by addressing the following issues:
For further assistance, consult the following National Fire Protection (NFPA) standards:
OSHA's fixed extinguishing systems, general standard applies to all employers who have a fixed extinguishing system installed to meet a particular OSHA standard, with the exception of automatic sprinkler systems that are covered by 29 CFR 1910.159. 29 CFR 1910.160 contains specific provisions for any fixed system, regardless of why it was installed, that may expose employees to possible injury, death, or adverse health consequences caused by the extinguishing agent. These systems are only subject to the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.160(b)(4) through 29 CFR 1910.160(b)(7) and 29 CFR 1910.160(c) of this standard.
OSHA's "Fire Extinguishing System" Standard includes a general standard applicable all fixed extinguishing systems, and three specific standards, applicable to the type of extinguishing agent used:
NOTE: Systems installed to protect areas where there is no potential for employee exposure to the extinguishing agent are exempted from the requirements of this standard.
A fire extinguishing systems is an engineered set of components that work together to quickly detect a fire, alert occupants, and extinguish the fire before extensive damage can occur. All system components must be:
Typical elements and components include:
Discharge nozzles are used to disperse the extinguishing agent into the protected area.
The piping system is used to transport the extinguishing agent (carbon dioxide, halon, argon, etc) from its storage container to the discharge nozzle.
The control panel integrates all devices and displays their operational status and condition.
Discharge or Warning Alarm(s)
Electronic devices that provide an audible or visual alarm when detected.
Hazard Warning or Caution Signs
Hazard warning signs must be posted at the entrance to, and inside, areas protected by fixed extinguishing systems.
Automatic Fire Detection Device(s)
A device that detects fire and causes an alarm signal to be generated.
Manual Discharge Station(s)
A device that provides a way to manually discharge the fire extinguishing system.
Storage Container(s) & Extinguishing Agent
The storage system discharges agent into the piping and through the discharge nozzles when activated by a manual or automatic device.
NOTE: Use your mouse to explore the picture above. Hover over any number to go to that component's requirements.
A discharge nozzle is a device designed to release the extinguishing agent at a specific rate and pattern to quickly extinguish a fire. Discharge nozzles must be suitable for the fire it is intended to extinguish. [29 CFR 1910.160(b)(1)]
The nozzle pictured is designed for total flooding applications. Its bell shape and multiple small discharge openings will create a widely dispersed and diffused discharge pattern to quickly flood an enclosed area with an extinguishing agent. This type of nozzle is common in paint spray booths, flammable liquid storage rooms or other similar areas.
Nozzles designed for local application usually consist of a cylindrical body with a straight unobstructed center opening. This type of nozzle produces a small discharge pattern that directs the agent toward a local application such as paint dip tanks, quench tanks or areas where a flammable liquid spill may occur.
The piping network is designed to properly distribute the extinguishing agent to the protected areas. All fire protection systems must have pipes and fittings that are suitable for the expected temperature extremes with good corrosion resistance properties.
The control panel monitors and integrates all components together and controls the audible and visual alarms and discharge functions. When an automatic or manual device is activated it sends a signal to the control panel where, depending on the type of system and hazards, can be programmed to:
Discharge Alarm or Signaling Devices:
Each area protected by a fixed extinguishing system must have a distinctive alarm or signal which complies with 29 CFR 1910.165 to alert occupants that the system is discharging. These alarms must be able to be heard or seen above ambient noise or light levels, unless the discharge is immediately recognizable. [29 CFR 1910.160(b)(3)]
If the alarm or signaling device is used on a total flooding system, it must also:
NOTE: Areas protected by a total flooding system where employees cannot enter during or after the system's operation are exempt from the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.160(c) of this section. [29 CFR 1910.160(c)(2)]
Warning Signs and Safeguards
Warning signs must be posted to warn employees in advance about the hazards associated with the extinguishing agent. Hazard warning or caution signs must be posted at the entrance to and inside of areas protected by fixed extinguishing systems which use agents in concentrations known to be hazardous to employee safety and health. [29 CFR 1910.160(b)(5)]
Recommended guidelines for posting:
In addition to warning signs, the employer must also provide effective safeguards to warn employees when the atmosphere of a protected area remains hazardous to their safety or health as a result of a system discharged. [29 CFR 1910.160(b)(4)]
Automatic Fire Detectors:
Automatic detection devices sense the smoke, heat, or flames from a fire and initiate an alarm. All automatic detection equipment must be approved, installed and maintained in accordance with 29 CFR 1910.164.
Automatic detection devices used on a total flooding system must:
Note: Areas protected by a total flooding system where employees cannot enter during or after the system's operation are exempt from the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.160(c) of this section. [29 CFR 1910.160(c)(2)]
Manual Discharge Station:
A manual discharge station is a device usually mounted on a wall near the emergency exit(s) which will automatically sound an alarm and release the extinguishing agent. If your workplace is equipped with a fixed suppressant system, there must be at least one manual station for each protected area. [29 CFR 1910.160(b)(15)]
Pull Station Guidelines:
Extinguishing Agent Storage Containers:
Storage containers hold the extinguishing agent until it is needed and can be high or low pressure cylinders or tanks. These containers can be used to hold specialized fire suppression agents like carbon dioxide or halon to protect special work areas, such as computer rooms, chemical storage, or similar areas.
Storage Container Requirements:
Automatic fire suppression systems, particularly the total flooding variety, must be operated properly and regularly maintained and tested to guarantee worker safety and system effectiveness. To ensure your fire extinguishing system will perform as expected in the event of a fire, you are required to:
Total Flooding Applications consist of protecting an enclosed space by flooding it with a gas, such as carbon dioxide or halon. This method is used to protect electrical equipment and other types of deep-seated smoldering fires that may re-ignite after the flame has been extinguished. Because these systems can create an oxygen deficit or toxic atmosphere they deserve special attention.
The following special provisions apply to all fixed suppression systems used for total flooding applications:
Provide a pre-discharge employee alarm for Halon 1301 systems with a design concentration of 10 percent or greater.
The pre-discharge employee alarm shall provide employees time to safely exit the discharge area prior to system discharge.
Safety and Health Hazards:
The Material Safety Data Sheet for each extinguishing agent should be available in the workplace. It is important that employees know the potential hazards of the extinguishing agents they may be exposed to and how to protect themselves. Additionally, employees who are likely to enter such areas should receive a basic level of instruction into the operating principles of the system to include alarms and related hazards, as well as evacuation procedures. The two most common extinguishing agents used for total flooding applications are carbon dioxide and halon.
Carbon dioxide, under normal conditions, is a colorless, odorless, electrically nonconductive gas that is approximately 1.5 times heavier than air. It will not disturb live electrical components, is non-corrosive, and leaves no residue to clean up.
Specific hazards include:
Halon is a bromo freon that works by replacing oxygen, thus creating an oxygen-deficient atmosphere. This can be very dangerous to employees. The reaction products of halon on hot surfaces may result in the release of toxic substances and carcinogens. These areas should be clearly labeled as follows:
Specific halon hazards include:
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