Standard Interpretations - Table of Contents Standard Interpretations - Table of Contents
• Standard Number: 1910.157; 1910.157(a); 1910.157(b); 1910.38; 1910.39


OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.


September 12, 1986

Mr. Michael S. Kaninski
Fire Protection Officer
Wisconsin Electric Power Company
231 W. Michigan
P.O. Box 2046
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201

Dear Mr. Kaninski:

This is in response to your letter of August 12, 1986, requesting an interpretation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding fire equipment training requirements as described in 29 CFR 1910, Subpart E and L. In addition, you would like to know if the program described in your letter for general employees and emergency action teams satisfies the training requirements for the use of portable fire equipment as described in Subparts E and L.

OSHA's fire protection standards are performance oriented standards designed to provide the employer greater flexibility in compliance. The intent of the standard is to minimize employee exposure to hazardous situations involving fire in the workplace and to provide for fire protection equipment and services for safe evacuation or rescue of employees endangered by fire in the workplace. OSHA believes that employers who choose to evacuate the workplace rather than to provide fire extinguishers for employee use in fighting fires will most effectively minimize the potential for fire-related injuries to employees.

29 CFR 1910.157(a) and (b) contemplate three possible choices which an employer may make to comply with the intent of the standard:

OPTION 1: Require total evacuation of employees from the workplace upon the sounding of a fire alarm.

This choice also implicitly requires the employer to establish an emergency action and fire prevention plan meeting the requirements of [1910.38 and 1910.39].

When an employer has in fact established and implemented a written fire safety policy and has not provided any fire extinguishers in the workplace, he is exempted from all the requirements in 1910.157.

However, if fire extinguishers are provided but not intended for employee use, he must comply with the requirements in [1910.157(e)] and (f) concerning inspection, maintenance and testing. If he has 10 or fewer employees, the emergency action and the fire prevention plans need not be in writing but may be communicated orally to employees.

OPTION 2: Provide portable fire extinguishers and designate certain employees as authorized to use them to fight fires.

All other employees in the fire area must be required to evacuate the affected area immediately upon the sounding of a fire alarm. This choice implicitly requires the employer to establish an emergency action plan meeting the requirements of [1910.38] and comply with the requirements in 1910.157(c), (e), (f), (g)(3) and (g)(4) regarding general requirements for fire extinguishers as well as inspection, maintenance and testing, hydrostatic testing, training and education.

[This document was edited on 2/27/2004 to strike information that no longer reflects current OSHA policy.]

When the employer has in fact established and implemented such a policy in writing, he is exempted from the distribution requirements in 1910.157(d). If he has 10 or fewer employees, the emergency action plan need not be in writing but may be communicated orally to the employees.

OPTION 3: Provide portable fire extinguishers and permit all employees to use them to fight fires.

This choice requires the employer to comply with all the requirements in 29 CFR 1910.157 for the placement, use, maintenance, testing, training and education in the use of the portable fire extinguishers.

29 CFR 1910.157(g)(1) [and (2)] requires that, where an employer has provided portable fire extinguishers for employee use in the workplace, he shall also provide an educational training program to familiarize employees with the general principles of fire extinguisher use and the hazards involved with incipient stage fire fighting and training in the use of appropriate equipment. The education and training shall be provided upon initial employment and at least annually thereafter.

[This document was edited on 2/27/2004 to strike information that no longer reflects current OSHA policy.]

In meeting the requirements of these standards, the employer may provide educational materials, without classroom instruction, through the use of employee notice campaigns using instruction sheets or flyers or similar types of informal programs; or he may provide on site training which exposes employees to the actual "feeling" of fire fighting by simulated fires for training employees in the proper use of extinguishers.

With respect to the program described in your letter I believe the information provided above should be adequate to convey our comments on the program itself. I do want to comment specifically, however, on your third program element. It is OSHA's position that the decision to use fire extinguishers may not be left up to the employees but must be spelled out in an emergency action plan. That plan may address incipient fires and the circumstances under which fire extinguishers may be used. Appropriate training must also be provided with respect to this item.

While the above options are alternate methods of compliance with the standard, employers must understand that, when they permit employees to fight workplace fires, they must make sure that the employees know whatever is necessary to ensure the employees' safety.

If you have any further questions related to this matter or any other, please feel free to contact me again.

Sincerely,



John B. Miles, Jr., Director
Directorate of Field Operations

[Corrected 2/27/2004]



August 12, 1986

Mr. John Miles
Director
Directorate of Field Operations
OSHA
200 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20210

Mr. Miles:

As suggested by Mr. Mike Moore of the Office of Fire Protection, this letter requests an interpretation regarding fire equipment training requirements as described in 29 CFR 1910, Subparts E&L. I have discussed the items outlined below with Mr. Moore and request a response from your office.

Will the program described below for general employees and emergency action teams satisfy the training requirements for the use of portable fire equipment as described in Subparts E&L?
  • An emergency action plan is in effect at each facility which designates specific employees as members of an emergency action team.


  • The emergency action team is responsible for assisting in the implementation of an orderly evacuation in the event of a fire. It is also responsible for response to other emergencies such as weather or medical.


  • The emergency action team and general employees are not specifically directed to perform fire fighting activities. However, they may use portable fire fighting equipment at their own discretion if the fire is incipient in nature and the person feels confident in the use of the portable fire fighting equipment and the ability to extinguish the fire.


  • Educational material regarding the use of portable fire fighting equipment is provided to all employees at least annually through a media such as a company newspaper.

It is my understanding through my discussions with Mr. Moore that this type of program is satisfactory. Any additional hands-on training which is provided to emergency action teams or other employees may be done at the employer's discretion and is considered over and above that which is required by the standard.

Sincerely,



Michael S. Kaminski
Fire Protection Officer



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