Every year I love to use October as the time to discuss fire safety. After all, many other organizations promote fire safety ever since October was designated as National Fire Prevention Month in 1922. This year, as always, I do want lab safety professionals to be “fired up” about safety, but there have been some questions about regulations in this area that need special discussion.
The College of American Pathologists (CAP) is the accrediting agency for many labs in the United States, and they have specific regulations about fire safety on their General Checklist.
One regulation states: “If the fire safety plan includes laboratory staff use of fire extinguishers, personnel are instructed in the use of portable fire extinguishers.”
If fire extinguishers are present in your laboratory, their purpose is to be used by the staff in the department, whether or not the safety plan includes staff using them or not. OSHA has something to say about this as well: “If fire extinguishers are available for employee use, it is the employer’s responsibility to educate employees on the principles and practices of using a fire extinguisher and the hazards associated with fighting small or developing fires.” The CAP checklist strongly recommends that staff have hands-on fire extinguisher operation that includes the actual use of the device (or a simulator). They do not indicate how often this training should occur. Many labs I have inspected only provide the training once, but OSHA states that it must be provided upon hire and annually thereafter. That makes sense, and lab staff should be ever-ready and able to extinguish a small fire should that become necessary.
The next CAP regulation states: “Fire safety training is performed for new employees, with a fire safety review conducted at least annually.”
This regulation was altered in 2014. In previous versions, CAP required fire exit drills for all lab staff. They have replaced that with a “physical evaluation of the escape routes (that) must be performed annually, to ensure that fire exit corridors and stairwells are clear and that all fire exit doors open properly.”
Many labs found the requirement to perform fire exit drills for all staff to be inconvenient, but I believe that process should still occur. Just as with fire extinguisher use, knowing how to respond quickly and efficiently in an evacuation is very important, and a review of this process should occur with all staff annually. The evacuation drill may be used as the method to document that physical evaluation of the escape routes that CAP now requires.
Have you performed fire drills this year? Have your staff had hands-on fire extinguisher training? If not, October is a great month to perform these tasks.Many people in history have lost their lives to fires, and laboratory fires are more common than you may think. Be aware, be ready, and ensure your staff remains safe if a fire situation does occur in your workplace.