OSHA requires employers to provide fire exits, fire-fighting equipment and employee training. Is your company as prepared as it should be?

Because you deal with heat and high temperatures in manufacturing, fire can become a reality in your workplace. Are you up to speed on Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines and recommendations related to fire safety? Do you know how prepared your company needs to be? If not, it could cost you.

OSHA requires employers to provide fire exits, fire-fighting equipment and employee training to prevent fire-related deaths and injuries in the workplace. The consequences for failing to comply can range from monetary fines to employee injury or death. Employers should survey their workplaces to determine if adequate, readily accessible fire exits; fire alarm systems; the proper number and types of fire extinguishers; and proper and rehearsed fire evacuation plans are in place.

Fire ExitsM/b>. According to OSHA, each workplace must have at least two remote exits to be used in a fire emergency. Fire doors must not be blocked or locked. However, delayed opening of fire doors is permitted when an alarm system is integrated into the fire door design. Exit routes must be obstruction-free and clearly marked with signs designating them as exits from the building.

Portable Fire Extinguishers. Each workplace also must have a number of fire extinguishers suitable for the fire hazards present within that location, and those fire extinguishers must be inspected and maintained. If an employer would rather have employees evacuate than stay and fight small fires, multiple fire extinguishers are not necessary. However, if they are instructed to evacuate, they must be trained and an emergency response plan must be written. Those employees who are expected to use fire extinguishers also must be trained on the hazards of fire fighting, how to properly operate fire extinguishers, and what procedures to follow when alerting others to the emergency.

Emergency Evacuation Plans. Emergency action plans should describe the routes to use and procedures to follow in a fire emergency. The written plan must be available to new employees and reviewed with them so they are sure to follow the correct actions. If changes are made to the emergency evacuation plan, review not only the changes, but the entire plan with all employees.

Accounting for evacuated employees is vital. Your plan also must include procedures for those employees who are designated to temporarily remain behind to shut down plant equipment before evacuating. Where needed, procedures for helping physically impaired employees should be addressed.

Fire Prevention Plan. OSHA requires employers to implement a written fire prevention plan to complement the fire evacuation plan and minimize the frequency of evacuation. Be sure to address housekeeping procedures for storage and cleanup of flammable materials and waste as well as procedures for controlling ignition sources such as smoking, welding and burning. Heat-producing equipment such as burners, heat exchangers, boilers and ovens must be properly maintained and kept clean of flammable residues. In addition, employees must be informed of their job's potential fire hazards and the procedures required by the company's fire prevention plan.

Fire Suppression. Well-designed fire suppression systems enhance safety in the workplace. Automatic fire suppression systems such as sprinklers require maintenance. If it becomes necessary to remove a fire suppression system from service while business continues, a fire watch of trained employees should stand by to respond quickly to any fire emergency in the normally protected area.

Following OSHA's guidelines and recommendations will prepare you should a fire ever break out. By creating an emergency response plan and reviewing it when changes are made, employees will be informed of what to do and how to evacuate in the event that your high temperature application results in fire.

For more information on OSHA's fire safety guidelines and recommendations, call (202) 693-1999 or visit www.osha.gov.