OSHA Fire Extinguisher Height, Placement, and Requirements

From forming an emergency action plan to ensuring the correct fire extinguisher height, fire safety should be front and center in the minds of businesses. According to a 2018 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report, fire departments attended an average of 37,910 industrial and manufacturing fires each year between 2011 and 2015. This caused an average of 16 deaths per year, 273 injuries, and $1.2 billion worth of property damage.

In around 80% of fires, a portable extinguisher is enough to put it out. So, ensuring proper fire extinguisher height and placement can be life-saving in many cases. This is why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has created a standard for fire extinguishers.

What is the OSHA Standard for Fire Extinguishers?

The OSHA standard for fire extinguishers dictates that employers should

“provide portable fire extinguishers and mount, locate, and identify them so that they are readily accessible to employees without subjecting the employees to possible injury.”

OSHA also states that only approved fire extinguishers can be used. They must remain in their designated place unless being used. The employer must ensure they are fully charged, well maintained, and working properly.

Each business should consider the types of fire likely to take place in their workplace and select the extinguishers accordingly. The standard also sets out where to place extinguishers to comply with the maximum distance an employee should travel to deal with a fire using that equipment.

In addition, there are rules relating to how often an employer should test a fire extinguisher, both visually and in more detail, as well as the training that they should offer employees regarding their use and the hazards and risks involved.

OSHA Fire Extinguisher Mounting Height Requirements

According to the Extinguisher Placement and Safety page of OSHA’s Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool, there must be at least four inches clearance between the floor and the bottom of a portable extinguisher. The administration tells employers that they must mount them on the wall or place them in wall cabinets to help prevent anyone from moving or damaging them.

There are also rules about the maximum mounting height, based on the gross weight.

For example… If an extinguisher weighs less than 40 lbs, the carrying handle should be no more than 5 ft from the ground. Any heavier than 40 lbs and the handle should be no more than 3.5 ft from the floor.

These heights reflect the requirement that employees should be able to access a fire extinguisher without risking an injury. It is more manageable for an employee to handle a larger extinguisher if you mount it lower.

OSHA Fire Extinguisher Placement

The OSHA fire extinguisher placement rules depend on the class of fire you expect to encounter. There are five classes of fire and this table shows the characteristics of the fire and the type of extinguisher needed to combat it.

Class of FireCharacteristicsType of Extinguisher Needed
ASolids (paper, wood, cardboard, building materials, and other solid combustible materials)Water, dry chemical, clean agent
BLiquids (cleaning fluid, fuel, paint, etc.) or gases (natural gas, LPG, etc.)Carbon dioxide, dry chemical, clean agent
CElectrical equipmentCarbon dioxide, dry chemical, clean agent. Not water under any circumstances.
DFlammable metalsDry powder and specialist suppression depending on the metal
KCooking fats and oilsWet chemical

When you come to purchase fire extinguishers for your workplace, you should already know which type of fire hazards are present in your workplace. Manufacturers label extinguishers with the class of fire they are suitable for. Some extinguishers can be used on multiple classes of fire and will display that information to help you decide if they are suitable for your working environment or not.

Once you have your extinguishers, here are the NFPA and OSHA fire extinguisher placement guidelines:

Class of Fire RiskPlacement of Extinguishers
ANFPA recommends one 2-A fire extinguisher for every 3,000 square feet. OSHA requires employees to have access to an extinguisher within 75 feet.
BEmployees should have access to a fire extinguisher within either 30 or 50 feet, depending on the hazard in question and the rating of the extinguisher (see below).
CAs a C class extinguisher can only earn this rating if it has already gained an A, B, or AB rating and does not conduct electricity, the placement depends on the class A or B hazards in the workplace.
ABCDependent on the hazards in your workplace, and whether they fall into class A or B.
DPlaced not more than 75 feet from the hazardous metal.
KPlaced not more than 30 feet from the fire hazard.

Here is the guidance for placing class B fire extinguishers:

HazardExtinguisher RatingMaximum Spacing
Light (Low) – Small amounts of flammable liquids kept in closed containers and stored safely. Examples include copier ink.5-B30 feet
10-B50 feet
Ordinary (Moderate) – More flammable liquids than low-risk areas. For example, oil and gasoline in a garage.10-B30 feet
20-B50 feet
Extra (High) – Large quantities of flammable liquid are used or stored. This could include painting and coating, as well as maintenance of boats, airplanes, etc.40-B30 feet
80-B50 feet

 

OSHA Fire Extinguisher Signage Requirements

Under the OSHA requirements, employers must “locate” and “identify” fire extinguishers to make them easily accessible to employees. Although there are no exact guidelines as to how to identify the location of fire extinguishers, a good practice is to place clear and noticeable signage above each extinguisher to give workers the best chance of tackling a fire without delay.

It may be easy to spot an extinguisher close-up, but in the event of a fire, a worker’s view of the device may be blocked by desks or other obstacles in the way. Anything that can guide them to the extinguisher swiftly is beneficial to the safety of your workforce.

You can recognize the different classes of extinguisher by the signage on the device:

●       Class A features an A in a triangle

●       Class B is in a square

●       Class C is in a circle

●       Class D is in a five-pointed star shape.

(Source)

By the way, your workers should also be aware of fo the meaning of these signs, so it may be a good idea to hold a safety moment of the day on this topic.

Americans with Disabilities Act & Fire Extinguisher Placement Issues

Although there is no specific ruling in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on the height or placement of fire extinguishers, there are rules that you need to adhere to under the ADA guidelines.

For example…Any object that is attached to the wall should be low enough that a visually impaired person should be able to identify it using their cane.

As long as the bottom of the extinguisher is no higher than 27 inches from the floor, it can protrude as far as you like into the walkway because it is within reach of the cane. Any higher than 27 inches, and it can only protrude four inches from the wall.

Under the ADA accessibility guidelines, if you use a fire extinguisher cabinet, the cabinet handle must be at a height that is accessible to a person in a wheelchair. This is to allow them the same access as an able-bodied person. However, you do not need to place the handle of a portable fire extinguisher that is not in a cabinet at an accessible height. The reason for this is that the portability of the device doesn’t make it necessary. 

FAQ

Can a fire extinguisher be stored on the floor?

OSHA requires fire extinguishers to be at least four inches above the ground, meaning you cannot store them on the floor.

Does a fire extinguisher have to be mounted upright?

The pressure within the extinguisher holds its contents and thus allows you to store it horizontally if you wish. As long as you meet the requirements for the minimum allowable space above the ground and maximum handle height, you can mount the extinguisher however you like.

Do I need a map showing the fire extinguisher location?

Whatever your business or sector, it is possible that at least one administrative body requires you to produce an evacuation map. This might be OSHA, your insurance company, a fire marshal, or anyone else. If this is the case, you should mark the extinguisher locations on this map as they are necessary for evacuation.

How far apart do fire extinguishers need to be?

The distance between fire extinguishers depends on the type of fire that is likely to occur and the class of extinguishers you have. It ranges from 30 feet for some types of Class B extinguisher to within 75 feet for Class A and a maximum of 75 feet from a Class D hazard.

How many fire extinguishers do I need per square foot?

The NFPA recommends, for Class A fire risks, one 2-A extinguisher for every 3,000 square feet.

Conclusion

In order to work out how many extinguishers you need for your business, you must assess the risk that comes with the work that you do. Which class of fire is most likely in your workplace? Once you have established the hazards, you can consider the type of fire extinguishers, the fire extinguisher height and placement, fire safety plans, and more.

References and Further Reading