If you like doing puzzles, you may enjoy the challenge of deciphering government regulations. A case in point is determining whether fire extinguishers in a workplace need to be identified with signs.
Here is the only guidance that OSHA’s regulations offer:
The employer shall provide portable fire extinguishers and shall mount, locate and identify them so that they are readily accessible to employees without subjecting the employees to possible injury [OSHA regulation 1910.157(c)(1)].
At first glance, this sentence does not seem to say anything whatsoever about posting signs. Looking at the language more carefully, though, brings it into clearer focus. There is a directive to “identify” fire extinguishers. Identify seems to imply some type of a sign.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) can usually be counted on to give more detailed answers. According to NFPA’s standards, the location of fire extinguishers housed inside cabinets must be “marked conspicuously.” Also, in large rooms and in places where visual obstructions exist, “means shall be provided to indicate the extinguisher location.” Local building codes typically follow NFPA standards.
What’s the bottom line? OSHA inspectors and local building inspectors will most likely expect a noticeable fire extinguishers sign, particularly if the extinguisher is located inside a cabinet, in a large room, or in a place where the extinguisher is obstructed from being easily seen.
This naturally leads to the next question: what type of sign is needed? OSHA is silent on this matter, but NFPA takes a stab at it:
Where signs are used to indicate fire extinguisher location, the signs shall comply with the following:
- They shall be located in close proximity to the extinguisher;
- They shall be visible from the normal path of travel.
In other words, the sign must be nearby and be visible from the normal path of travel. This is, really, common sense.
Both OSHA and NFPA suggest that fire extinguishers must have identifying signs. Ultimately, the best reason to conspicuously alert staff members about the locations of fire extinguishers is because it is a good safety practice.
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 NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers (2013), 188.8.131.52.2, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, accessed July 6, 2015, https://www.nfpa.org.
 Ibid., 184.108.40.206.2.
 Ibid., 220.127.116.11.3.