Ask the expert: Physician practices and fire extinguishers

By: December 15th, 2009 Email This Post Print This Post

Q: Does OSHA require physician offices to have fire extinguishers available, if we are in a multi-MD office building that has a fire alarm and sprinkler head system installed?

A: In most workplaces portable fire extinguishers have less to due with OSHA and more to do with your local fire authority or your insurance carrier.

You need fire extinguishers if you require your employees to put out a fire (unlikely) instead of evacuating in accordance with an emergency action plan (more likely), according to OSHA’s Portable fire extinguishers—1910.157.

The most direct way is to check with your local fire authority.

The April 2009 Medical Environment Update focused on fire safety and regulations for physician practices.


By kathleen roman on December 22nd, 2009 at 10:58 am

Isn’t it likely that in a small medical or dental practice, the doctor (who may well also be the owner of the facility) would want to try to protect his/her investment by keeping fire extinguishers on site and at least making an attempt to put out a fire until the fire trucks arrive? This being the case, what advice might you have for the deployment, training, use of fire extinguishers — including knowing when to cease such efforts and leave the premises? Thanks

By David LaHoda on December 22nd, 2009 at 11:42 am

Having portable fire extinguishers on site is OK, the key point is if the employer—in this case the physician owner—makes it part of the job duties of the employees to attempt to fight a fire, in which case you are establishing a fire brigade subject to the OSHA standard, which has much higher training requirements, and potentially more liability for your workers.

Maintaining such a brigade essentially means that the facility runs its own fire department, which most facilities find too daunting and opt for the immediate evacuation response as articulated in the emergency action plan. Click here for a handy OSHA etool on establishing an emergency action plan for your workplace.

From a practical and safety point of view, it is OK for an employee to put out a small fire with a portable fire extinguisher. Just make sure that it is not stated as a job requirement, and that workers know that the preferred response to a fire emergency is evacuation.

Fire safety in physician offices was the featured topic in the April 2009 issue of Medical Environment Update.


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