An EAP can help keep workers safe should disaster strike.

Fires happen. And in manufacturing environments, the potential for a fire-related incident means you need to be ready to keep your employees safe should disaster strike. Are you prepared to handle a fire emergency?

The potential for fires in manufacturing and metalworking environments exists—even when employees and safety teams use best practices in addressing hazards and reducing risks. That’s particularly true when chemicals and high-voltage electrical equipment are in use.

The most recent data on fires in U.S. industrial and manufacturing facilities shows that nearly 38,000 fires are reported each year, according to a 2018 report from the National Fire Protection Association.

“Structure fires are more common in manufacturing or processing properties,” NFPA says, and adds that “electrical distribution and lighting equipment was involved in 24 percent of structure fires.”

In fact, most facilities are required to have an emergency action plan to respond to a fire incident.

“If fire extinguishers are required or provided in your workplace, and if anyone will be evacuating during a fire or other emergency,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s fire protection standard (29 CFR 1910.157) requires that your business have an EAP, the agency explains.

Get tips on how to practice your emergency action plan in our article “Emergency Preparedness Training: Tabletop Exercises vs. Mock Drills."

What Is an Emergency Action Plan, and Why Is It Needed?

So what is an emergency action plan, and why should you have one?

An EAP is a site-specific plan created by your safety manager or team that details the actions your employees are to follow in an emergency. It documents who, what and in what order those response actions are to take place.

“The main reason to have an emergency action plan is to do as much as possible to keep your employees safe in case of disaster,” explains the OSHA Education Center. “The confusion of an emergency can make a bad situation worse and put lives at risk.”

An EAP has multiple elements, but here are a few key things OSHA recommends to keep in mind:

  • Make sure to plan for worst-case scenarios. That will reduce surprises if a fire erupts.
  • Be sure to regularly check your emergency contacts list to address changes in employees and contact details.
  • Plan for how emergency contacts will communicate with one another and how you will communicate broadly with employees.
  • Coordinate in advance with local fire and rescue departments, which should be named in your plan.

OSHA provides a printable EAP checklist to help you work through developing your own plan. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has an EAP template that you can use for all your emergency preparedness planning.

Another key element in improving emergency preparedness is the use of hazard communications. We explain the OSHA requirements in a quick video:

What You Should Know About Fire Extinguisher Training in the Workplace?

Businesses must decide as part of their EAPs if they should have personnel use fire extinguishers to help put out small fires or to help fight a fire until professional firefighters arrive.

The safest thing always is to evacuate employees, OSHA says. But a company might want to reduce the risks to its business by designating employees to handle small fires. Additionally, if a business is several miles from the fire department, it might also choose to have employees use fire extinguishers to help control or contain a blaze.

Either way, OSHA notes, the employees must be trained—about how to use fire extinguishers and their limitations. That requires understanding the different types of fire extinguishers and classes for which each type should be used.

Signs and posters, like this fire extinguisher classification poster from National Marker Company, can help provide reinforce that information and keep authorized employees ready for an emergency.

“Evacuation plans that designate or require some or all of the employees to fight fires with portable fire extinguishers increase the level of complexity of the plan and the level of training that must be provided employees,” the agency explains.

Basically there are four options to consider:

  • Option 1: Everyone evacuates the building if a fire breaks out.
  • Option 2: Designated and trained employees use provided fire extinguishers while all other employees evacuate.
  • Option 3: All employees are trained and authorized to use extinguishers.
  • Option 4: Extinguishers are provided but not for use by any employees.

OSHA has a risk assessment as part of its Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool to help companies evaluate whether it makes sense to have employees take on the initial work of battling a fire and under what circumstances.

In every instance where employees are authorized to use extinguishers, they must be trained upon their hiring and then retrained yearly.

“Make sure that you capture the names of all trained employees attending sessions,” safety expert Curtis Chambers told SHRM. “And more importantly, go back and identify all those workers who were absent due to sickness, vacation or other reasons on training day and get them into a makeup session so you can document their attendance.”

In addition, businesses must visually inspect their extinguishers monthly, though no reporting of these inspections is required. Annual inspections require documentation.

Have you had to respond to a fire emergency at your facility? How did it change your emergency preparedness planning?

Talk to Us!

You made a good point that emergency contacts should always be regularly updated because we can never know when emergencies will occur. I'm currently planning to open up a restaurant downtown and I starting to brush on my options for safety measures. Perhaps I should consult with an expert in fire extinguisher safety to know the optimal spots where I could get them placed.


Thanks for visiting Better MRO, Alice. It's always better to be prepared especially when it comes to keeping your staff safe.


You made a good point that having an evacuation plan is important to communicate properly with employees. My current goal is to start my own warehousing business since I have some experience in managing inventories. Hiring a commercial fire prevention service will make sure that such a business would always have some protection from fire hazards.


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