Deadly workplace hazards' worst enemies: early detection and preventive measures.Back to The PIG® Library
The workplace can be dangerous, and fire is among the deadliest of workplace hazards. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace fires and explosions kill 200 and injure more than 5,000 workers each year.
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning also poses a serious threat in the workplace. Often called "the silent killer," CO gives no clear warning to its victims because it is invisible and odorless. Fortunately, early detection and preventive measures can dramatically reduce the instances of workplace injuries and fatalities due to CO poisoning and/or fire.
Carbon monoxide is produced when a fuel containing carbon is inadequately burned and is not properly mixed with oxygen. It also forms when fuels are burned at excessive temperatures. Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, flushed skin, disorientation, troubled thinking, abnormal reflexes, shortness of breath, fainting, and convulsions. Chronic exposure to low CO levels impairs judgment and increases the time required to make decisions, while severe cases of CO poisoning can lead to coma and even death.
Carbon monoxide detectors are a simple, yet powerful way to protect the workplace. As an employer, you can prevent CO poisoning by:
- Eliminating sources of inadequate combustion whenever possible
- Ensuring adequate ventilation
- Installing and properly maintaining CO detectors
- Developing and enforcing safety policies and procedures
Where there's smoke...
When it comes to fire detection, effective equipment is not only common sense, its required! If your workplace uses a fire detection system that was designed and installed to meet the fire protection requirements of a specific OSHA standard, then 29 CFR 1910.164 applies to you. The standard requires that you:
- Maintain all systems in an operable condition except during repairs or maintenance
- Assure that fire detectors and fire detection systems are tested and adjusted as often as needed to maintain proper reliability and operating condition
- Assure that the servicing, maintenance and testing of fire detection systems, including cleaning and necessary sensitivity adjustments, are performed by a trained person knowledgeable in the operations and functions of the system
- Assure that fire detectors that need to be cleaned of dirt, dust, or other particulates in order to be fully operational are done so at regular periodic intervals
Extinguish the blaze
According to 29 CFR 1910.157, if you expect your workers to use fire extinguishers to put out a fire, OSHA requires that they be trained in proper extinguisher use. Proper training includes teaching them how to gauge the severity of the fire, how to select the correct type of extinguisher, and how to effectively employ the extinguisher in an emergency situation.
This standard also states that, "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 does not state how employers must identify fire extinguishers. However, glow-in-the-dark signs or floor tape are two ways to draw attention to your fire extinguisher(s). While any color is acceptable, red is considered the standard color for identification of fire protection equipment and apparatus.
Fast and safe evacuation
During the chaos caused by smoke, fire and blaring alarms, egress marking devices, such as glow-in-the-dark signs and tape, can help ensure a safe exit route. According to 29 CFR 1910.37, exit routes must be:
- Adequately lit so that an employee with normal vision can see along the exit route
- Clearly visible and marked by a sign reading "Exit"
This requirement states that, "If the direction of travel to the exit or exit discharge is not immediately apparent, signs must be posted along the exit access indicating the direction of travel to the nearest exit and exit discharge." The standard also requires that, "Each doorway or passage along an exit access that could be mistaken for an exit must be marked "Not an Exit" or similar designation, or be identified by a sign indicating its actual use (e.g., closet)."
OSHA's requirements for exit routes, emergency action plans, and fire prevention plans are found at 29 CFR 1910.34 through 1910.39.
For more information on creating an emergency exit plan, go to:
For more information on OSHAs fire safety standards, see: