Fire Retardant

Last updated: June 29, 2019

What Does Fire Retardant Mean?

A fire retardant is a substance that is used to slow or halt the spread of a fire or used to reduce its intensity.

Common fire retardants include foams, gels, and solutes that are used as part of a water-based solution.

Safeopedia Explains Fire Retardant

Fire retardants often work by smothering the material that the fire is using for fuel (either as a solid or a gas) by cooling the fuel to impede ignition or by diluting the burning material in the air to reduce its intensity or extinguish it.

Fire retardants may also destroy or dissolve the fuel source or combine with fuel molecules to become a non- or less-combustible molecule. Fire extinguishers that use material other than pure water are the most ubiquitous form of fire retardant.

The use of fire retardants is a major part of workplace fire safety that is necessary in a variety of situations in which workers face potential injury from fire hazards. Employers have a duty to create fire safety plans, which must be put in writing and made accessible to employees in workplaces with more than 10 people.

It is important to communicate how fire retardants may be used in the workplace, as many chemical-based fire retardants are toxic and pose a secondary risk to human health in the case of a fire incident. If not used properly or without the full knowledge of persons in the workplace, workers could face health issues due to exposure to these toxic substances.

In March 2010, OSHA formally made the provision of fire-retardant clothing—clothing treated with fire-retardant chemicals—a formal requirement for employers with workers in the oil and gas industry. The new requirement was justified under the General Duty Clause. Between 2006 and 2010, more than 80 oil and gas workers in the United States perished due to fire-related injuries. After the OSHA rules were implemented, that number was reduced to nine fatalities between 2010 and 2015.


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