Fire is a risk that every business needs a basic understanding of; equally whilst law changes with country the basics of fire safety remain constant.
Within the UK and Europe Fire Risk Assessments are now a legal requirements replacing the older measures of certification by local Fire Authorities. Fire risk assessments are the first step in understanding your safety needs – looking at how you prevent fires starting, how you prevent them spreading and how people can escape from the workplace.
Within the risk assessment – or indeed within your general safety measures – you need to consider fire extinguishers.
For most business we can divide Fire Extinguishers into 4 types – each designed for certain types of fire. In the UK most are demarked by a coloured band for quick reference
Water Extinguishers (Red or Red Band) – Designed for general fires – NOT suitable for fuel, electrical or gas fires.
Foam Extinguishers – Typically a Cream Band – Designed mainly for oil and chemical fires. They will extinguish general fires but make a lot of mess in the process. They are not suitable for electrical fires.
CO2 – Carbon Dioxide – Black Band – Will work on any nearly any fire; although designed mainly for electrical fires.
Dry Powder – Blue Band – Will work on any fire but primarily designed for chemical, oil and gas fires.
Given this we can see we need to consider the types of extinguisher we have within the workplace to make sure they are suitable for the fires they may be needed for.
General Offices – Typically Water with some CO2. The risks will mainly be standard paper, carpet type fires but the range of modern electrical items in the office means we should have CO2 there as well.
Garages/Workshops – You will still need water and CO2 as a base – but Foam or Dry Powder should also be stocked.
Chemicals - Here the main focus will be dry powder and foam extinguishers.
Electrical – mainly C02 – additional dry powder can also be useful – they tend to be more effective but do damage the equipment.
The next questions to answer are how many you require and where they should be placed. Firstly remember fire extinguishers are short duration – they are designed for controlling small fires and allowing staff to escape safely from the building not for major fire fighting.
To this extent the place to begin is the fire exits. Each Fire Exit should have 2 extinguishers placed by it – for most business that would be 1 water, 1 CO2.
You should then consider additional extinguishers – typically at points around the building near to major fire doors – but as a starting point ensure that the Travel Distance is never more than 30 metres to an extinguisher- and less in higher risk areas.
In general – unless a high risk area containing fuel or similar – keep extinguishers in corridors where they are easily located.
The extinguishers should be mounted to the wall with clear display boards indicating a fire point – or use the plastic display points – again the bright red design attracts the eye and makes locating extinguishers in an emergency easier.
Its important you make sure staff are given basic induction training on fire extinguishers and important you maintain the fire extinguihers to ensure they work when they are required.
Extinguishers are a vital part of your safety plans – ensure that:
- You select the right types for each area of your business
- Ensure they are positioned correctly
- Ensure you have enough for the risks and the size of the business
- Ensure they are stationed at clearly marked fire points – along with fire plans and basic evacuation plans.
- Ensure they are checked and maintained each year and that you have records.
- Ensure staff know what types of extinguisher to use but most importantly know that escape should be their priority
- Consider extinguisher training for Fire Marshalls,