Do You Have the Correct Fire Extinguishers?
There are a number of different extinguishers available and it’s vital you buy the correct type for the risks that exist in your workplace.
Which Fire Extinguisher?There are five main types of fire extinguisher. Each is designed to cope with a specific fire hazard, but some are combination and can be used for more than one type of fire.
A WATER fire extinguisher is used for Class A fires which involve common hazards such as wood, straw, paper and coal.
A FOAM fire extinguisher can be used for Class A fires but is also suitable for use with a Class B fire (flammable liquids) so it can tackle petrol and paints.
A CO2 (carbon dioxide) fire extinguisher can be used for electrical hazards and can also tackle flammable liquids under Class B risks.
A POWDER fire extinguisher is suitable for many different types of fires so it is good for premises where there could be fires involving flammable liquids, gas or electrical fires as well as Class A fires.
Finally, a WET CHEMICAL extinguisher is designed specifically for fires involving cooking oil and fat (such as chip pan or deep fryer incidents) but it is also effective with Class A fires.
Assess Your RisksYou should buy extinguishers based on the most likely risks for your premises. (For example, a chip shop would almost certainly want to have a wet chemical extinguisher on hand if cooking oil and fat are used.)
It’s also a good idea to invest in fire blankets. A fire extinguisher can malfunction or there might be no-one available who knows how to use it.
How Many Extinguishers?The number will depend on the size of your premises and whether yours is a low or high risk business.
As a general rule, in a low risk workplace an employee should be within 30 metres of a fire extinguisher. It is best to site them close to potential fire risk and at room exit doors and stairways.
It’s important that employees can get hold of an extinguisher quickly so if possible, mount them on the wall or on a stand with an identification sign above so that they can be seen clearly.
Make sure that staff know where the extinguishers are, that they are trained to use them and ensure that someone has responsibility for checking them regularly (in case they have been stolen or tampered with.)
Most types of extinguisher need to be discharged and refilled at certain intervals. Again, as a rule of thumb, extinguishers should be visually inspected regularly – around once a month – and tested or serviced each year.
It is an employer’s responsibility to ensure that they are maintained and ready to be used if needed.
Detecting FireYou should also invest in smoke detectors. They are available for less than £10, so it makes sense to fit them since many people are killed by smoke rather than the fire itself.
Around 80% of fires are put out using a portable fire extinguisher and it is thought they save at least 24 lives and prevent more than 1500 fire-related injuries in the UK each year.
Of course, staff should never try to fight a fire if it would put their safety at risk but if it is a small fire that can be easily dealt with, then an extinguisher could prevent the fire spreading and therefore putting more people at risk.
It might be tempting to think that fires at work are unusual but figures for 2005 show there were around 25,000 incidents in England and Wales.
LegislationRegulations relating to fire safety in the UK changed in 2006 when the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into effect. It brought together all fire safety legislation into one single order.
And it made business owners and managers responsible for carrying out a fire safety risk assessment and implementing and maintaining a fire management plan.
All businesses, however small, must carry out a fire risk assessment and decide on fire detection, alert and equipment needed although in a very small workplace, such as a shop or two person office, the fire warning system could be as simple as someone shouting “Fire!”
The new legislation scrapped the annual fire certificate requirement because the government feels that those with responsibility for a business are better placed than outsiders to understand the risks in their premises.
The Order does not specify minimum fire safety measures (but remember that your industry may be covered by other legislation covering minimum provision.) However, you could be prosecuted if you fail to protect your staff and an insurance company could refuse to pay for damage if it could have been prevented by proper safety measures or equipment.
Employers who would like help in carrying out a risk assessment or have any doubts about their fire policy – such as the correct number of extinguishers to buy - should take professional advice from their local fire service.