Fire Risk Assessment
As a general rule, your Fire Risk Assessment should be your guide to the type of (and how many) fire extinguishers your business requires. However, getting it right can still be a daunting task partly due to the variety of extinguishers available, and partly due to changes in legislation. It’s very important that you get it right, however; using the wrong type of extinguisher can have severe consequences, up to and including making a fire worse or causing it to spread. A lack of appropriate fire safety training could mean that your employees are injured trying to fight a fire with incorrect equipment, and not ensuring that your equipment is maintained could have a drastic and possibly fatal outcome.
What are the Different types of Fire Extinguishers and their uses?
There are several different types of fire extinguisher. Each has been developed with a different type of fire in mind, and the categories are as follows:
Water: Usually suitable for fires involving solids such as paper or wood.
Foam: Can be used on ‘solids’ fires, but also safe for use on flammable liquids.
CO2: Designed for use on flammable liquids and electrical fires
Wet Chemical: Exclusively used for fires involving hot fats and oils
Powder: All-purpose extinguisher suitable for use on solids, flammable liquids and gas and electrical fires. Although this extinguisher sounds like a ‘magic bullet’, deployment generally leaves a huge mess which is very hard to clean up, and can cause irreversible damage to some materials. They should also not be used in small spaces, as the powder should not be inhaled, and it’s also possible that fires extinguished using powder may reignite.
What Should I Be Doing to Comply With Regulations?
First and foremost, if you supply firefighting equipment you must ensure that it is working correctly and that your staff has adequate training to be able to use it safely.
As a minimum, all fire extinguishers should be visually checked weekly by your responsible person. Things that you should be looking out for include:
- Ensuring that all extinguishers are in place.
- That access to extinguishers is not obstructed.
- That the pressure is adequate
- That there are no signs of damage or tampering (e.g. broken seals)
You should also have an annual service by a competent person – for most businesses, this means that you will need to contact an independent external fire safety company. Following their service visit, they will usually supply you with a report indicating what (if any) changes you need to make. It’s important that you read this report carefully, and follow any action points that they note, as they are usually legally required recommendations.
In summary, in order to protect yourself, your business, your employees and the general public, extinguishers are a necessity. Once they are installed, it’s your responsibility to ensure that they are maintained, serviced and functional. You should also make sure that your employees have adequate fire safety training in order to a) ascertain whether or not it is safe to fight the fire in the first place and b) use the equipment safely in the event that they deem it safe to do so. Although it might appear that keeping up with the regulations around fire safety equipment is hard work, there is little doubt that they are the best way to ensure that a small fire does not become business threatening.