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Choosing the right fire extinguisher

11-03-2013

fire extinguisherStarting with a risk assessment

It can difficult to choose the right fire extinguisher for your business. A good place to start is with a risk assessment. Firstly, a risk assessment is a legal requirement. Secondly, it will help you identify hazardous areas, potential sources of fuel and the size of the risk. This, in turn, will help you select the right extinguisher.

Classes of fire

A fire’s class tells you what is being burned. Your risk assessment should identify types of combustible materials that are present in a given area.

Class A: Ordinary combustibles (wood, paper, cloth, rubber, plastics)
Class B: Flammable liquids (oil, petrol, gasoline greases)
Class C: Flammable gases (gas, propane, hydrogen)
Class D: Combustible metals (magnesium, titanium, etc.)
Class F: Cooking fats, oils and electrical equipment

Extinguishers are clearly marked, stating which class of fire they can tackle, but here’s a quick guide anyway.

Water extinguishers: Class A
C02 extinguishers: Class B and electrical fires
Foam extinguishers: Class A and class B
Standard ABC dry powder extinguisher: Class A, B and C fires
L2 lithium powder extinguisher: Class D, including lithium fires
M28 lithium powder extinguisher: Class D, excluding lithium fires

The bigger the better?

Naturally, you’d expect that when it comes to extinguishers, that the bigger they are, the better they are. Surprisingly, size isn’t everything.

Sometimes, smaller extinguishers are designed to tackle larger fires. For instance, some smaller water fire extinguisher may contain an additive that makes it more effective than a larger equivalent that doesn’t have the additive.

It’s a much better idea to go by the fire rating. An extinguisher’s fire rating is a number, followed by a letter. The number tells you what size fire it can fight, and the letter tells you what class of fire it can combat. For instance, if an extinguisher had a fire rating of 13A, it would be able to tackle a 13sq ft, Class A fire.

This is where your risk assessment comes in. Once you’ve identified your risk zones, you can calculate how many square feet the area is, and purchase an extinguisher with a suitable fire rating.

It’s important to know that multi-class fire extinguishers will have a separate fire rating for each class of fire it tackles. This is because it won’t be as effective against one type as fire as it is against another.

Where to position your extinguishers

Your risk assessment will tell you where your hazardous areas are. Your extinguishers should be placed within easy access of these areas.

Remember, in the event of a fire, you should never have to travel more than 25 metres, through more than two doors or to another level to reach a fire extinguisher.

What you should buy with it

It’s extremely important that your fire extinguishers are raised off the ground and secured in place. Most extinguishers come with wall fixing brackets, however, if transporting a fire extinguisher you may need a specialist bracket or box.

You will also need to purchase an accompanying extinguisher notice. It will help visitors and staff members spot your extinguisher in the event of a fire. If your extinguishers need to be temporarily moved, for maintenance checks or another reason, your extinguisher sign will let you know where they should be replaced.

Other checks

If possible, select an extinguisher that is Kite-marked to BS EN3 and CE approved. There are other marks that you can look out for which will help you identify extinguishers that have been approved by your industry’s governing body. For instance, if an extinguisher carries a Ship Mark, it will have been approved for marine use.

Chrome vs. red

In terms of safety, red is always best, simply because it’s easier to spot. However, if style is important to your premises, you might opt for a chrome extinguisher which does the job just as well, but blends in better with your furnishings.

Author biography

Natasha Sabin is a writer from islandfireprotection.co.uk. They specialise in providing supplies and services to businesses across the UK. They’re extremely passionate about sharing their expertise to help businesses adhere to the necessary guidelines. See what else they have to say by looking at their blog.

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