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You already know that you need top-quality, UK standard fire extinguishers strategically located throughout your business premises. Even so, you still might have some questions about which fire extinguishers are best for your workplace, where to locate them and how to maintain them.

When it comes to health and safety, fire extinguishers may well be one of the most important pieces of equipment you buy, so it’s understandable that this is something you want to get right. Read on for our fool-proof guide to choosing the best fire extinguishers for your business. We’ll help you decide exactly what you need, to feel you have fire safety at work covered.

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How to Choose the Best Fire Extinguishers for Your Workplace

It is important for you to consider many aspects when deciding which fire extinguisher best suits your workplace or any given environment. You will want to be covered for every eventuality, and with this in mind we have devised a guide to aid in your decision making process, detailing the most important things to know when selecting a fire extinguisher.

How do fire extinguishers work?

You may feel that you don’t need to know the details of how your fire extinguishers work, just that they do. However, understanding how different types of fire extinguishers work will help you decide exactly which ones you need.

Fire extinguishers work in one of three ways.

  • Water fire extinguishers are the most common and work much as you would expect them to: by removing heat from the fire.
  • Dry powder extinguishers work by smothering the fire with a layer of powder or foam that cuts off the oxygen fueling the fire.
  • Carbon dioxide extinguishers both smother the fire and, as the CO2 cools, they remove the heat from the fire.

Why does this matter? Different types of fire extinguishers are suitable for different types of fire. Water extinguishers may work on the majority of fires, but you do not want your staff using them on an electrical fire, for example. So, what type of fire extinguisher do you need? Or more importantly, what colour fire extinguisher do you need?

How are fire extinguishers colour coded?

You have probably noticed that the colours of fire extinguishers have changed. Whereas they used to come in several different colours, most fire extinguishers are now red, or occasionally they have a chrome or metallic appearance. Even so, the colour coding you may remember from the past remains. Fire extinguishers now come with a prominent coloured band or label which is still used to indicate what type of fire extinguisher you are buying.

To make life easy, most fire extinguishers also clearly state what they contain on this band. This is important to know as you need to keep the right fire extinguishers to hand, depending on what type of fire risk you face in any given area. Colour coding works as follows:

  • Red Fire Extinguishers – (water) Safe for use on paper, wood and fabric fires
  • Cream Fire Extinguishers – (foam) Safe for use on flammable liquid fires as well as paper, wood, and fabric fires
  • Blue Fire Extinguishers – (dry powder) Which are safe for use on gaseous fires, flammable liquid and electrical fires, as well as paper, wood, and fabric fires
  • Black Fire Extinguishers– (CO2) These are fire extinguishers for electrical fires and flammable liquid fires
  • Yellow Fire Extinguishers – (wet chemical) Suitable for cooking oils and fatty liquid fires
  • White fire extinguisher (water mist) – Ideal for organic solid fires or burning fats, as found in deep fat fryers

While Water Fire Extinguishers and Foam Fire Extinguishers are the most common, it is certainly possible you will need powder extinguishers in the workplace if your business uses flammable gases, flame cutting or welding, or has a large boiler room. Garage forecourts are usually equipped with dry powder fire extinguishers, as are businesses with electrical equipment which will need a suitable fire extinguisher for electrical hazards. Work vehicles should also carry a 2kg carbon dioxide fire extinguisher or a car fire extinguisher, while wet chemical fire extinguishers are vital in environments where cooking oils or hot, flammable liquids are in use.

How many fire extinguishers do I need?

The short answer to this is enough to ensure fire safety throughout your business premises. The UK Fire Industry Association offers rough guidelines, stating that you need at least one 13A fire extinguisher per 200 square metres of floor space, and at least two 13A fire extinguishers per floor. These guidelines do not, however, take into account your individual circumstances and any risks particular to your business.

It is vital to have a professional fire risk assessment carried out, to determine exactly what is required for the safety of your workforce, customers and premises. This will take into account specific risks that may require specialist firefighting equipment and will ensure that you are not in breach of any national laws or guidelines.

Designating a fire warden

UK businesses need to designate a ‘responsible person’ (or persons) to oversee fire prevention strategies, and to ensure procedures to prevent injury or death in the event of a fire. This is an important role that encompasses fire extinguisher management throughout the premises.

Ideally this person, or persons, will put in place an active fire safety management protocol, regularly checking fire extinguishers to ensure that they conform to current regulations and are in good working order, and replacing all fire safety equipment as soon as necessary. Record all ongoing fire safety monitoring carefully with Inspection and Recharge Tags. As stated in Health and Safety Authority guidelines:

"A record of the work carried out on such equipment and systems will help to demonstrate compliance with the law."

It goes without saying that too much is better than too little when it comes to fire safety equipment, procedures and protocols.

Why fire extinguishers are important

It’s easy to assume that fires are a rare and unlikely occurrence, but according to UK Government statistics, Fire and Rescue Services attended over 180,000 fires in the year ending September 2018. Thankfully many fires are small, and easily dealt with, which is exactly why putting good fire safety practices, and adequate fire safety equipment, in place is so essential.

Bigger fires can be highly destructive and dangerous, not to mention expensive. The worst-case scenario is loss of life and serious injury, but even if this is avoided, fire damage represents a serious and expensive problem, even in smaller fires. Expect your insurance company to go through your fire safety practices with a fine-tooth comb before paying out if you are claiming as a result of a fire. Insurance companies know they can often void a policy based on a disregard for fire safety guidelines. While you might be concerned with the prices of fire extinguishers, the cost of this simple piece of equipment is far outweighed by the potential legal costs or the reparations you may have to pay as a result of non-compliance.

As already stated, some companies may be tempted to neglect or de-prioritise fire safety simply because fires are seen as unlikely, but remember that minor fires are more common than you might think, and often a fire remaining minor comes down to how quickly and easily it is put out. While you can get equipment at a good price, you should not simply go for the cheapest fire extinguishers. Instead, you should look for quality and suitability. When it comes to fire prevention, it is always worth going the extra mile to ensure your workspace is well equipped and fully compliant.

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