What are fire extinguishers for? This is not as daft a question as it might at first appear. We are all familiar with fire extinguishers in the workplace, they are ubiquitous and appear all over the place in what might look like a fairly random pattern. They also come in a variety of different types, 5 at the last count and within these there are even more variations e.g. water extinguishers can be water jet, water spray, water with additives and water mist or fog.
If you thought that fire extinguishers were all there to put out fires, then you would be right but that is not all; they are also to assist in controlling a fire to the extent that people can evacuate and that’s why they are carefully positioned to allow this.
What does the Law say about Fire Extinguishers?
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 says that your workplace must be “equipped with appropriate fire-fighting equipment “and that it must also be “easily accessible and simple to use”. So you know where fire extinguishers are and what they are for.
That sounds fine, what’s the problem?
Unless you have had fire extinguisher training, it may not be that “simple”. Let’s say a small fire breaks out in your work area. Firstly, you have to decide which extinguisher you are going to use and then chose the right one. Often there is only a limited choice, water or foam or CO2. but to pick the right one quickly is not so easy. They used to be painted completely different colours until the EU made us make them all red. The old colour still appears as a small patch on the extinguisher, but it’s not very helpful. Detailed instructions on how to use on the side of fire extinguishers is a good thing? However when a fire breaks out do you really want to be trying to find your reading glasses? Do you have time to read as the smoke envelops you?
Training in the use of Fire Extinguishers sounds like good idea.
Absolutely! There are many advantages to having training, especially if you get the chance to actually put out a real fire. Many people are surprised at how tricky this can be, even under controlled conditions. The professionals in the fire videos make it look really easy. It is harder than you think! The time to find out is not when you are tackling your first real fire. Water fire extinguishers are much heavier than they look and cumbersome to move. CO2 extinguishers are really noisy, run out much quicker than you want and your hands can stick to the freezing plastic horns on them. And then there’s powder extinguishers which make a terrific mess and just what do you do with a fire blanket?
Do I have to have training?
No, you don’t have to but it’s a good idea. Some employers don’t like to train staff as they would rather they didn’t put themselves at risk. They worry about litigation if things go wrong. On the other hand, if you can put out a small fire and stop from becoming a big one, then you may say “why not?”. Many people have done just that with small electrical fires, waste bins, laboratory equipment etc. The usual rules apply about not being alone, knowing which fire extinguishers to choose and how to use them. You should not take risks always making sure you have an escape route if it gets out of control.
Still sounds a bit complicated…
One way of making things considerably simpler (as the Regulations require) would be to reduce the choice of fire extinguishers. In the last couple of years a lot of work has been done to produce one fire extinguishers for use for most types of fire. One organisation who have done this are Firexo with a single extinguisher that puts out all types of fire. They even claim to be environmentally friendly, so you don’t have to worry about the mess!
Extinguishers are your friends. You probably will never need to use one, but you could be the hero of the day if you know what to do with a little training and the right equipment.