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How Many Fire Extinguishers Do I Need in the Workplace?

Perform a Fire Risk Assessment

It is necessary to strategically position the correct form and number of fire extinguishers in the workplace. It is possible that there would be enough extinguishers if the premises have a current fire certificate. However, additional fire extinguishers may be needed, particularly for specific risks, depending on the results of the fire risk assessment.

Identify Fire Hazards and Appropriate Fire Extinguishers

As an aid to help identify which extinguishers are required for a given hazard, it is useful to consider the different classes of fire as follows:

  • Class A Fires involving solid materials.
  • Class B Fires involving liquids or liquefiable solids.
  • Class C Fires involving gases.
  • Class D Fires involving metals.

Providing a water-type extinguisher is the best method of protecting a class A fire danger. Also useful are foam and dry powder fire extinguishers.

The best form of extinguisher for a Class B fire danger is foam, although it is also possible to use carbon dioxide or dry powder forms.

Class C fire hazards can be protected by dry powder extinguishers. However, if a fire happens in a gas, the first line of defence is not to extinguish it but to isolate the supply. It is important to note that if a gas fire is extinguished, gas, sometimes colourless and heavier than air, can escape. This poses a higher probability of subsequent detonation.

Class D fire hazards, including products such as aluminium, magnesium or sodium, are usually uncommon. You cannot successfully use any of the above fire extinguishers to extinguish a Class D fire. To deal with these fires, unique powders are needed and are available from specialist stockists.

Identifying where Extinguishers are needed

It may be appropriate to provide any, or all, of the above types of extinguisher after carrying out a thorough fire risk assessment. The evaluation can decide how many extinguishers are needed for a particular risk and what types are required. For instance, assume that a room is used for mechanical equipment storage and that there is a large electrical switch panel in the corner of the room. The fire risk assessment could determine that a single carbon dioxide-type extinguisher would be appropriate to deal with the fire should a fire start at the panel. Therefore, one carbon dioxide extinguisher should be purchased and placed at a safe distance from the panel as a result of the assessment.

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Fire Extinguisher Placement

It must be remembered that to successfully extinguish a fire, each type of fire extinguisher requires a different technique. The fire risk assessment should identify who, if a fire is detected, is most likely to be present. Appropriate training in the particular technique used to fight fire should be provided. Not only are fire extinguishers used to combat small fires in the workplace, but they are also used to secure the ‘means of escape’ as well.

Providing for Safe Evacuation

If people evacuate from a building and find that the fire has violated their escape route, it may be necessary to use an extinguisher to assist evacuation for a short period of time. Again, this should be identified in the risk assessment, and appropriate training for employees in the general use of fire extinguishers should be provided.

Conclusion

In large part, the potential for fire to devastate a business is significant, unless adequate planning and preparation are conducted. It is recommended that you review your workplace, identify what hazards are present that could cause a fire and identify the appropriate extinguisher to cover that hazard. Having the right fire extinguisher, in the right place at the time when needed is critical to protect life and property.

If you are struggling to make sense of the necessary fire safety aspects of your workplace give us a call on 1300 990 336 or email us at info@intrinsicsafety.com.au to start the conversation on how to ensure your workplace and staff are prepared for any challenge.

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