Legal Requirements for Fire Extinguishers in the Workplace

Many types of fire extinguishers are available. It’s vital you buy the correct type for the risks in your workplace. Our guide looks at legal requirements for fire extinguishers in the workplace. Exploring what type of equipment your premises should have.

fire extinguisher on a wall

Different Types of Extinguishers – What Do You Need?

There are five main types of fire extinguisher. Each is designed to cope with a different type of fire hazard. However, some are can be used for more than one type of fire.

The type of fire extinguisher you need will depend on what has been identified in your fire risk assessment.

You’ll need the correct extinguisher from the following types:-

  • WATER fire extinguisher. Used for Class A fires which involve common hazards such as wood, straw, paper and coal.
  • FOAM fire extinguisher. Can be used for Class A fires but is also suitable for use with a Class B fire (flammable liquids) so it can tackle petrol and paints.
  • CO2 (carbon dioxide) fire extinguisher. Can be used for electrical hazards, and can also tackle flammable liquids under Class B risks.
  • POWDER fire extinguisher. Suitable for many different types of fires so it is good for premises where there could be fires involving flammable liquids, gas or electrical fires as well as Class A fires.
  • WET CHEMICAL extinguisher. Designed specifically for fires involving cooking oil and fat (such as chip pan or deep fryer incidents) but it is also effective with Class A fires.

Assess Your Fire Risks

You should buy extinguishers based on the most likely risks for your premises. For example, a chip shop would almost certainly want to have a wet chemical extinguisher on hand if cooking oil and fat are used.

It’s also a good idea to buy fire blankets. A fire extinguisher can malfunction or there might be no one available who knows how to use it. Our guide on workplace fire safety has a comprehensive risk assessment guide.

How Many Fire Extinguishers are Required in Business Premises?

The number of fire extinguishers your business needs will depend on the size of your premises and whether yours is a low or high risk business.

As a general rule, in a low risk workplace an employee should be within 30 metres of a fire extinguisher. It is best to site them close to potential fire risk and at room exit doors and stairways.

It’s important that employees can get hold of an extinguisher quickly. If possible, mount them on the wall or on a stand with an sign above so that they can be seen clearly.

Make sure that staff know where all the fire extinguishers are. They should also be trained to use them. You should make sure that someone has the job of checking them regularly (in case they have been stolen or tampered with.)

Most types of extinguisher need to be discharged and refilled within certain timeframes. Extinguishers should be visually inspected regularly, around once a month, and tested or serviced each year.

An employer must ensure that all fire safety equipment is maintained and ready to be used if needed.

Fire Detection Equipment

You should also invest in smoke detectors.

Around 80% of fires are put out using a portable fire extinguisher. It is thought they save at least 24 lives and prevent more than 1500 fire related injuries in the UK each year.

Staff should never try to fight a fire if it would put their safety at risk. However, if it is a small fire that can be easily dealt with, then an extinguisher could prevent the fire spreading and putting more people at risk.

You may think that fires at work are unusual, but figures for 2014 show there were around 22,000 incidents in England and Wales.

Fire Safety Legislation

Fire safety regulations in the UK changed in 2006 when the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into effect. It brought together all fire safety legislation into one single order.

This legislation made business owners and managers responsible for carrying out a fire safety risk assessment. A further requirement was putting in place and maintaining a fire management plan.

All businesses must carry out a fire risk assessment and decide on fire detection, alert and equipment needed. However, in a very small workplace, the fire warning system could be as simple as someone shouting “Fire!”

The new legislation scrapped the annual fire certificate requirement. This is because the government feels that business owners are better placed to understand risks in their premises.

The Order does not specify minimum fire safety measures. However, remember that your industry may be covered by other legislation covering minimum provision. That said, you could be prosecuted if you fail to protect your staff. An insurance company could also refuse to pay for damage if it could have been prevented by safety measures or equipment.

Employers who would like help in carrying out a risk assessment or have any doubts about their fire policy – such as the correct number of extinguishers to buy – should take professional advice from their local fire service.

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