Tel: +27 10 592 2111      Email: sales@firstaidfiresafety.co.za
Search
Close this search box.

Choosing The Right Fire Extinguisher For Your Workplace

Table of Contents

Understanding fire classifications

Before investigating the specifics of choosing the right fire extinguisher for your workplace, it is important to have a clear understanding of the various types of fires you may encounter. This is essential because the effectiveness of a fire extinguisher greatly depends on the nature of the fire it is being used against.

class a fires

The classes of fire are categorised as follows:

  • Class A fires involve ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, and other materials that leave an ash. These are common in many workplaces and can often be extinguished with water.
  • Class B fires are fires that burn flammable liquids like petrol, diesel, and oil. It is important to note that these fires cannot be effectively extinguished with water due to the risk of spreading the flammable liquid.
  • Class C fires are those that involve electrical equipment. Since water conducts electricity, using a water-based extinguisher on this type of fire could be dangerous.
  • Class D fires involve flammable metals such as magnesium or aluminium shavings or powders. These types of fires require a very specific type of extinguishing agent.
  • Class F fires are specific to cooking oils and fats, often seen in kitchens and can be especially tricky due to the high temperatures involved.

Knowing these classes of fires is the first step in equipping your workplace with the appropriate fire safety tools. Each type of fire extinguisher is designed to tackle specific classes of fires effectively without causing further danger or damage.

Now that we’re familiar with the different classes of fire, the next step is choosing the correct fire extinguisher for your workplace. Matching the right type to the specific risks present in your environment is crucial to ensure everyone’s safety.

class b fires

Selecting the right fire extinguisher

When selecting a fire extinguisher, consider the following types and their corresponding uses:

  1. Water-based Extinguishers: These are ideal for Class A fires involving ordinary combustibles like wood, paper, and textiles. They work by cooling the burning material below the ignition point.
  2. Foam Extinguishers: These are suitable for both Class A fires and Class B fires involving flammable liquids. Foam extinguishers smother the fire by forming a barrier between the fuel and the air.
  3. Dry Powder Fire Extinguishers: Versatile and powerful, dry powder extinguishers can tackle Class A, B, and C fires. They work by separating the fuel from the oxygen or by removing the heat element of the fire triangle.
  4. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extinguishers: These are primarily used for electrical fires (Class C fires) due to their non-conductive nature. They are also effective on Class B fires, which involve flammable liquids. CO2 extinguishers work by displacing oxygen and removing the heat with a cold discharge.
  5. Specialist Extinguishers for Class D Fires: These are designed for fires involving flammable metals and work by smothering the fire and absorbing the heat.
  6. Wet Chemical Extinguishers: Specifically designed for Class F fires, these are perfect for kitchen environments where oils and fats might ignite.

Understanding the sizes and weights of extinguishers is also important. Larger extinguishers can tackle bigger fires but may be too heavy for some individuals to operate effectively. Therefore, it’s essential to balance the size and capability of the extinguisher with the practicality of use.

Remember, using the wrong type of extinguisher can be ineffective or, worse, hazardous. For instance, a water-based extinguisher should never be used on fires involving electrical equipment due to the risk of electric shock, nor should they be used on pan fires (Class F fires) as they can cause the burning oil to splash and spread the fire.

class d fires

The effective use of fire extinguishers

Having chosen the right fire extinguisher for your workplace, the next crucial step is ensuring they are used effectively. It’s not enough to simply have them on hand; employees must know how an extinguisher works and when to use it.

Training and awareness

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to fire safety. Regular training ensures that employees are not only aware of where fire extinguishers are located but also confident in how to use them. Most fire extinguishers operate using the P.A.S.S. technique:

  • Pull the pin to break the tamper seal.
  • Aim low, pointing the extinguisher nozzle (or its hose) at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent.
  • Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire until it appears to be out.

Regular maintenance

A fire extinguisher can only serve its purpose if it’s in good working order. Monthly checks and annual maintenance by a certified professional are required to ensure that each extinguisher works when it counts. This includes checking for physical damage, corrosion, and ensuring the pressure gauge reads the correct operating range.

Accessibility

Extinguishers must be easily accessible in an emergency. They should be placed in clear view, unobstructed, and with proper signage. Sizes and weights should be considered to ensure that employees can handle them comfortably.

class f fires

Limitations of fire extinguishers

It’s important to recognize the limitations of fire extinguishers. They are designed for small, contained fires and are not suitable for large, spreading fires. If a fire is quickly getting out of control, it’s time to evacuate and call the fire department. No heroics should ever come before personal safety.

The effective use of fire extinguishers also hinges on a clear understanding of different fires. For instance, a dry powder fire extinguisher is often a good general option as it can tackle various types of fires. However, it may not be the best choice for a kitchen environment where a Class F fire is more likely, and a wet chemical extinguisher would be more suitable.

Planning for emergencies 

An essential part of fire safety is not just having the right equipment but also preparing for the worst-case scenario and having a robust fire response plan in place.

Developing a fire response plan

A fire response plan is a detailed document that outlines the procedures to be followed in case of a fire. It should include:

  • Evacuation routes and exits: Clearly marked and free of obstructions, allowing for quick and safe exit from the building.
  • Assembly points: Designated safe areas where employees can gather after evacuating.
  • Communication protocol: Procedures on how to alert everyone in the building and contact emergency services.
  • Designated roles: Assigning responsibilities, such as fire wardens, to lead the evacuation and account for all staff members.

Regular drills should be conducted to ensure everyone knows the plan and can act swiftly and calmly in an emergency.

Liaising with the fire department

Establishing a good relationship with your local fire department can greatly enhance your fire safety preparedness. They can provide valuable insights into your specific safety needs, and in some cases, they may offer training or support for your fire response plan.

classes of fire

Continuous education

Fire safety education should not be a one-time event. It should be an ongoing process with regular updates on procedures, equipment, and risks. Keeping abreast of new fire safety technologies and regulations is also crucial.

Partnership with safety training providers

Partnering with a competent occupational health and safety training provider, such as First Aid, Fire and Safety Training, ensures that your employees receive comprehensive training. They can help with everything from selecting the appropriate fire extinguishers to comprehensive fire safety training for your workplace.

Conclusion

Choosing the right fire extinguisher is fundamental, but it is only the beginning of fostering a safe work environment. Fire safety hinges on understanding the various types of fires, having the correct extinguisher within reach, and ensuring that your team is well-trained and ready to spring into action when necessary. Consistent maintenance and clear safety procedures all make up the tapestry of a safer workplace.

At First Aid, Fire and Safety Training, we’re not only committed to providing your organisation with the essential knowledge and training but also with the necessary safety equipment you need to protect your workplace from the devastating impact of fires. To maintain the readiness and functionality of your firefighting equipment, we also offer comprehensive fire equipment servicing.

Remember, the best line of defence against the outbreak of fire is a proactive stance on prevention and preparedness. Don’t wait for an emergency to reveal gaps in your safety plans. Get in touch with us today, and together, let’s ensure that your workplace is equipped, your staff is prepared, and your business is protected.

Ready to start your training?

Download our course guide to view all course information and pricing.