Ensuring your business and staff are protected from the risk of fire is of paramount importance. However, many people don’t realise that they are legally obliged to ensure the fire extinguishers they provide are set up correctly.
In this interview, fire safety expert David Murfitt explains what to look out for.
Can you explain how to pick the correct fire extinguisher for your business?
The most important thing is….that it’s suitable for the risk that you have in your environment. You may well be sat in a small office environment where you’ve got electrical equipment, reality is that in the event of a fire you’re quite possibly going to pick up a water fire extinguisher because that’s actually the general sort of extinguisher to be required in a premises. A lot of people would see that’s there only requirement but if there are electrics involved you’re going to need a fire extinguisher to cover that electrical risk. Generally in an office environment it’s also useful to have a fire extinguisher which is less likely to cause a conduction of electricity in its use so a fire extinguisher with an atomized spray is better than a standard water fire extinguisher.
If you’ve got chemicals or high levels of electrics then of course the type of extinguisher changes accordingly.
Do the fire extinguishers have to be vigorously tested?
There’s a British Standard Code of Practice for the provision of fire equipment, what you put, where you put it and how you put it and based on the size of the risk, the size of the fire extinguisher or its rating will differ. Through our own experience we are going out to sites where people have purchased their equipment but they suddenly find out the need for this equipment to be commissioned i.e. put into service, but when we arrive to do that they’ve actually purchased the wrong equipment for the risk which they have within their own environment.
Fire extinguishers need to be commissioned upon receipt?
They do. If you’re not experienced in fire equipment, what it should look like, what it should sound like, the functionality of it, it can actually be difficult to realise that in fact in the event that you need it, it won’t work.
What should businesses looking to buy a fire extinguisher do?
The most important thing to do is to make sure the risk you need to cover is covered with the right type of fire extinguisher. Once it’s on your site it’s got to be commissioned by a competent person. British Standard 5306 part 3 does state that a competent person is somebody who’s undergone industry training, has access to industry training and is able to competently put that piece of equipment into service.
People buy a piece of equipment, the intention ‘s are absolutely right but unfortunately cometh the event that you do need to use it – and we don’t buy fire equipment so we can use it, it’s purchased in case you need to use it but if anything goes wrong and you do end up with a fire – if that piece of equipment malfunctions or is the wrong piece of equipment for the type of fire you’ve got, so let’s take a really bad scenario where you’ve got a flammable liquid fire and you’ve got a water fire extinguisher you’ve got quite a serious problem because you’re going to make the actual fire worse and potentially put your people at a greater risk.
Do people need a fire extinguisher in every room or should they be employing someone’s services who know all about fire safety?
The first thing to look for is third party accreditations and that’s an ISO system which is backed by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. That will ensure that anyone coming out to discuss your fire protection needs with you is suitably qualified to do so. Fire extinguishers should be placed on escape routes generally unless you have specific risks and of course the most important thing is to encourage people away from the incident and to a point where they can raise the alarm. So generally where you have a fire alarm call point, so an activation device where you press the glass to break it and sound the alarm should be very, very close at hand. Training’s a big part of providing fire safety so you raise the alarm before you even think about using a fire extinguisher. Having raised the alarm you decide that it’s safe to do so because you’ve been trained, the fire is still in its very early and small stages you can tackle the fire because the fire equipment you’ve got is the right one for that particular area. The nice thing to know is that if you don’t put the fire out there’s a big red engine with blue lights on the roof of it on its way to you and hopefully they’ll arrive to congratulate you on having put the fire out. If you haven’t put it out they can take it on from there and your risks are reduced.
Do fire extinguishers need regular maintenance?
Yes, the British Standard Code of Practice requires that fire extinguishers are inspected annually and there are tests which are carried out once every five years. For instance, with a water fire extinguisher it needs to be discharged and inspected inside. The commissioning is really, really important because it makes sure the equipment is the right thing in the right place to cover the risks associated and that it will work. It’s almost a pre-service. The annual inspection thereafter will continue to maintain standards and make sure that equipment is always available and ready for use. So maintenance is critical. There should be a really big emphasis on organisations who are looking to protect themselves from fire to make sure that whatever service they use, whoever the company may be, make sure they have third party certification, check their scope of registration covers the provision of fire fighting equipment because through doing that you have got some greater reassurances that you are being given the right cover.
Fire and Safety Centre says:
We whole heartedly endorse the advice given by David Murfitt with regard to buying the best fire extinguisher for the risk being protected.
Businesses employing over 5 people have an obligation under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005 to carry out a fire risk assessment. The risk assessment should be carried out by a “responsible person”.
Once it has been established what type of fire equipment including fire extinguishers are required you can order the products online from Fire and Safety Centre and to comply with the British Standard Code of practice buy the commissioning at the same time.