If a fire starts in the office environment, the usual policy is to get everyone out as quickly as possible and call the fire brigade.
However there may be times when a fire is discovered at an early stage and is considered controllable. In such a situation an attempt to extinguish the fire using fire extinguishing equipment should only be made if:
- Sufficient training has been provided on using fire extinguishers
- An escape route has been established
However fires can spread very quickly and if the situation escalates and becomes uncontrollable then it must be abandoned immediately.
It is essential that every fire extinguisher on site conforms to the appropriate British Standard i.e. it must carry the kite mark or the special BAFE mark.
Where to site your extinguishers
Fire extinguishers should be bracket or stand mounted:
- Where they can be reached quickly (staff should be no more than 30 metres away from a fire extinguisher)
- Preferably on an escape route near to alarm points
- Where they are clearly visible i.e. not hidden behind doors or furniture
- Fixed to the wall at a height where it can be reached (up to 4 kg - 1.5m from the floor, more than 4kg at about 1m from the floor).
- Where they are accessible at all times. (i.e. not used as door props)
- Away from any heat source (e.g. radiators, kettles, cookers etc.)
Maintenance by a competent person
As pressurised vessels, fire extinguishers themselves carry potential risks. It also may be the difference between life and death if fire extinguishers work when needed. It is strongly advised that all fire extinguishers are properly serviced by a company registered with The British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE) 48a Eden Street, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, KT1 1EE
Tel: 020 8541 1950
This chart shows a typical maintenance programme.
|Extinguisher type||Basic service||Extended service||Overhaul & recharge|
|Water & foam||Annually||5 yearly|
|CO2||Annually||5 yearly||10 yearly|
Basic inspection by the user
Instructions on fire extinguisher self-maintenance should be provided by the manufacturer. If an extinguisher has been used completely or partially, it must be recharged according to the manufacturers' instructions. In addition The Home Office booklet Fire Safety: An Employer's Guide issued for the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations states:
Good practice is to check for correct installation and apparent function on a weekly basis.
Types of extinguisher
In office environments there are four main types of extinguisher. They are colour coded so that you can identify them quickly and use the right extinguisher for the right purpose.
- Water (Red) — For use on solids only such as wood, plastics. Extinguishes by cooling. Not safe on petrol / oil fires + not to be used near electrical equipment.
- Dry Powder (Blue or Red with a Blue strip) — Can be used on solids such as wood, plastics + liquids such as petrol / paints. Safe to use near electrical appliances. Extinguishes by smothering the flames. Does not cool very well.
- Foam (Cream or Red with a cream strip) — Can be used on solids such as wood, plastics + liquids such as petrol / paints. Safe to use near electrical appliances. Extinguishes by smothering liquids with film or cooling and smothering solids.
- CO2 (Black or Red with a Black strip) — Suitable mostly for liquids only such as petrol / paints. Safe to use near electrical appliances. Extinguishes by displacing oxygen. Does not cool and not suitable for solids.
- Fire Blanket — Very effective at smothering the fire and denying it oxygen but has to cover entire burning areas. Good for intense but localized areas such as chip fat fires.
Number of fire extinguishers required
The following information is provided as a rough guide only, a proper fire risk assessment should be made to analyse the exact requirements.
As a rule of thumb offices and shops should have one 13A extinguisher covering 200 square metres of floor area. (13A is usually proportional to minimum 6 litre foam or 9 litre water).To calculate how many 13A extinguishers are required, divide the floor area by 200, and round up.
There should be a minimum of 2 extinguishers per floor, unless the floor area is below 100m2, in which case, one extinguisher only may suffice.
Specialised extinguishers (e.g. foam, carbon dioxide) should also be considered for the risk of fires to specialist materials / circumstances (e.g. flammable liquids, electrical equipment etc).
The Health & Safety (Safety Signs & Signals) regulations 1996 requires that where extinguishers are placed in positions hidden from direct view, their location should be indicated by signs and, where appropriate, directional arrows.
It is recommended that fire signs are used in any event as they are a low cost way of increasing safety in the office environment. A wide range of fire exit signs and fire equipment signs can be obtained from The Office Safety Company.
Further information on any aspect of fire safety can be obtained from the Fire Brigade. They are usually happy to help and their expert advice is free of charge.
[Health and Safety Executive leaflets on fire safety:]
- Fire and explosion - how safe is your workplace - a short guide to the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (PDF)
- Fire Safety: An Employer's Guide — Health and Safety Executive
- Safety Signs and Signals: Guidance on Regulations - The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1995 — Health and Safety Executive
Disclaimer: The Office Safety Company have provided the ‘Quick Guides’ on the basis that the content and advice contained within these documents is to the best of our knowledge accurate at the time of publication. The Office Safety Company does not accept any liability for the accuracy of the information provided in the ‘Quick Guides’.