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Why Training Is Needed To Use Fire Extinguishers Effectively

Jul 24, 2008
The fire extinguisher is an essential piece of equipment in many workplaces. Legal obligations require businesses to ensure that there are a suitable number of fire extinguishers on premises to ensure that if a fire does break out; staff members have some form of tool to combat the blaze. But with so many different types of fire extinguisher out there, the need for adequate training is vital if they are to be used effectively. As a business owner, giving staff members the knowledge of which extinguishers to use that will combat the different types of fire is a fundamental responsibility.

Basically there are four different forms of fire extinguisher on the market today, each of these variants have specific applications depending upon the type of fire. Today, government legislation demands that a business must have a suitable number of these extinguishers to fight fires, no matter what type of blaze it might be. Training can help staff members to understand the labelling system used on modern extinguishers. While they are quite simplistic, it is still important to have additional knowledge on how to use them. The labelling system relies upon coloured shapes with letters, the shape and letter determines the type of extinguisher and the uses for the equipment.

Additionally there is a class system that gives the user information on which extinguisher can be used on different combustibles. Class A extinguishers will be able to put out fires of normal combustibles; these combustibles are items such as wood and paper and are prevalent in most businesses. Class B extinguishers can be used against flammable liquids like oil, petrol and grease. Class C models can be used to combat electrical fires while Class D are more specialist and are normally used to combat fires involving flammable metals; Class D variants are usually designed specifically for the flammable material in question. In most cases, government legislation ensures that the right type of extinguisher is in the correct working environment.

In addition to single use extinguishers a growing number of companies now manufacture variants that fall into many classes. Multi purpose extinguishers will normally fall into Classes A, B and C as D class are reserved for specific fire hazards. While these variants used to be labelled with colour coded shapes and letters, increasingly, simple icons have been used to make usage easier. Even so, ensuring that staff members have had training to recognise the different varieties should form part of a business' fire safety plan.

As well as the class system of labelling, extinguishers contain different substances that can be used for fighting fires. These materials can generally be split into four, these are:

Dry chemical extinguishers that are multipurpose and contain an agent that can extinguish most fires with compressed a non flammable gas.

Halon extinguishers are one of the more specialist variants that are predominantly used if expensive and valuable electrical equipment is in the area. This is because Halon leaves no residue and works by interrupting the fire reaction that allows combustibles to burn.

Water extinguishers combine water with compressed gas and should never be used on any fire apart from Class As.

Carbon Dioxide extinguishers are also widely used and are effective on Class B and C fires. The CO2 starves the fire of oxygen and hence puts it out. Using these types of extinguisher will require training however as the user has to be a certain distance away and also must have the knowledge to understand when a fire has been put out.

With so many different forms of extinguisher it is understandable that training is a vital element of their use. The government insistence for a fire risk assessment is a process that should include training staff members on how to fight fires, remember however that extinguishers are only ever a stop gap measure, if the fire becomes too large; it is always worth leaving to the professionals.
About the Author
Health and safety expert Thomas Pretty looks into the importance of fire extinguisher training as a legal responsibility.
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