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Fire extinguishers and their importance to your business

Businesses have a specific duty of care for fire safety to those who use or visit their premises and fire extinguishers represent an essential first line of defence against the risks posed by fire.

According to the Fire Industry Association (FIA) a new survey has highlighted that rather than declining in importance, portable fire extinguishers have an even more vital role to play as a first aid response to fire, with 88 percent of fires that are tackled with portable fire extinguishers actually being extinguished.

This is an increase on the figure from a similar survey conducted back in 2003 which identified that in 80 percent of fires where extinguishers were employed, the fires were successfully put out .

Under the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order (RFO), a responsible person must provide and maintain appropriate fire-fighting equipment.

The provision of suitable fire extinguishers is dependent on several factors including the type of fire. Fires are divided in to various classes – Class A refers to those involving carbonaceous materials such as paper and wood, Class B to fires involving flammable liquids, Class C to fires involving flammable gases and Class D to metal based fires.

Electrical fires are not included since they can fall into any class but there are extinguishers for use where an electrical current may be present. Class F is for fires involving cooking oils and fats.

Guidance on what is deemed to be an adequate provision of portable fire extinguishers is found in British Standard BS5306 Pt.8 which covers their selection and installation and is referred to in the various Fire Guides published by the Communities and Local Government to help the responsible person.

The British Standard also provides guidance on accessibility, mounting and location of fire extinguishers which generally should be easily available in conspicuous positions on brackets or stands where they will be readily seen by persons following an escape route. Some, of course, may need to be positioned close to a specific fire hazard but not so near as to be inaccessible or place the operator in undue danger in case of fire.

Maintenance not only means annual servicing by a competent person but also includes weekly checks to ensure appliances remain readily accessible and in apparent working order.

Importantly the responsible person must also provide adequate fire safety training to their staff which will take account of the findings of the risk assessment and explain the emergency procedures. All staff are, at least, expected to know the location of fire protection equipment and basic operating procedures, just in case they are needed. Appropriate staff, such as fire marshals, would need suitable additional training. Clearly safety is paramount and no one should attempt to tackle a fire unless it is safe to do so.

As detailed in the RFO, businesses that do not comply with the legislation can expect to face sanctions by the enforcing authority, which include alterations notices, enforcement notices and prohibition notices. Failure to comply with a notice will result in prosecution and penalties include fines, imprisonment or both.

It is abundantly evident that fire safety is something that all businesses should take very seriously, and fire extinguishers must form an integral part of any firm's approach to it.

Aviva's property class specialist Martin Hartley says: "Portable fire extinguishers form an important part of the fire safety measures for a building being ‘first aid’ appliances for use on small fires in their initial stages – the so called ‘waste bin’ fire. Businesses are well advised to provide appropriate staff with suitable training to extinguish that small fire safely which can significantly reduce the risk to others and stop a fire having devastating consequences."

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