Fire extinguishers are essential safety devices for any small business. They can help prevent the spread of fire, protect lives and property, and avoid costly fines and penalties. However, not all fire extinguishers are the same. Depending on the type of fire hazard, the size of the room, and the employee capabilities, you may need different kinds of fire extinguishers for your business.
In this article, we will explain the different types and sizes of fire extinguishers for small businesses, and how to comply with OSHA fire safety standards and regulations. We will also provide some tips on how to choose, use, and maintain fire extinguishers for your business.
- Fire extinguishers are classified by letters (A, B, C, D, or K) based on the type of fire they can extinguish.
- Fire extinguishers are also rated by numbers (1-40 for Class A fires, 1-640 for Class B fires) based on the size of fire they can extinguish.
- OSHA requires employers to provide fire extinguishers that are accessible, operational, and appropriate for the potential fire hazards in their workplaces.
- OSHA also requires employers to provide fire extinguisher training for employees at least once a year, and to conduct monthly visual inspections and annual maintenance inspections of fire extinguishers.
- The size and number of fire extinguishers needed for a small business depend on several factors, such as the type of fire risk, the size of the room, the fuel load, and the employee capabilities.
Types of Fire Extinguishers
Fire extinguishers are classified by letters (A, B, C, D, or K) based on the type of fire they can extinguish. Each letter corresponds to a different class of fire:
- Class A fires involve ordinary combustible materials such as paper, wood, cloth, rubber, or plastic.
- Class B fires involve flammable or combustible liquids such as gasoline, oil, paint, solvents, or grease.
- Class C fires involve energized electrical equipment such as wiring, appliances, computers, or machinery.
- Class D fires involve combustible metals such as magnesium, titanium, sodium, or potassium.
- Class K fires involve cooking oils or fats such as vegetable oil, animal fat, or lard.
Some fire extinguishers are designed to be effective against more than one class of fire. These are called multi-purpose fire extinguishers. For example:
- An ABC fire extinguisher can be used on Class A, B, or C fires.
- A BC fire extinguisher can be used on Class B or C fires.
- A K fire extinguisher can be used on Class K fires or small grease fires.
The type of fire extinguisher you need for your small business depends on the type of fire hazard you may encounter in your workplace. For example:
- If you have an office with paper documents, furniture, carpets, or curtains, you may need a Class A or an ABC fire extinguisher.
- If you have a garage with gasoline tanks, oil drums, paint cans, or solvents, you may need a Class B or a BC fire extinguisher.
- If you have a computer room with electrical equipment such as servers, monitors, printers, or cables, you may need a Class C or an ABC fire extinguisher.
- If you have a workshop with metal shavings, powders, or chips, you may need a Class D fire extinguisher.
- If you have a kitchen with cooking oils or fats such as vegetable oil, animal fat, or lard, you may need a Class K fire extinguisher.
The following table summarizes the types of fire extinguishers and their uses:
|Water||A||Red||For Class A fires only|
|Carbon Dioxide||BC||Red||For Class B or C fires only|
|Dry Chemical||ABC||Red||For Class A,|
B, or C fires | | Wet Chemical | K | Silver | For Class K fires only | | Metal/Sand | D | Yellow | For Class D fires only |
Sizes of Fire Extinguishers
Fire extinguishers are also rated by numbers (1-40 for Class A fires, 1-640 for Class B fires) based on the size of fire they can extinguish. The higher the number, the larger the fire that can be extinguished. Higher numbers will generally be found on larger extinguishers.
- A 2A:10B:C fire extinguisher can be used on a 2.5-gallon Class A fire, a 10-square-foot Class B fire, or a Class C fire.
- A 4A:80B:C fire extinguisher can be used on a 5-gallon Class A fire, an 80-square-foot Class B fire, or a Class C fire.
The size of fire extinguisher you need for your small business depends on several factors, such as the type of fire risk, the size of the room, the fuel load, and the employee capabilities. For example:
- If you have a small office with limited combustible materials, you may need a 2A:10B:C or a 3A:40B:C fire extinguisher.
- If you have a large warehouse with a high fuel load and a fire has more room to spread, you may need a 10A:120B:C or a 20A:160B:C fire extinguisher.
- If you have employees who are not physically capable of lifting or using a heavy fire extinguisher, you may need a smaller and lighter fire extinguisher, such as a 5-lb or a 10-lb extinguisher.
The following table summarizes the sizes of fire extinguishers and their weights:
|2.5 lb||5 lb||1.25 quarts|
|5 lb||10 lb||2.5 quarts|
|10 lb||20 lb||5 quarts|
|20 lb||35 lb||10 quarts|
OSHA Fire Safety Standards and Regulations
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is the federal agency that establishes and enforces standards to protect workplaces from fire emergencies and other hazards. To comply with OSHA standards, employers must use OSHA-approved fire extinguishers, stay up to date with regulation inspections, provide annual fire extinguisher training for employees, and ensure that extinguishers are readily accessible and clearly marked.
OSHA sets the following fire extinguisher requirements for general business:
- Fire extinguishers must be accessible to employees without subjecting them to possible injury.
- Only OSHA-approved fire extinguishers may be used.
- Fire extinguishers must be charged, operational, and in their designated place when not in use.
- Fire extinguishers that use carbon tetrachloride or chlorobromomethane are prohibited.
- Do not use soldered or riveted shell self-generating soda acid, foam, or gas cartridge water-type fire extinguishers that operate by rupturing the cartridge or generating chemical reactions to expel the extinguishing agent.
OSHA sets additional requirements for training and inspection:
- Employees are prohibited from handling portable fire extinguishers unless they have been trained in proper use.
- Organizations are required to provide fire extinguisher training for employees when they are first hired and then at least once a year.
- Visual inspections must be performed monthly on all portable fire extinguishers, but documentation is not required.
- Annual portable fire extinguisher inspection is mandatory and must be documented.
OSHA also sets guidelines for the distribution and placement of fire extinguishers based on the class of fire and the travel distance. Travel distance is the distance an employee must walk to reach the fire extinguisher. It is measured down the center of the natural walking path, including curves around corners, walls, and doors. These are the guidelines for the distribution and placement of fire extinguishers:
- For Class A fires, travel distance must be 75 feet or less.
- For Class B fires, travel distance must be 50 feet or less.
- For Class C fires, travel distance is determined by the A or B hazards present. For offices and warehouses with ordinary combustibles, a Class C extinguisher should follow Class A distance standards. If flammable liquids are present, use the Class B travel distance.
- For Class D fires, travel distance must be 75 feet or less.
- For Class K fires, travel distance must be 30 feet or less.
The following table summarizes the distribution and placement of fire extinguishers based on the class of fire and the travel distance:
|Class of Fire||Travel Distance|
|A||75 feet or less|
|B||50 feet or less|
|C||Depends on A or B hazards present|
|D||75 feet or less|
|K||30 feet or less|
Tips on Choosing, Using, and Maintaining Fire Extinguishers
Choosing, using, and maintaining fire extinguishers for your small business can be challenging, but it is also crucial for your safety and compliance. Here are some tips to help you with these tasks:
- Choose fire extinguishers that match the type and size of fire hazards in your workplace. Consult with a professional fire protection company if you are not sure what kind of fire extinguishers you need.
- Use fire extinguishers only if you are trained and confident in using them, and if the fire is small, contained, and not spreading rapidly.
- Follow the PASS technique to use fire extinguishers effectively: Pull the pin, Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep from side to side.
- Maintain fire extinguishers regularly by checking the pressure gauge, the hose, the nozzle, and the locking pin. Replace or recharge fire extinguishers that are damaged, expired, or used.
- Store fire extinguishers in a visible and accessible location, away from heat sources and potential fire hazards. Use signs or labels to indicate the location and type of fire extinguishers.
- Review and update your fire safety plan and procedures periodically. Conduct fire drills and training for your employees to ensure they are familiar with the fire extinguishers and how to use them.
Fire extinguishers are vital safety devices for any small business. They can help you prevent or control fire emergencies, protect your employees and customers, and comply with OSHA standards and regulations. However, you need to choose the right type and size of fire extinguishers for your business, use them properly and safely, and maintain them regularly. By following these tips, you can ensure that your fire extinguishers are ready and effective when needed.