Fire extinguishers in the UK must conform to strict standards, which includes their colour coding. Since fires are classified into different types, such as Class A fires which involve wood, paper or plastic, different types of fire extinguishers are required for the different types of fires.
If the need arises to use a fire extinguisher at your business premises, it is important that you and your staff know the right one to use and the colour coding helps you quickly identify it.
Remember; fire can spread very quickly, so if in doubt, get out, stay out and call the Emergency Services.
UK Fire Extinguisher Colour Coding
All new fire extinguishers in the EU are painted in a rich red colour known as signal red, and the important colour coding is on their labels.
You may find older ones which are solid colours other than red; these are still legal but will need to be replaced at the end of their useful life, with the exception of green Halon extinguishers, which are now illegal.
Water Fire Extinguishers
All water fire extinguishers are solid signal red, including water additive types. These extinguishers are suitable for use on Class A fires only.
Foam (AFFF) Fire Extinguishers
Foam fire extinguishers are painted signal red, with a cream panel above their printed instructions. UK foam fire extinguishers are suitable for use on Class A and Class B fires.
Dry Powder Fire Extinguishers
Dry powder fire extinguishers are signal red with a blue panel above the printed usage instructions. These extinguishers are suitable for use on Class A, B or C fires – although ‘BC’ powder is still in use with Monnex being the best known. This labelling system is also used on ‘metal’ powder fire extinguishers, which are suitable for use on D fires only.
Carbon Dioxide Fire Extinguishers
Carbon Dioxide fire extinguishers are signal red with a black panel above their printed instructions. They are suitable for use on Class B fires and those involving electrical equipment.
Halon Fire Extinguishers
Halon fire extinguishers are now illegal in the UK. If you have an old green halon fire extinguisher, dispose of it immediately by calling a commercial halon disposal service or ask your local Fire Service.
Wet Chemical Fire Extinguishers
Wet chemical fire extinguishers can technically be used on Class A fires, but are designed for Class F fires involving cooking oils and fats. They are red with a bright yellow panel above the operating instructions.
Fire Extinguisher Standards and Ratings
All fire extinguishers should carry a British Standards Institute or BSI standard of BS EN3, a BS (BSI) Kitemark, indicating BAFE (British Approval for Fire Equipment) approval and a CE stamp.
In addition, each fire extinguisher will be marked with classes of fire it should be used on, plus a rating, such as 13A or 55B. This indicates the size of the fire that can be extinguished under test conditions, so the larger the number, the larger the fire that the extinguisher can be used on. (However, never overestimate the size of fire you should use a fire extinguisher on. If in doubt, get out, stay out, and call the Fire Brigade immediately.)
Situation and Visibility of Fire Extinguisher Coding
It is important that your staff not only know which extinguisher to use through training, but can also easily see which extinguisher is which. All fire extinguishers should be visible with their labels clearly showing, and preferably positioned so that their carrying handle is 1 metre from floor level.
In a modern office environment, it is not always possible to see items just 1 metre above floor level, so additional fire extinguisher ID signs that point to the nearest fire extinguisher stand and identify different fire extinguisher types can be real time-savers in a small fire situation.
Most floor and wall-mounted fire extinguisher stands have clear markings to differentiate between different extinguisher types, to help quick identification.