Fire extinguisher colours determine what type of fire a particular extinguisher is compatible with putting out.
What’s on the outside of the fire extinguisher is just as much of a safety concern as what is on the inside. That’s because using a fire extinguisher for the wrong type of fire can prove hazardous to a fire emergency situation.
Therefore strict colour coding has been put in place to prevent these types of hazards.
Why Is Colour Coding Necessary?
You may be thinking why the operator of a fire extinguisher doesn’t simply read the outside label before using it. But in a fire situation, time is of the essence and there is rarely enough time to read labels or look for keywords.
In addition, smoke or heat may obstruct the person’s view from properly distinguishing what is written on the canister. Therefore, a quick look at the colour is a much more effective way of knowing whether or not the extinguisher is the right one for the type of fire.
Distinguishing Between Various Fire Extinguishers
Here is a breakdown of each colour. Learn these for yourself and make sure to educate others too.
While all UK fire extinguishers that comply with the British Standards are manufactured in signal red today, the type of extinguisher is signified by a panel of a different colour.
Water fire extinguishers: The contents of a water fire extinguisher are always signified by a red canister. Water extinguishers are completely red without any other colour panel. These extinguishers are used only for Class A fires such as paper, wood, or fabric.
Foam fire extinguishers: Foam-based extinguishers are also signal red, but have an additional cream-coloured panel on top of the canister’s instructions. Foam extinguishers are used to combat Class A and Class B fires. (Class B fires include flammable liquids such as petroleum, oil, gasoline and propane)
Dry powder fire extinguishers: Dry powder extinguishers are used for Class A, B and C fires. (Class C fires refer to gas fires, butane, methane, etc). They are also effective on electrical fires. These extinguishers are signified by a blue panel above the instructions on the signal red canister.
CO2 fire extinguishers: Class B and electrical fires should be combated by a carbon dioxide-based fire extinguisher. A CO2 extinguisher has a black panel above the instructions. The canister is also signal red.
Wet chemical fire extinguishers: The contents of a wet chemical fire extinguisher are specially designed to counter a cooking oil fire (known as a Class F fire). These fires tend to spread uncontrollably if the wrong extinguisher is used. You can tell a wet chemical fire extinguisher from others by a bright yellow panel above the instructions.
Note: 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.
Other Important Coding To Look Out For
The following markers should also appear on a fire extinguisher to make sure it is manufactured to a high standard:
- BSI – British Standards Institute
- BAFE – British Approval for Fire Equipment
- The CE stamp (European Conformity)