Fire can erupt in the workplace from any number of hazards. It is not always clear how many fire hazards there are in the workplace, but what you must know is that water will not put them all out. That may seem odd right? It may seem that because majority of the controlled fires in our lives, campfires for example, are extinguished with water, we need not be aware of any other types of fire. Did you know though, that the majority of the types of fires are actually worsened by throwing water on them?
As a supervisor, it is important that you understand different types of fires and how to approach each one. This way, you can pass on the information to your employees and effectively prevent innumerable costs in property damage, worker’s compensation, productivity and most importantly injury or death.
Be a Better Supervisor
There are five different classes of fires. Each one has lists what can cause the fire, what type of fire extinguisher can put it out and any other notable details.
This is the first type of fire and is the only one that water can put out. Class A fires are caused by ordinary combustible materials, anything that leaves ash when it burns. Sources of these fires include wood, paper, cloth, trash, and many plastics. In addition to water, Class A fires can also be put out by Class A fire extinguishers. You can determine the type of fire extinguisher that you have by looking for a shape with a letter within it. If there is a triangle with an A inside of it, often it is green too, then it is a Class A extinguisher.
The second type of fire is caused by flammable liquids or gases. An example of a source is fuels such as gasoline or butane. Class B fires should never have water used on them, it will only spread the liquid or gas which will also spread the fire from its origin. Instead, these fires are best extinguished by smothering them, which depletes the oxygen supply, or with Class B extinguishers. A square with a B inside of it, often red, identifies these extinguishers.
The third type of fire happens because of a live electrical source. Using water on these fires can result in shocks or electrocution, so avoid doing that. Instead, non-conductive agents (like carbon dioxide) or Class C extinguishers are the most effective way to extinguish these fires. Look for a circle with a C in it, often blue, to identify these extinguishers.
Class D fires are caused by combustible metals such as magnesium or titanium. These fires are extremely hot and require an extinguisher that does not react with the burning metal, which can be identified by a star with a D, often yellow. Water is particularly dangerous to use with these fires because of how these metals react with water. Often, the fire will become toxic or explosive once water is introduced to them.
Think K for kitchen on this one. Class K fires are caused by cooking oils, grease, or animal fat. Similar to Class B fires, using water on Class K fires will spread the source around, along with the fire. A wet chemical extinguisher, which is identified with a black hexagon with a K inside of it.
Inspection & Maintenance of Portable Fire Extinguishers
You must visually inspect portable extinguishers (or hose used instead of an extinguisher) each month. All portable fire extinguishers must also undergo an annual maintenance check. Stored pressure extinguishers don’t require an internal examination.
It’s important to keep inspection and maintenance records. You need to record the annual maintenance date and keep the record for one year after the last entry or the life of the shell, whichever is less, and make the record available to OSHA officials if they ask for it.
Stored pressure dry chemical extinguishers that require a 12-year hydrostatic test must be emptied and subject to maintenance procedures every 6 years—except for dry chemical extinguishers having non-refillable disposable containers. Note that where recharging or hydrostatic testing is performed, the 6-year requirement begins from the testing date.
You must also ensure that alternate equivalent protection fire extinguishing protection is in place any time you remove portable fire extinguishers from service for maintenance or recharging.
You must have an educational program to familiarize employees with the general principles of fire extinguisher use and the hazards involved with incipient stage fire fighting. You must also provide fire extinguisher education to employees when they’re first hired; and at least every year after that. Understand the potential fire hazards in your workplace and check your jurisdictions requirements for portable fire extinguishers to ensure you are ready if the need to use one arises.