FIRE EXTINGUISHER COLOURS & WHAT FIRES THEY EXTINGUISH
In the UK, there are five fire extinguisher colours: Red, Cream, Blue, Black and Yellow but what do those colour codes mean? Read along to find out!
Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, ensuring adequate fire-fighting equipment is provided at the workplace is a legal responsibility for any business owner. We all know that fire extinguishers can save lives, so buying one sounds like a no-brainer. The problem is that choosing the right fire extinguisher isn’t as simple as it seems. There are different types of extinguishers and each one of them is suitable for use only on specific types of fire.
Understanding the fire extinguisher colour codes is extremely important because if you use the wrong fire extinguisher it may not just be ineffective, it could cause combustion and the sudden appearance of large flames, potentially spreading the fire and injuring you and anyone else nearby.
So, how are fire extinguishers colour coded?
There are five different main types of extinguishers based on the active ingredient used as an extinguishant. In an emergency situation, however, every second is important, so reading labels isn’t the optimum solution to finding out whether the extinguisher provided is suitable for the type of fire you are faced with. To make identification faster and easier, fire extinguishers were colour coded in the following way:
- Red – Water (both spray and mist)
- Cream – Foam
- Black – Carbon dioxide (CO2)
- Blue – Dry powder
- Yellow – Wet chemical
Each of these targets a different class of fire. Some are effective against multiple types of fire, as well. We won’t go into the details about fire classification here but the most important thing you need to know is that the different fire classes are defined by the material that’s burning and can fall into one of six categories: A, B, C, D, E, F or Electrical.
Below, you’ll find a table explaining exactly how fire extinguishers are colour coded and what types of fire they can and can’t be used on, as well as the types of fuel covered under the applicable classes.
|Fire Extinguisher Type||Water||Foam||Carbon Dioxide (CO2)||Dry Powder ( ABC)||Wet Chemical|
|Fire Classes||A||A, B||B, Electrical||A, B, C, D**
|Use On||Wood, plastic, paper, furniture and textiles||Flammable liquids, such as petrol, alcohols, gasoline, acetone or paints||Electrical fires & flammable liquids||Organic materials, flammable liquids & gases, as well as electrical fires (under 1000v)||Kitchen fires invovling cooking oils, organic materials|
|Don’t Use On||Electriccal fires & fires involving cooking oils*||Electrical equipment & kitchen fires||Flammable metals, organic materials or cooking oils||On kitchen fires, electronic equipment over 1000v or in enclosed spaces||Electrical fires, flammable gasses, liquids or metals|
More about Red Fire Extinguishers
There are two types of fire extinguishers that have a red label: water spray and water mist fire extinguishers. They are both water-based and they kill the fire by cooling down the heat source of the fire to the point where the flames are completely smothered.
The traditional red fire extinguisher is the water spray type and it can be used effectively on pretty much all common fires, from burning wood and plastics to furniture, paper and soft fabrics. They can’t be used on electrical fires because the water is a conductor of electricity and can actually worsen the situation. Water spray fire extinguishers can’t be used on cooking fats and oils either because instead of extinguishing the flames, they only make them spread (which is why you should never try to extinguish a burning pan by pouring water on it).
However, if you go back to our table explaining how fire extinguishers are colour coded, you’ll see a little asterisk (*) in the “Do not use” section for red fire extinguishers. This is because water mist fire extinguishers can actually be used safely and effectively on electrical and kitchen fires. What makes them different from water spray extinguishers is that they distribute the water in the form of a very fine mist that can’t conduct electricity and won’t splash over a grease fire.
As a result of their versatility and the fact that they are not particularly messy to use, water mist fire extinguishers have been seeing a rise in popularity. Due to the fact that all water fire extinguishers have a red label, however, you will have to check carefully if you have a water spray or a water mist extinguisher before you use it on an electrical or a class F fire.
More about Blue Fire Extinguishers
Noticed the double-asterisk (**) in the table above? Well, that’s because blue fire extinguishers also come in two different types: standard dry powder fire extinguishers and specialist powder extinguishers, and they are even more different from one another than the two red fire extinguisher types.
The standard dry powder extinguishers are commonly referred to as ABC fire extinguishers because they can tackle all of these three fire classes, plus fires involving electrical equipment (up to1000v). They are effective on common fires, as well as on flammable gasses and liquids. That’s why they are popular in the workplace where flammable liquids are stored and used, as well as garages, boiler rooms and welding shops.
Specialists powder extinguishers are also colour-coded blue but they cannot be used on any of the above fires. They can only be used on fires involving flammable metals, such as magnesium, titanium, sodium and potassium. Confusing, right? Having in mind that if there actually is a fire the last thing you’ll want to do is read labels, it’s paramount that you familiarise yourself with the fire safety equipment available at your workplace in advance. It’s always good to be prepared!
History of Fire Extinguisher Colours in the UK
The colour-coding system described above hasn’t always been in place. In fact, it changed not so long ago – in 1997 when the British and European Standard BS EN3 replaced the previous regulatory standard – BS 5423:1987.
Before the change, the fire extinguisher’s colour wasn’t just indicated on a label, it was painted across the whole body of the extinguisher. Nowadays, all fire extinguishers are coloured bright red and the type is indicated by a coloured label across the middle of the canister.
The reasoning behind the change was that red is associated with danger and as a bright colour, it is easier to spot in a dark room filled with smoke.
Seen a silver fire extinguisher at work? No need to panic – those are legal and compliant too! Despite being made of steel or aluminium, they are referred to as chrome extinguishers due to their polished chrome finish. They come in all varieties and sizes as the commonly used full-red fire extinguishers and the colour code labels work the same way too.
Now that we have the fire extinguisher colours covered you can feel more confident shopping for fire equipment. Buy a fire extinguisher today!