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Who is Responsible for Using a Fire Extinguisher?

The legal requirements for fire extinguishers in the workplace (as outlined by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005) dictate that every employer, owner or occupier of a business has legal responsibility for ensuring the fire safety of the people in the building. In other words, they are the “responsible person”. However, what happens if a fire occurs when the responsible person is not on the premises? Who is responsible for using the fire extinguisher and stopping the fire then? Let’s find out!

One of the responsibilities of a responsible person is to ensure that the staff receive adequate fire safety training on a regular basis. This training should include how to use a fire extinguisher so that in the event of a fire, they are prepared to take action if needed. In that aspect, the responsible person may not be responsible for personally extinguishing the fire but they are required to give their employees the skills, knowledge and tools to do it.

In theory, as the law doesn’t explicitly state whose responsibility it is to use the fire extinguisher, as long as they know how to and the situation permits, anyone could do it. That being said, people are usually advised to evacuate the building as quickly as possible and leave the fire fighting to the local fire services.

If need be, the appointed fire warden will be best equipped to take charge of the fire extinguisher usage in an emergency situation. How to use a fire extinguisher is a topic covered as part of the mandatory fire marshal training, so they will have the required knowledge to do it correctly. 

When to Use a Fire Extinguisher in the Workplace


First of all, as we said, no one in the office is responsible for using the fire extinguisher and everyone is encouraged to evacuate a burning building, leaving the firefighters to do their job. This is the safest option for everyone. However, there are situations when you can use the fire extinguisher in the workplace. You can attempt to extinguish the fire if all of the following conditions are met:


    • The fire alarm has already been raised
    • Emergency services have been called
    • There isn’t too much smoke in the room
    • The fire is relatively small and appears to be contained
    • You are no less than one metre away from the fire
    • The room isn’t dangerously hot (to the point where you could pass out from the heat)
    • You have the correct type of fire extinguisher for the fire
    • The fire doesn’t involve electrics (unless your fire extinguisher has a lightning symbol on it)
    • Everyone else has been evacuated
    • The evacuation route is clear and unobstructed, so you can leave too

    If any of the above points aren’t met, you should not attempt to use the fire extinguisher even if you know how to do it, as you could be putting yourself at risk. The same rules apply to using a fire extinguisher in a residential setting.

When Do You Not Use a Fire Extinguisher?

Using a fire extinguisher to extinguish a fire can be dangerous so you should consider your own safety before taking firefighting actions. Always remember that you shouldn’t use the fire extinguisher if:

  • The fire is big and has already spread so far that one fire extinguisher may not be enough to stop it
  • The fire is fueled by high-voltage electrics which can cause large flashes, burns and electrocution
  • The fire involves flammable gases which can lead to further explosions and pose a danger to your life
  • There is too much smoke. Inhaling the smoke can make evacuation more difficult and lead to CO poisoning and suffocation
  • If the room is too hot the heat will keep the fire burning and make firefighting more difficult

4 Steps to Follow When Using a Fire Extinguisher

The fire equipment available to people who are not firefighters should be easy to access and easy to use. This is why using a fire extinguisher at work only takes four steps:

  1. Point the nozzle away from yourself and pull the safety pin
  2. Aim towards the base of the fire, not the top of the flames
  3. Squeeze the lever slowly and calmly
  4. Move the nozzle from side to side in a smooth, sweeping motion

Having a fire extinguisher is a legal requirement, so you should find a fire extinguisher near the fire exit or the fire alarm call point on your floor. The fire risk assessment should have determined the type of fire risk you could be exposed to, so ideally, the right type of fire extinguisher should be provided.

However, before you decide to use the fire extinguisher, it’s important to be aware of what types of fire extinguishers are used against what type of fire. If you use the wrong fire extinguisher it could make the fire worse and it could cause massive flames to burst out, hurting you in the process. So, if you are not sure, just leave the building and wait at the assembly point for the fire services to arrive.

Using the Right Fire Extinguisher Type

In the UK, there are five fire classes based on the material that’s burning and there is a special fire extinguisher type especially designed to extinguish each one of them:

  • Water Fire Extinguisher – used to extinguish fires involving common flammable solid materials such as plastic, paper and wood 
  • Foam Fire Extinguisher – can be used on the above, as well as for flammable liquids such as petroleum, paint and diesel
  • Dry Powder Fire Extinguisher – can be used on the above two types of fires, plus fires involving flammable gases (butane, propane, methane), as well as on small electrical fires (equipment up to 1000v)
  • CO2 Fire Extinguisher – best used on electrical fires but can also be used on fires involving flammable liquids 
  • Wet Chemical Fire Extinguisher – designed to be used on fires involving cooking fats and oils

Using the wrong fire extinguisher can worsen a fire and can cause harm to the user, so if you are not sure whether you have the appropriate equipment on hand, you should not attempt to extinguish the fire.

Fire Extinguishers and The Law

Before discussing who can use a fire extinguisher and when it’s important to make sure that the fire extinguishers you have installed are compliant with the law. 

How Many Fire Extinguishers Do I Need?

The standard requirement for the UK is a minimum of two water fire extinguishers per floor but to know the precise number you need, you have to use the formula detailed in the BS 5306 standard which regulates the installation of fire extinguishers. The formula is as follows:

The fire rating of the area ÷ the fire rating of the fire extinguishers = number of extinguishers you need 

The fire rating of your area is calculated by multiplying the floor area in m2 by 0.065. The fire rating of the fire extinguishers is detailed in its specifications. 

Where Should Fire Extinguishers be Installed?

In standard buildings, there should be no more than 30 metres in any direction from the nearest fire extinguisher. In highly hazardous areas, the travel distance between the fire risk and the nearest fire extinguisher should be no more than 10m.

All fire extinguishers are typically installed near escape routes and they should have a clearly visible label displaying the type of the fire extinguisher so given the right training, you should be able to tell whether it’s the right one in case of a fire.

Fire extinguishers are either mounted on the wall or put in a special display unit. If the fire extinguisher is obstructed by a column or hidden in the recess of a building, there should be a sign that signifies “fire extinguisher location point” so the fire extinguisher can be found easily when needed.

Smaller extinguishers should be placed up to 1.5 metres above ground, whereas bigger ones (above 4l) should be installed no more than 1 metre above the ground. 

Fire Extinguisher Maintenance and Servicing

The legislation governing the maintenance and servicing of fire extinguishers in the UK is BS5306-3. According to the standard, every fire extinguisher must be serviced:

  • When it’s installed
  • Annually (basic service)
  • Every five years (extended service

Following the guidelines regarding fire extinguisher servicing and maintenance is not only a legal obligation but also an integral part of ensuring fire safety in any building. 

When Should Fire Extinguishers Be Replaced?

The lifespan of a fire extinguisher is five years, after which it needs to be replaced. The only exception are CO2 fire extinguishers which have a lifespan of 10 years.

If the fire extinguisher is damaged or has been discharged, it needs to be replaced or refilled immediately. 

5 Benefits of Fire Safety Training in the Workplace

Fire safety training is an indispensable element of fire safety and it must be provided by every employer. The importance of fire safety training goes beyond achieving regulatory compliance, as it can simply save lives. You can see the five main benefits of fire safety in the workplace at a glance below:

  • Employees are better prepared to respond to fire emergencies 
  • Employees who have had training are more likely to stay calm in an emergency
  • The safety culture in the workplace is strengthened
  • The likelihood of a fire starting in the first place is reduced
  • Regulatory compliance with fire safety regulations

In the context of using a fire extinguisher, fire safety training gives the employees knowledge on who should use a fire extinguisher in the workplace, how to use a fire extinguisher and which fire extinguisher type is used to extinguish which fire class, as well as how to recognise them. 

10 Facts About Fire Extinguishers in the Workplace

Before we finish this article, here are 10 more things you should know about fire extinguishers in the workplace:

  1. There must be at least two Class A fire extinguishers on every floor of the building
  2. A fire extinguisher must be no more than 30 metres from any level of the building
  3. Fire extinguishers should be properly mounted on the wall using special stands or cabinets
  4. Fire extinguishers must be serviced by a fire safety specialist annually
  5. Fire extinguishers must be recharged after every use
  6. The fire warden must do a visual inspection of the fire extinguishers daily
  7. Rechargeable fire extinguishers expire and must be recharged every 6 years
  8. Non-rechargeable fire extinguishers expire after 10-12 years and must be replaced
  9. Fire extinguishers can only extinguish the specific types of fires they ate suitable for
  10. Fire extinguishers must be commissioned by an expert before being put to use

Hopefully, having read this article on who is responsible for using a fire extinguisher in the workplace, you feel more confident about handling fire emergencies at work. Need to find a new fire extinguisher? You can buy a fire extinguisher here!


Can I use a fire extinguisher without training?

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), no one should attempt to use a fire extinguisher in the workplace unless they have undergone the appropriate training. This is done to avoid harm to the user and those around them.


Who is responsible for using a fire extinguisher to extinguish a fire at work?

The responsible person (owner, employer etc) must provide appropriate training so that anyone can use the fire extinguisher at work, however, no one is personally responsible for doing so. Anyone who is trained to use a fire extinguisher can do it if certain conditions apply (i.e. the fire is small, there isn’t much smoke, the escape route is free and more).


Who should get fire safety training?

All employees must receive fire safety training, including training them how to use a fire extinguisher and other fire safety equipment. 


Who is responsible for using a fire extinguisher in the NHS?

In a healthcare setting, much like any other workplace, all employees should receive fire safety training, so everyone is capable of taking responsibility for fire safety actions in their area when necessary. 


It is recommended that all NHS employees should familiarise themselves with the specific NHS fire safety guidelines for their specific workplace.



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