What Fire Extinguisher Shouldn’t be Used in Confined Spaces?

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What Fire Extinguisher Shouldn’t be Used in Confined Spaces?

It’s no secret that if a fire breaks out on your property, fire extinguishers form your first line of defence. 

The cause of a fire can be many things, and the type of extinguisher you choose will be based on the material that has ignited. As well as understanding what type of extinguisher to use on a fire, it’s also important to bear in mind whether or not the fire is occurring in a confined space.

It’s understandable to want to grab the first fire extinguisher to hand when a fire breaks out, but if you are located in a confined space and use the wrong type, it can have disastrous consequences.

It’s the responsibility of all commercial, industrial and non-residential properties to have appropriate fire safety procedures such as fire extinguishers in place, including in confined areas. 

Our team are experts in commercial fire safety and have outlined everything you need to know about the use of fire extinguishers in confined spaces. 

The dangers of confined spaces

Before we take a look at what fire extinguishers should and should not be used in confined spaces, it’s important to understand the dangers they can bring. 

The most common environments where confined spaces can become hazardous include cellars, boiler rooms, utility rooms, vessels and more. In these spaces, welding, handling chemicals and flame cutting often take place – the biggest risks of fire in a confined space. 

Perhaps the biggest danger of a fire breaking out in a confined space is that it makes it far more difficult to evacuate, especially as fire can spread quickly. 

Additionally, working with flammable or explosive substances and materials in a confined space can be dangerous due to the risk of flashover. This is where the exposed combustible material in a space ignites quickly at almost the same time. The intense heat means that some materials can reach their autoignition temperature (or flashpoint), releasing flammable gas.  

What fire extinguishers shouldn’t be used in confined spaces?

The main fire extinguishers to avoid when in a confined space are CO2 and dry powder extinguishers. In BS 5306-8, it is noted that dry powder extinguishers can reduce visibility and impair breathing, both of which inhibit the safe and easy escape – or rescue from – the space. 

With CO2, due to the confined space, the oxygen in the air will be quickly replaced by carbon dioxide making it difficult to breathe. Again, this can impact your ability to safely evacuate. 

You should also avoid both dry powder extinguishers and CO2 extinguishers when in confined spaces. This is mainly due to the lack of visibility it provides, as well as inhalation of the powder that can be hazardous.

What Type of Fire Extinguisher Can I Use in a Confined Space?

When it comes to confined spaces, you should, ideally, avoid using an extinguisher altogether. Instead, let’s take a look at ways you can avoid the need for dry powder and CO2 extinguishers by making them safe and reducing risk in areas such as plant rooms, servers rooms and boiler rooms.

  • Don’t store combustibles in confined spaces. Often people try and use confined spaces as storage space, but this should be avoided completely to reduce the risk of fire as much as possible. 
  • Look to sprinklers. Sprinkler systems in confined spaces may be better for automatic fire suppression in a confined space since it means no one has to try and tackle the fire with an extinguisher. If this is not possible, automatic smoke detection should be installed to give as early a warning as possible and make fighting a smaller fire a much easier task. 
  • Train staff for the use of portable fire extinguishers. Specifically CO2 and dry powder extinguishers, if these are required by your site. This will give your staff the knowledge and proper experience with such extinguisher types. 
  • Mitigate the use of extinguishers in enclosed spaces with a health and safety risk assessment as per BS 5306-8.

A fire extinguisher is only suitable for the risk it is approved for. So when it comes to confined spaces, you should only be using an extinguisher type approved for the specific fire risk you’re faced with.

If you’re required to use one of these fire extinguishers, ensure you follow the instructions on the cylinder carefully, and only tackle a fire that is manageable. If it starts to get out of hand, evacuate and call for the emergency services.

As a leading fire protection organisation operating across Wembley, Uxbridge, Harrow and the surrounding areas, the team at LW Safety provides a whole host of fire extinguisher services. As well as overseeing the supply, installation and maintenance of your fire extinguishers, our expert team will ensure you’re fully compliant with all relevant legal obligations and fire safety regulations. Working with businesses and landlords to safeguard all kinds of properties, get in touch with our team today.  

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