Why You Need Fire Extinguisher Signs and How to Use Them

fire extinguisher sign

Fire extinguisher signs are essential in every workplace. They comply with fire safety regulations and guide actions during emergencies.

Yet, their importance is often overlooked. And in situations where every second counts, the absence of clear signs can confuse and delay emergency responses. This is a risk no one should take.

This guide explains why fire extinguisher signs are needed and how to effectively use them in your workplace.

Safety Sign Legislation

Safety signs are required under the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 (the Regulations). The Regulations were introduced to standardise safety signs and make them instantly recognisable, regardless of language barriers or prior knowledge.

The Regulations apply to all workplaces where the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 applies and covers various types of signs and signals.

If you can make your workplace or work safer through hand signals, auditory alarms or traditional signboards, you’re legally required to do so.

Your Safety Sign Duties

By law, all employers must use safety signs when a risk has not been prevented or controlled in some other way.

Safety signs are not recognised as a substitute for other risk controls, however. You must first work through more effective measures, such as engineering controls or developing safe systems of work. Safety signs should only be used if your risk assessment shows they can further reduce the risk. They do this by warning people about hazards or reminding them of necessary control measures, such as using personal protective equipment.

Signs are unnecessary if your risk assessment shows they wouldn’t make anyone safer.

But there is an exception for fire safety signs. Fire exit signs are compulsory in complex buildings. Firefighting equipment must also be clearly identifiable, which typically makes signs necessary. You can read more about general fire safety sign regulations here.

Fire Extinguisher Training

Our Fire Extinguisher Training course provides the know-how to competently handle extinguishers in an emergency. It provides vital information on the different types of fires and the right extinguisher to use against them.

Fire Equipment Signs

The Regulations mandate clear marking of all firefighting equipment, such as fire extinguishers, hose reels and alarms, with highly visible signs. People must act fast when a fire happens, so these signs should be instantly noticeable and understandable. All signs must meet colour, shape and size standards to ensure they’re recognisable.

Firefighting equipment signs are bright red for quick recognition and the colour’s association with fire emergencies.

Fire Equipment Signs

The Regulations stipulate that signs should mark the equipment’s location and, where necessary, provide instructions for use. Instructions are vital for equipment like fire extinguishers. In a critical situation, untrained individuals may be forced to use an extinguisher and knowing the correct type for specific fires is essential.

How to Use Fire Extinguisher Signs

Intrinsic Features

As critical components of workplace safety, fire extinguisher signs must follow specific design rules. All signs must share intrinsic features for clarity and instant recognition.

These intrinsic features are:

Shape: All fire extinguisher signs must be rectangular or square.

Colour and Pictogram: Fire extinguisher signs must include a white pictogram on a red background. The red portion must occupy at least 50% of the area of the sign.

fire extinguisher sign - intrinsic features


You can use variations of existing signs as long as they retain the specified intrinsic features.

It’s also critical not to compromise the message’s clarity. Pictograms should be simplified to include only necessary details to prevent misinterpretations.

When a new or unfamiliar sign is introduced, it’s recommended to supplement the sign with text to reinforce understanding. The Health and Safety Executive suggests that the background colour of any supplementary text should match the colour used on the primary safety sign to help comprehension.

Directional Signs

You may need to use additional signs to direct individuals to firefighting equipment if its location is not in clear view.

These directional arrows mustn’t lead to confusion with escape routes. In scenarios where supplementary signs might misdirect individuals evacuating a building, carefully consider if they’re necessary and how you can prevent confusion.

Types of Extinguishers

Different types of extinguishers are designed to tackle particular classes of fire. In an emergency, it’s critical to identify and use the correct one.

Clear labelling and colour coding on each extinguisher help identification but signs must also be used to indicate the extinguisher type. The key extinguisher types and signs are:

  1. Water Extinguishers: Suitable for class A fires involving solid combustibles but dangerous for electrical fires. They are traditionally solid red with a label or a white band stating ‘WATER’.
  2. Dry Water Mist Extinguishers: These can address most fire classes except class D (burning metals). Their unique nozzle design produces a cooling, suffocating mist. They are marked ‘WATER MIST’ in white on a solid red background.
  3. Foam Extinguishers: Effective against class A and B (flammable liquids) fires. They’re labelled ‘FOAM’ on a cream rectangle.
  4. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extinguishers: Best for class B and electrical fires. They’re identified by a ‘CARBON DIOXIDE’ label against a black rectangle.
  5. ABC Powder Extinguishers: Suitable for class A, B and C fires (flammable gases) and, to a lesser extent, electrical fires. They’re marked ‘POWDER’ on a blue rectangle, specifying if it’s an ‘ABC’ powder extinguisher.
  6. M28 and L2 Powder Extinguishers: Specialised for class D fires, with distinctive hose designs and labelled ‘M28’ or ‘L2 POWDER’ on a violet rectangle.
  7. Wet Chemical Extinguishers: Designed exclusively for class F fires, with a low-discharge force to prevent the spreading of burning oils and fats. These are solid red with a ‘WET CHEMICAL’ label on a yellow rectangle.

Safety Sign Recommendations

Fire extinguisher signs are crucial to workplace safety, guiding people to essential firefighting equipment during emergencies. Implementing these signs effectively involves adhering to both the Regulations and best practices.

Below are vital rules and recommendations for using fire extinguisher signs in the workplace:

  1. Visibility: Ensure signs are placed at a height and location where they are easily seen. Avoid putting them behind doors, furniture or equipment that could obscure them from view.
  2. Proximity: Position signs close to the fire extinguisher, ideally above the equipment, ensuring they are immediately noticeable to anyone searching for firefighting tools.
  3. Illumination: Consider using photoluminescent or illuminated signs in areas with poor lighting to guarantee that fire extinguisher locations are identifiable in power outages or smoky conditions.
  4. Crowding: Avoid placing too many signs together, as this will confuse the messaging and make it harder for individuals to locate necessary information quickly.
  5. Maintenance: Regularly check signs for wear and tear to ensure they remain legible and in good condition. Replace any faded, damaged or outdated signs promptly.
  6. Accessibility: Consider the needs of all building occupants, including those with disabilities. Ensure signs are positioned and designed to be accessible and understandable to everyone.
  7. Review and Update: Conduct periodic reviews of your fire safety signage in line with changes to the layout of the workplace, updates in safety regulations or following feedback from safety drills.

Fire Extinguisher Training

In an emergency, anyone might need to pick up a fire extinguisher. It’s why signs pointing to their location and describing their use are necessary.

But fire extinguishers are always safer and more effective in the hands of a trained individual. Using the wrong extinguisher could have no effect or even make the situation worse.

Our online Fire Extinguisher Training course explains different extinguisher types and the fires they’re built for. You’ll also learn how and when to use each type safely, with walkthroughs of the various designs you’ll find in your workplace.

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Jonathan Goby
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