Laboratories Using Chemicals Are Required to Have Certain Fire Extinguishers

Posted on: July 21, 2017

Keeping labs and lab workers safe with proper fire safety

Laboratories that use and store chemicals are not only workplaces and educational centers, they also typically contain materials that are highly flammable, toxic, and sometimes explosive.

For that reason, the National Fire Protection Association has broadened the scope in its NFPA 45 standard to include instructional and educational labs, requiring that each area where chemicals are handled or stored, including work areas, units, and buildings, is equipped with portable fire extinguishers.

The a, b, c, and d’s

Laboratories are one of the few environments where four of the five classes of fire can occur either individually or in combination with one another:

  • Class A: Ordinary materials, such as paper, wood, plastics, and cardboard
  • Class B: Flammable and combustible liquids, as well as organic solvents
  • Class C: Energized electrical equipment, such as appliances, burners, hot plates, power tools, and panel boxes
  • Class D: Combustible metals, such as magnesium, lithium, sodium, calcium, and titanium

The only fire class not found in a lab is Class K, or kitchen fire.

Similarly, laboratories covered by the standard are classified based on the type and amount of flammable gases and flammable and combustible liquids present – not by the fire classifications above. Instead, a laboratory class is usually determined by the authority having jurisdiction over the lab, such as the owner, the insurance company, or the local fire official. Laboratory classes include:

  • Class A: High fire hazard
  • Class B: Moderate fire hazard
  • Class C: Low fire hazard
  • Class D: Minimal fire hazard

Chapter 6

NFPA 45, Chapter 6, requires all laboratory units to be provided with fire protection appropriate to the fire hazard, and specifically discusses the need for portable fire extinguishers. These portables are to be selected and installed based on NFPA 10.

As a result of the fire classifications, laboratories are considered to be a moderate to high fire hazard location since they contain varying amounts of flammables and combustible material. Fire extinguishers must comply with both area-of-coverage and travel distance criteria for these materials.

Fire extinguishers are identified by their effectiveness in combatting the classes of fire listed above: A, ABC, BC, and D. According to Fire Extinguisher 101, the best extinguisher for a lab is ABC, a dry chemical unit, which is able to manage A, B, and C fires. D-extinguishers, which use dry powder, are recommended as an additional safety measure for handling rare-but-possible Class D fires. (Water and dry chemical extinguishers can actually aggravate a Class D fire.)

Fire prevention is vital

A fire extinguisher, though, is only as good as the safety protocol in the laboratory.

For those working in laboratories, there must be consistency in best practices when it comes to the storage of chemicals, their interaction with one another, and the potential hazards that exist. Similarly, there must also be a review of safety measures to ensure that fire extinguishers are not blocked or covered, that personnel know which extinguishers are suitable for which fire class, and that there has been training on how to operate safety equipment.

Life Safety Management is committed to keeping you safe. If you have questions or are looking for advice and guidance to make sure your laboratory, office, or home meets fire safety and fire extinguisher standards, please contact our professionals at (800) 330-1158 or fill out our contact form for a free consultation.