Fire Extinguishers – Separate Fact from Fiction

Home ADVICE & GUIDANCE Fire Extinguishers – Separate Fact from Fiction
fire extinguisher

Are your extinguishers in service? The right type? With the correct signage? Avensure have put together the 10 frequently made statements that aren’t necessarily true.

  1. Fire extinguishers must be replaced after 10 years

There is no statutory maximum service life for a fire extinguisher. Some bodies recommend a 20 year limit, but in practice an extinguisher can continue in service indefinitely whilst:

◾Parts remain available

◾The extinguisher has no damage, defect or corrosion rendering it unsafe for use

◾It is not an obsolescent type

◾It is serviced, including extended services and for CO2 statutory overhaul, as required

  1. CO2 extinguishers must have a 5 year extended service and be replaced after 10 years

For a short time around 2000 the servicing standard BS 5306-3 did require this, but after feedback from manufacturers this was then removed from the 2003 revision as it was not required or considered of value.

It may be more profitable and less time consuming for the engineer to do this, but what is required at 10 years is an called an Overhaul, which includes a hydraulic pressure test of the cylinder (to meet requirements of Pressure Systems Legislation) and a new valve. An overhaul is better for the environment and recycling an existing cylinder is cheaper than a new extinguisher, which would only have 10 years before an overhaul anyway – there is no longer a lifespan advantage.

  1. Old colour coded extinguishers are obsolete and must be replaced

Many pre BS EN3 extinguishers still have suitable spares & parts available and can continue in service as long as they are in a serviceable condition.

  1. Fire extinguishers must be replaced at their 5 yearly Extended Service interval as it’s not cost effective to carry this out

What this means is that it’s too time consuming for them to carry out this test & they’d rather just replace it. The actual cost of carrying out an extended service is less than replacement, particularly for water and foam types – the actual ‘cost’ price in parts & refills to ‘Extended Service’ a water extinguisher is less than £5.

  1. Stainless steel/polished finish extinguishers are illegal

Although they cannot be Kite Marked to BS EN3 due to their colour, they remain perfectly legal as long as new models are CE marked; and are preferred where aesthetics are important. A competent fire risk assessment can justify their use, normally where signage & staff awareness is in place.

  1. If a fire extinguisher hasn’t been serviced for a few years it must be replaced

No, it just means that a service is all the more urgent. As long as parts are available and it passes their basic, extended service or overhaul (as required) and is not obsolescent it can continue to be used.

  1. Every ‘kitchen’ requires a fire blanket and powder extinguisher

Extinguisher provision is risk based and most ‘kitchens’ in premises are just tea points with a kettle, microwave, dishwasher, etc. A fire blanket is not needed if there is no small Class F risk, i.e. no cooker with hobs that a chip pan or frying pan could be used on. A powder extinguisher is not very effective on enclosed electrical equipment such as microwaves, potentially causing severe secondary damage and CO2 is more appropriate. Full working kitchens will require Wet Chemical extinguishers if fryers are in use.

  1. Fire extinguisher service personnel are experts

The fire trade is sales driven and there are no requirements to hold any qualification in extinguisher maintenance or, as important, to attend refreshers. For every competent engineer there are several who are unqualified that cut corners, or will use any excuse to sell new equipment. Care must be taken when choosing a provider and should you require to know your extinguisher requirements a competent fire risk assessor is a more unbiased source of advice.

  1. Is my extinguisher engineer servicing my equipment properly?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

Corners are sometimes cut to save time/money or through ignorance. Some staff just ‘shine & sign’, a term for wiping the extinguisher down so it looks like it’s been attended to and filling in the label. Things to look for:

Label terminology: A correctly completed service label should include:

◾Date (year and month)

◾Type of service- Initial, Basic, Extended, Recharge or Overhaul. NOT obsolete terms such as Serviced (S), Inspected (I), Discharge Test (DT) which suggest a lack of refresher training.

◾Weight in kg

◾Next extended service or Overhaul date

◾iv. Other checks. Many other factors can be checked by suitably trained auditors such as the author of this guide

  1. Extinguishers need Signage

Is it really necessary to have fire extinguisher signage placed on the wall above a fire extinguisher, as recently recommended during our fire risk assessment? You would assume the extinguisher itself is a big enough sign and the details of the types of fire that can be tacked and instructions for use are printed on the front of the extinguisher.

 Yes, it’s necessary. There’s not really any ‘maintenance’ involved with a sign and, to be honest, if it has been stipulated in your Fire Risk Assessment, why would you question it?