Regular fire extinguisher maintenance may, at times, feel unnecessary and financially onerous. Why should a piece of equipment that may have only been used once or twice (or not at all) need servicing? This is a common complaint, which we hear regularly; it’s also a myth we frequently dispel.
Fire extinguishers are used every day around the UK to put out small, inconsequential fires. After the event, little thought is given to its life-saving capabilities. But what might have happened if that fire hadn’t been quickly extinguished? If it had been allowed to spread, how much damage and devastation might it have inflicted?
Even if your fire extinguishers are not in regular use, like any equipment they deteriorate with age. A neglected fire extinguisher can easily malfunction at the very moment it’s needed.
In this blog, we’ll review the subject of fire extinguisher maintenance, specifically the top 10 things you need to know to ensure you’re always ahead of the safety curve.
1. The importance of using a trained technician
As the responsible person, under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, you have a duty to not only provide the right fire extinguishers for your premises, you must also ensure they are maintained. How do you do this?
You are expected to carry out monthly visual checks, which you can do yourself. In addition, at least once a year, you must arrange for a basic service (in line with BS 5036-6). In environments which are higher risk, e.g. large footfall or prone to vandalism, the service intervals may need to be more frequent. This should be addressed by your fire risk assessor.
Only a ‘competent’ person can carry out this service and you are responsible for verifying their competence. Sounds daunting? With our help, it couldn’t be simpler.
2. Checking your technician is adequately trained
The best way to guarantee competency is to investigate your technician’s training record and reassure yourself that they have appropriate training for the task at hand. Working with a reputable fire safety supplier like the Silver Group is a great place to start.
A well-trained portable fire extinguisher technician must stay up to date with best practice and current safety regulations. This depth and breadth of experience provides you with far more than ‘just’ a fire extinguisher service.
When the technician arrives, he’ll want to see your most recent fire risk assessment report and review the fire safety actions and check that all recommendations have been implemented.
3. Understanding where to locate your fire extinguishers
During maintenance checks, one of the benefits of using a highly trained technician is that they will quickly spot if fire extinguishers are in the wrong place and relocate them. This could be for one of several reasons:
- Recent changes in building use or layout (which may also increase fire risk)
- New machinery or new processes
- Errors made by a previous technician
- A poorly conducted fire risk assessment making inaccurate recommendations
With regards to the latter, a good technician will also spot any holes in your fire risk assessment and advise you on how to proceed safely. This may involve commissioning a new assessment. Remember, as the responsible person, you could be left carrying the can if something were to go wrong.
In addition to a fire extinguisher being sited incorrectly, we often see them being used to prop open doors or in other ways which are inappropriate. Day to day, employees can grow careless in their regard for this essential piece of kit and end up treating it as part of the furniture.
4. Are all your fire extinguishers fit for purpose?
Extinguishing a fire effectively depends on the type of fire extinguisher you’re using and the class of fire it’s intended for. For in-depth information on fire types, read this blog which covers everything you’ll need to know.
In brief, you can’t guarantee on putting out a fire with whichever fire extinguisher you have to hand. You could end up making the situation far worse. However, if your risk assessment has been conducted properly, you should only have the correct type of fire extinguishers in specific locations.
A good technician will, of course, double check this is the case and that you’re not in breach of any fire safety regulations.
5. Is all your equipment in good working order?
Your fire extinguisher technician has a checklist he’ll need to work through (which might appear to be as long as your arm, but everything’s on there for a good reason).
Checking that your fire extinguishers are all in good working order is a top priority. Damage to pins, levers, hoses and nozzles can all potentially compromise performance during an emergency.
Is there any obvious damage to the extinguisher or are there missing parts? What about tamper seals – are they still intact?
The technician will also need to test pressures and verify they are within acceptable safety limits.
6. Is your fire extinguisher signage correct?
During an emergency, there will be increased activity in your building and possibly panic and upset. It’s vital that staff can quickly activate a fire extinguisher and not need to spend precious time scanning illegible instructions.
Is there good visibility of the fire extinguisher (both the unit and associated signage)? Are the operating instructions clean and easy to read? Are they simple to follow?
7. What about the rest of your fire safety equipment?
These checks also extend to all signage in your building. Most technicians are trained to recognize and identify signage for fire doors and fire alarms as well as other fire safety equipment. Are evacuation routes clearly visible for everyone to see? Your technician can identify any signs which are non-compliant and help you to correct them.
8. Where required, we can help you with the supply of new equipment
Not only do we offer fire extinguisher servicing and maintenance, we also supply, install and commission new equipment.
If your technician recommends that you replace old or worn out equipment, we can work with you to source quality fire extinguishers from the UK’s leading manufacturers. All conform to current British safety standards and fire safety regulations.
9. Are your employees trained to operate a fire extinguisher?
Another aspect of the fire extinguisher technician’s visit is to speak to staff about the type of equipment installed in their workplace and offer instructions on how to use them safely.
You should be aware that this doesn’t constitute training, but at the Silver Group, all our technicians can assess whether in-depth training is needed and provide details of third party training providers.
10. What happens once the service check is complete?
Nearly there! As the service visit draws to a close, there are some admin tasks for the technician to complete. He’ll issue maintenance and inspection certificates and fill in your log book. You should keep both safe in case you need to show them to the authorities following an emergency incident.
He should also discuss future works which are required under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 so these can be logged and acted upon.
As we said earlier, a risk assessment may be in order; if so, your technician can speak to you about this and may be able to arrange there and then for a risk assessor to visit your premises at a convenient time.
11. What is ‘extended servicing’?
Ok, we said ten reasons, but we felt like giving you a bonus!
You may come across the term ‘extended servicing’. Under fire safety regulation, you must arrange an extended service every five years (for some types of fire extinguisher, the service intervals are every ten years). This involves completely discharging the extinguisher and checking for internal damage or corrosion. The contents of most extinguishers deteriorate over time making the discharge test essential. Discharge must be undertaken by a specialist as there can be an environmental impact.
However, for many businesses, this test is cost prohibitive and usually results in them simply buying a new extinguisher rather than committing to an extended service.
The importance of fire safety servicing and regular fire extinguisher maintenance cannot be understated. We’ve given you ten reasons why using a trained technician is a no-brainer and we hope you agree. They provide a valuable service which keeps you, your employees and visitors safe.
If you’d like to speak to one of our expert advisors about your fire extinguishers or any other fire safety requirements, please get in touch today.