Fire extinguishers need to be maintained. Whether you put fire extinguishers in place following your fire risk assessment, or to comply with a hot works permit. Extinguishers are an important part of your fire protection measures. And while having them in place is a great start, they need to be checked, serviced and inspected regularly to keep them ready for action.
There are different types of fire extinguishers. You probably have a few different types in your workplace. Whichever extinguishers used, fire extinguisher checks usually follow a similar pattern:
Regularly checking your fire extinguishers makes sense, after all, it's no good to you if when you need to use it, it doesn't perform properly, or even worse, doesn't work at all.
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Some checks are fairly straightforward and can be carried out visually by your team. Other more detailed inspections and services can involve internal inspections and even discharge of the extinguisher. This may need to be carried out by someone outside your business, for example by a competent technician.
Monthly inspections can usually be carried out in-house by a member of your team. Checking extinguishers can be part of your regular fire safety procedures, along with checking access routes and testing your alarm.
You should check:
In a busy workplace, people move things. They might temporarily store some boxes of supplies, or packaging, ready to move to a more permanent location. They might not realise they are blocking access to a fire extinguisher. They may even think they have left it accessible if you know where it is. The problem is, in an emergency, people don't have time to go looking for fire extinguishers. Your monthly checks can make sure fire extinguishers remain in place, clearly visible and easily accessible.
You can visually check extinguishers have not been used or damaged since the last inspection. Check the pin and tamper seal, along with looking for obvious signs of damage. In some cases, you might want to do this more often than monthly, especially in changing work environments like construction sites, or in heavy traffic areas like warehouses or factories.
And what if you do find an extinguisher has been damaged or used? Well, damage can break the extinguisher, and a loss of pressure could also mean the extinguishers fails to work when you need it. So if you spot signs of a problem, make sure you get the extinguisher checked by a competent extinguisher engineer, who can repair or replace it if necessary.
Most extinguishers need annual servicing to be carried out by a competent extinguisher engineer. This is a much more detailed inspection than your monthly checks.
Annual maintenance can include:
The exact details of the service carried out by the engineer will depend on the type of fire extinguisher, and if it is pressure or cartridge operated.
Annual servicing is a requirement for the majority of fire extinguishers, however, it is best to check your extinguishers for the servicing schedule. Some types of fire extinguishers (e.g. P50) although not currently as common, don't require such an in-depth annual service. You should always follow the steps provided by the manufacturer for annual maintenance to ensure your extinguisher stays in good working order.
Even with annual maintenance, fire extinguishers don't last forever. The contents, and the components, age over time. Every 5 to 10 years (depending on the extinguisher type), extinguishers need a re-fill or complete overhaul and replacement. A test by discharge and refill is usually carried out every 5 years for extinguisher types:
And every 10 years for:
To keep them fully operational extinguishers are usually re-filled at 5 years, and replaced at 10 years. Of course, this may happen sooner if the engineer spots problems with corrosion or use during annual servicing.
Over time, newer and more effective extinguishers become available on the market. So, if it's been 10 years and your extinguishers come to the end of life, it's worth looking around for what's available today, that perhaps wasn't available when you last replaced your extinguishers. This way you can make sure you have the most suitable type of extinguishers for your workplace.
Fire prevention and protection is an important part of health and safety management. Make sure you have a fire risk assessment in place for your business and carry out any actions needed.