The fire extinguisher market is continuously looking to develop improved products to benefit end users. Fire extinguishers are not sexy, highly desired products, but are an essential and effective part of protecting life, property and the environment.
Over recent years there have been some significant changes to fire extinguisher products available in the UK. One of the most significant of those changes in recent years is the use of stored pressure extinguishers. This has reduced the ongoing cost of maintenance for end user’s, with fewer annually replaced parts and less time required for the inspection of each extinguisher. Gone are the days of having to strip each extinguisher down to its individual component parts, checking the parts for ongoing reliability, replacing numerous consumable parts, then rebuilding the unit and putting it back in service, this was the case twenty years ago with cartridge operated extinguishers.
Maintenance is still hugely important in ensuring the fire safety of your premises and those who use them. Fire extinguishers play a very important role in first aid fire-fighting and can mean the difference between a small localised incident which the fire and rescue service attend to discover you have extinguished the small fire, or arriving to find a growing inferno which is putting life, property and environment at risk they then have to deal with it accordingly.
In Article 17 of the RRO (Maintenance section), it states “equipment and devices provided in respect of the premises under this Order or, subject to paragraph 6 (General Fire Precautions) under any other enactment, including any enactment repealed or revoked by this Order (RRO) are subject to a suitable system of maintenance and are maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair”.
Because of the complex nature of the RRO, the Chief Fire Officers Association produced a guidance document for enforcing authorities. Within this document, section 17 maintenance states that where equipment is “provided and installed to a British Standard; it is it is reasonable to expect that the standard be met by the responsible person in terms of maintenance and recording systems”.
Fire Extinguishers are manufactured to BSEN3 and installed in accordance with BS 5306 part 8; therefore Fire Extinguishers should be serviced to BS5306 part 3.
When selecting a service provider to inspect and maintain your extinguishers it is essential to ensure the competence of the company and / or individual being employed to carry out inspection and maintenance; as it is the responsibility of the ‘responsible person’ to ensure the service provider is competent to carry out the work.
The Health and Safety at Work Regulations require a competent person to carry out the inspection and maintenance of extinguishers. The definition of a “competent person”; is detailed in BS5306 part 3, exerts from this document are below:
“A competent person is one who has undergone an initial programme of training which includes “on the job” experience and attendance of a training course, followed by the successful completion of an examination administered by an independent examination body.”
“To maintain competency, ongoing professional development is considered essential and is covered by the provision of refresher training at 3 year intervals together with an examination”
The document also goes on to give criteria for initial training, details of course content for theory and practical training, too detailed to list here.
An employee who has been instructed to check the gauge, or gauges on a fire extinguisher annually is not a competent person for the purposes of maintaining life safety equipment.
The annual attendance of a professionally trained and competent Fire Extinguisher Technician to inspect and maintain your equipment, will ensure each extinguisher is in good working order, ensuring you have the appropriate number and types of extinguishers to protect you from the risks present, and should you need the extinguisher it will work and keep you safe.
There are products out there; who’s manufacturers claim to be innovative and ‘service free’, all you need to do is wave a magnet at the gauge, or gauges annually and hey presto the job is done!
Such claims detract from the need for proper maintenance, for example; if a safety pin has corroded and in the event of the fire extinguisher being needed to tackle a fire, the pin cannot be removed, it will render the fire extinguisher inoperable.
Annual checks by a competent Fire Extinguisher Technician, who has the training, qualification, experience, tools, equipment and access to refills and components, would identify and rectify this type of issue, cleaning and lubricating, or replacing the pin if necessary.
The waving of a magnet over two gauges by an untrained employee of the end user will only really prove that the needles are magnetic. The fact that the safety pin cannot be removed will not be identified or rectified.
Where the gauges, over which the magnet has to be waved, are both connected to the same port within the valve assembly, both will give the same result to the magnet! What if the valve assembly has a blockage to the port connecting to the gauges and although the extinguisher has lost pressure the gauges do not reflect this? Corrosion, crystallisation of the compound in the extinguisher or foreign objects can cause this to happen and waving a magnet will not identify the problem, but a competent Fire Extinguisher Technician will, weighing the extinguisher with a calibrated scale and comparing with the commissioned weight will bring the problem to light.
There are many similar scenarios; which would be identified and rectified by a competent Fire Extinguisher Technician, which would not be found by waving a magnet.
Your investment in fire safety equipment should be backed up by suitable system of maintenance, by a competent person who has the qualifications, knowledge, experience, tools, equipment and expertise to ensure the equipment will work in the event you need it, a magnet cannot do this!
If you would like to discuss your annual maintenance of your fire extinguishers, please contact one of our expert team today on 08000 234114.
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