Fire extinguisher legislation in the UK is a little complicated
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Fire extinguisher legislation in the UK is a little complicated

Fire extinguisher legislation

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Fire extinguisher legislation in the UK is a little complicated

As with all fire safety legislation in England and Wales, UK Fire Extinguisher regulations form part of ‘The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005’, also known as the ‘RRO’. All premises used for non-domestic purposes, with a few minor exceptions, come under this order.

You can read the full RRO document here. The UK legislation has been responsible for dramatically reducing commercial fires in the UK, but still it can be confusing to interpret if you’re not a fire safety professional – so I have answered some of the most frequently asked questions below to make it as clear and simple as possible.

What is the minimum number of extinguishers I legally have to have?

We are often asked ‘How many fire extinguishers are required in a business premises?’ and ‘Have I got enough?’ UK fire extinguisher standards recommend that you should have a minimum of two ‘Class A’ extinguishers on every storey of the building. Class A fire extinguishers are those which put out wood or paper fires, also known as ‘carbinaceous’ fires.
Class A fire extinguishers meeting this regulation are:

  • 3 litre foam extinguishers
  • 6 litre foam extinguishers
  • 9 litre water extinguishers

So; you need at least two of any of the above on each floor.

Exceptions to the rule: if you have a very small premises, it could be a hindrance to escape having two extinguishers in the way, then only one may be needed. An example would be a coffee kiosk.

Are there other types of extinguishers I have to have?

This depends on the equipment within your business premises. You will likely need other types of fire extinguisher. The most common of these are CO2 extinguishers, these are used to fight electrical fires. UK fire extinguisher regulations specify: All premises with electrical equipment must have at least 2kg CO2 extinguishers. Where there is 415 volt rated equipment, then 5kg CO2 extinguishers are required in place of the 2kg ones. There are very few exceptions where you won’t need a CO2 extinguisher which is why it is very common to see these paired with foam or water extinguishers, thereby meeting UK fire extinguisher legal requirements.

How should extinguishers be ‘fitted’?

To comply with fire extinguisher regulations, extinguishers should be either fixed to the wall or sited on a specific extinguisher stand. Both options also must have clearly visible identification signs showing what type of extinguisher it is and what it should be used on in the event of a fire. There is never an option to move them around the building or use them as door props.

Can I buy extinguishers online without going through a fire protection company?

Of course you can buy fire extinguishers yourself online. Just be sure that they are the right type and size for your premises and that you know where to locate them. The down side to buying them online is that the law also states that the new extinguishers must be commissioned on-site by a competent person. This generally means someone who has passed the BAFE fire extinguisher exam or has an equivalent qualification. Failing to do this will render the extinguisher unusable and potentially fatal to the user if they have not been put together correctly. Unfortunately; fire extinguishers cannot be commissioned before they are installed. This is because issues may arise during transit or the installation itself. For this reason, you will usually still need to contact a fire protection company to commission your fire extinguishers, even though you sourced them online, this then may cost more than simply getting your fire company to deal with the replacements in the first place.

What is fire extinguisher commissioning?

‘Commissioning’ means that your fire extinguishers have been thoroughly checked and approved as good for use. Fire extinguishers are not compliant with UK fire extinguisher legislation until they have been commissioned, even if you have the right types and sizes of extinguisher in the right locations. Examples of things checked during commissioning are:

  • The extinguishers have been assembled properly
  • Hoses and horns are correctly attached
  • They are of the right weight or pressure
  • They are undamaged

The extinguisher engineer will provide you with a certificate as evidence that your extinguishers have been commissioned in accordance with UK regulations.

How often must fire extinguishers be serviced?

UK Fire extinguisher regulation states that all extinguishers must be serviced annually (i.e. once a year) by a competent person. Again, this means by someone with the relevant BAFE qualification or equivalent. What ‘evidence’ do I need that my extinguishers have been serviced to regulations? If, during a health and safety or fire brigade visit for example, you need to prove that your extinguishers have been adequately serviced, there are a few things to look for:

  • There will be a service label on the extinguisher showing that it has been serviced in the last year and saying when the next service is due.
  • The service label will record the outcome of the last service as one of the following:
    – received a basic service
    – was refilled
    – needs replacing (in which case a new extinguisher should have been purchased)
  • There will be something preventing the pin being accidentally pulled out, such as an ‘anti-tamper tag’.

Exception to the rule: this is not the case for extinguishers with plastic pins which have a different design. For these types of extinguisher, the pin itself should be replaced every year. The O-Ring will have been replaced (an O-Ring makes sure the extinguisher has an airtight seal). You will have an in-date service certificate from a BAFE qualified individual or organisation.

How often should fire extinguishers be replaced according to regulations?

BS5306 recommends that fire extinguishers are tested by discharge every five years (water foam and powder) and refilled or replaced, and every ten years (CO2). CO2 bottles are hydraulically tested at the 10 year point, or the extinguisher is replaced. You should also consider that BAFE and the Environment Agency advise against the discharge of water based fire extinguishers onto open land or down drains to prevent hazards to the environment. It is for this reason that we recommend the replacement of extinguishers at the test point rather than test discharge. Our returned extinguishers are then disposed of in an environmentally responsible way.

Exceptions to the rule: if an extinguisher is damaged, discharged or otherwise unable to be used safely, then it should be replaced immediately.

Can I get my extinguishers refilled instead of replacing them?

For environmental reasons it is not advised to pour the contents of fire extinguishers into public drains. For this reason, latest guidelines recommend replacing extinguishers rather than refilling them – because the residue would have to be disposed of by specialist means. This also means that, these days, the cost to replace extinguishers is usually on a par with refilling. We hope this simple guide has been helpful to you. If you’re still unclear on fire extinguisher regulations, or you need specific advice for your business, PTS Compliance can arrange for one of our BAFE accredited engineers to visit your premises and carry out a free, no-obligation survey.

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