The current UK fire extinguisher regulations are, in fact, a combination of two different sets of requirements:
- The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
- BS 5306 Sections 3 And 8
British Standard 5306 concerns “Fire extinguishing installations and equipment on premises” with two parts dealing with fire extinguishers in particular:
Part 3: Commissioning and maintenance of portable fire extinguishers Part 8: Selection and positioning of portable fire extinguishers
BS 5306 Part 3
This deals with how to first commission (set up) new fire extinguishers, and how to maintain them once they are in place. It covers commissioning, basic servicing, the extended service, overhaul procedures and recharges.
Once your new fire extinguisher arrive at your premises, they need to be checked and properly set up, ready for use. If you buy your fire extinguishers direct or online, rather than through a maintenance company, you need to check over the extinguisher to ensure:
There was no damage in transit
The safety clip is still in place
The extinguisher pressure gauge is in the normal range
There are no dents or gouges in the fire extinguisher body
The extinguisher is at the correct weight according to the manufacturer’s instructions
Fire extinguishers of up to 4kgs should be wall-mounted such that the handle is 1.5m off the floor. Heaver extinguishers need their handles 1m above floor level. Where wall mounting is not appropriate or possible, you can also position extinguishers on a stand or plinth that raises them to the correct level.
A regular visual check each month should be made to ensure fire extinguishers have not been discharged and are in good repair. Your extinguishers also require a basic service check every year, which may include replacement of parts if required.
Extended Service, Overhaul Procedures And Recharges
Extended servicing and overhauls are required at set intervals, although it may be more cost-effective to actually replace extinguisher rather than pay the overhaul and recharging costs. Indeed, many smaller businesses find that it might be cheaper and more efficient to replace the few extinguishers they have rather than pay the cost of annual maintenance checks. The BS also gives guidance on disposal of disused or condemned fire extinguishers.
BS 5306 Part 8
This part gives guidance on the selection and positioning of portable fire extinguishers, and is perhaps the more useful of the two documents. It stresses the importance of early planning, environmental considerations, and training. This part of the Standard also addresses important considerations such as the type of extinguishers available, the types of fires they can be used on, and the operational temperature ranges.
When choosing an appropriate fire extinguisher, you need to consider:
- The distance and direction of discharge (i.e. How far it will reach or spread)
- Its electrical conductivity (or not)
- The effect of powder extinguishers when discharged in inside spaces
When positioning your fire extinguishers, you need to consider:
- Ease of access
- Security of fixings or stands
- Visibility and proximity to escape routes
- Consistency of locations on different floors
- Ensuring the best extinguisher for the job is the first to hand
When mounting your fire extinguishers, you need to ensure:
- All size of extinguishers are the correct height from the floor
- Extinguisher mounts are securely fixed in place
- Any extinguisher can be quickly removed to use in an emergency
- The extinguisher is no more than a set distance from any possible fire (i.e. More than 30metres from a Class A fire)
- All extinguishers are protected against corrosion and vandalism – consider fire extinguisher boxes and jackets, plus anti-tamper seals
Minimum Fire Extinguisher Quantities
The BS 5306 defines both the travel distance (i.e. distance from a source of fire) and the minimum number of extinguishers required per square metre. It is worth remembering that these are minimum requirements; your own Fire Risk Assessment may identify the need for more extinguishers, but should never specify less than the minimum.
For example, in a Class A risk area such as an office, reception or file store with a floor area of up to 400square meters, you should provide at least 2 extinguishers with a total fire rating of 26A.
The Standard gives minimum requirements for all classes of fire, and also includes examples for locations where more than one fire risk exists, such as manufacturing premises with a kitchen area.
In the UK, there is no separate class for fires involving electrical equipment, as technically electricity does not burn, but instead can cause other materials to ignite.
You can read the full text of the Order here.