How-to advice

A rough guide to fire extinguisher servicing and the service-free model

Claire Rizos

Director

Author Bio ▼

Claire is Director of Clarity Safety Solutions Ltd., an Oban-based health and safety consultancy. She has more than 17 years of health and safety experience advising organisations and is a Chartered Member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, an OSHCR registered consultant, and an IFE registered life safety assessor. Since attempting to leave the rat race in 2008, and moving to the West Coast of Scotland, Claire has written hundreds of articles, reports, policies, papers, newsletters, and training courses. Nevertheless, she continues to help clients directly with their health, safety, and fire safety arrangements both within the UK and abroad.
September 12, 2017

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The fire extinguisher market has changed substantially in recent years, with products becoming cheaper and the launch of ‘service free’ extinguishers.

Is it time to rethink your arrangements? What are the requirements and how much flexibility do you have?

Changing needs

The best practice recommendations on extinguisher servicing are described in BS5306-3:2009. (The BSi shop website confirms that it’s currently under review, which can only be a good thing given developments in the sector since 2009).

There’s also information within government guidance. While these documents are not legislation as such, should it all go wrong, they would be relied upon in court as evidence of expected practice to comply with the law.

These documents specify the following:

  1. A weekly check that extinguishers are in place and undamaged
  2. Visual inspections at least monthly, by the responsible person, to confirm the extinguisher is in place, unobstructed, visible, has operating instructions which are clean and legible, has not been operated, is undamaged, the pressure gauge or indicator (if fitted) shows it’s functional, and seals and tamper indicators are not missing
  3. Annual servicing by a competent person

While points one and two above can be carried out by almost anyone with basic instruction, number three is generally reserved for qualified technicians.

Annual servicing involves knowledge of different types of cylinders and their servicing needs under BS5306-3, knowledge of safe methods of work when working with pressure vessels, the use of specialist equipment and refill facilities, and more.

When looking for a company to carrying out a servicing contract you must ensure that they are competent. The best way to do this is to look for evidence that they are registered with BAFE under the SP101/ST104 scheme.  If you wanted to train someone in-house to take on this task there are three day courses available.

This traditional route for annual servicing is the way to go if you have standard extinguishers (ie not the service-free type).

You should also use a competent contractor to commission your extinguishers (as recommended within BS5306-6).

The need for commissioning tends to rule out the idea of buying cheaper extinguishers directly from, for instance, internet suppliers, as you probably won’t have the qualifications to do it in-house. In practice, commissioning involves a full check equivalent to a basic service, proper installation and signage.

What about service-free extinguishers?

A new brand of extinguishers, ‘P50’, is being marketed as offering a new alternative to annual servicing contracts. The extinguishers come with three alternative contents at present: dry powder, aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) and wet chemical (used on oil/ fat fires). They:

  • Have a 10-year warranty and 10 year’ ‘service-free’ life
  • Come with a free refill offer if the pressure drops or its used on a real fire
  • are made of non-corrosive materials so they’re good in tough environments where other extinguishers would rust
  • are offered with commissioning and installation within the price
  • AFFF and dry powder extinguishers don’t require emptying and refilling every five years (a requirement for most standard extinguishers)

They cost a bit more than standard extinguishers (a 6 litre AFFF including the installation is £130 plus VAT) but because of the savings they should make good financial sense.

However, before deciding whether to take this route you must be sure that you have the resources to carry out the annual check – it’s not difficult and can be carried out using the magnet provided to check the pressure gauges, a visual inspection and quick wipe. Instructions are given by the manufacturer.

One catch is that there are presently no carbon dioxide extinguishers in the range. This could mean that you have a small number of traditional extinguishers alongside your P50s, thus still requiring a service visit by a qualified technician, and losing at least some of the financial savings.

In conclusion

You’re unlikely to want to undertake servicing of standard extinguishers in-house unless you’re a very large operation that can justify the three-day course. Even then, you’ll need to oversee the quality of workmanship: this is a safety critical task and not worth cutting corners.

If you only require types of extinguisher which are available in the service-free range this could work for you. However in practice most businesses need some carbon dioxide extinguisher cover due to electrical equipment within their building. This being the case, you should weigh up the initial and annual costs carefully before making your decision.

As a final word of caution, don’t lose sight of the fact that extinguishers are present for use in a life-threatening emergency. This is not an area where cost savings should override other considerations.

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A C Buck
A C Buck
September 28, 2017 11:10 pm

You don’t need CO2 alongside P50’s, they are safe for direct use on electrical fires up to 1000V just like most water spray and foam spray extinguishers in mainland Europe are – the Joint Fire Research Organisation confirmed this back in the 60’s, it’s the UK trade that have modeled British Standards against this. Also you can get a Powder P50 for supplies over 1000V

Ian Malone
Ian Malone
October 12, 2017 9:42 pm
Reply to  A C Buck

Equipment that does not need servicing still needs to comply with regulations.
Selling such equipment to companies that cannot show complete compiidence to uk guides and rules seems completely reckless and must surely mean that manufactures have taken some of any risk and responsibility if things go wrong.
We have fire alarms and fire extinguishers that have a guarantee, many would feel this ticks all the boxes, with insurance policies handed out with no checking of compliance etc all are happy till it sadly goes wrong.

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
October 13, 2017 4:37 pm
Reply to  A C Buck

I assume that the 1000v you refer to originates from the wording in BS EN 3-7-2004+A1-2007 [clause 16.2, part 3]. This derives from the somewhat rudimentary “dielectric test” set out in clause 9 of that standard. However, that standard notes (at para 9.1) that the test measures only “the electrical conductivity of the discharge stream” [9.1]. Specifically, it doesn’t consider or aim to simulate any other hazards such as secondary consequences of further short-circuits, electrocution through pooled liquid, etc., etc. In short: it is clearly very far from proof that the extinguisher concerned is safe for direct use on electrical… Read more »

Helpful Sam
Helpful Sam
November 2, 2017 7:20 pm
Reply to  A C Buck

See the table at page 6 of this advice from the Fire Industry Association:
http://www.fia.uk.com/resourceLibrary/fact-file-22-fire-extinguishers-and-electrical-risks.html

Chris Mills
Chris Mills
October 12, 2017 3:28 pm

As A C Buck, the P50 Foam can be used on electrical fires up to 1KV so CO aren’t generally required. In every case study we have carried out the end client saves money over the 10 year period and anyone can check annually, the instructions are even printed on the back of the extinguisher!

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
October 16, 2017 11:58 am
Reply to  Chris Mills

See previous response for further detail. British Standard BS 5306-8:2012 states clearly and unambiguously at 5.4.2 that only media such as carbon dioxide, powder or other clean agent should be specified for use on electrical equipment. It further notes that the passing of the discharge conductivity test in BS EN 3 does not necessarily mean that they can be used directly on fires involving electrical equipment.

Andy Spence
Andy Spence
October 12, 2017 4:35 pm

As the manufacturer of this product the P50 – I can confirm that there is no need to place C02 units next to the P50.
As previously stated the unit is certified “safe for direct use on electrical fires up to 1000volts”
Please can you correct this article.

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
October 16, 2017 11:59 am
Reply to  Andy Spence

See previous response for further detail. British Standard BS 5306-8:2012 states clearly and unambiguously at 5.4.2 that only media such as carbon dioxide, powder or other clean agent should be specified for use on electrical equipment. It further notes that the passing of the discharge conductivity test in BS EN 3 does not necessarily mean that they can be used directly on fires involving electrical equipment.

Andy Spence
Andy Spence
October 16, 2017 12:33 pm
Reply to  Alex Goodwin

Alex, can I just confirm that you are saying, that the EN3 Testing labs – Notified bodies, including British Standards, who have certified the P50 unit as safe for “direct use on live electrical equipment” are wrong ?

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
October 16, 2017 1:16 pm
Reply to  Andy Spence

Hi Andy I suspect that these bodies haven’t certified as you claim, but rather that they may have instead certified (as part of product testing) that a product has passed the “dielectric test” set out in clause 9 of BS EN 3-7-2004+A1-2007 and that the product labelling is in compliance with clause 16 of that same standard. There are clearly very important differences between these two positions and where safety is concerned I feel one should be careful with any claims made. I have previously commented on the limitations of the dielectric test in my response to A C Buck.… Read more »

Andy Spence
Andy Spence
October 16, 2017 1:21 pm
Reply to  Alex Goodwin

Please provide the proof that they have not certified as “we claim”

Colin
Colin
October 16, 2017 10:14 pm
Reply to  Andy Spence

I can see how confusion might arise, but I think Mr Goodwin’s response covers it already doesnt it? EN 3 certification covers the section 9 and 16 points, rather than certify that an extinguisher “is safe for direct use on live electrical equipment”.

To help reassure people like James, perhaps the manufacturer could post a link to further certification if their certification is wider than just EN3 somehow?

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
October 18, 2017 3:20 pm
Reply to  Colin

Thank you Colin. That’s saved me a reply!!

Adam Bannister
October 25, 2017 4:46 pm
Reply to  Andy Spence

Hi Andy, looking into this now and will update if I can verify the information (looks like a few people agree with you so I guess that should be OK). Sorry for slow response.

Jason Gorman
Jason Gorman
October 12, 2017 4:39 pm

Good afternoon
Interesting article and full of useful information, however, your information regarding the P50 fire extinguisher isn’t accurate. There is no need for a CO2 extinguisher with the P50 has passed the EN3 European standard test to fight electrical fires up to 1000V from 1 metre away. You may want to review your article.
Thanks
JG

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
October 16, 2017 12:01 pm
Reply to  Jason Gorman

As above, the article reflects that the provision of CO₂ is still good practice and as recommended by, for example, BS 5306-8:2012 and the government’s CLG guidance.

G j S
G j S
October 19, 2017 6:54 pm
Reply to  Alex Goodwin

I must agree with Alex. This unit may have the conductivity test but this test only refers to conductivity through the discharge stream. There is a severe risk of electric shock (or worse) through “wet surfaces” following the discharge. Use common sense and stick to the Co2 option, why risk a life it a few quid saved.

Rob Metcalfe
Rob Metcalfe
October 12, 2017 4:47 pm

This article is wrong as you don’t need CO2 alongside the P50 as the P50 has passed the EN3 test for use on live electrical equipment up to 1000v at a distance of 1m.

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
October 16, 2017 12:01 pm
Reply to  Rob Metcalfe

As above, the article reflects that the provision of CO₂ is still good practice and as recommended by, for example, BS 5306-8:2012 and the government’s CLG guidance.

LA Burton
LA Burton
October 13, 2017 9:24 am

These items are certified by BSI against the requirements of BS EN 3-7:2004+A1:2007 as detailed on KM 06832. Details regarding servicing should be sort from the manufacturer and/or supplier so they do comply, and they are also for use on electrical fires.

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
October 16, 2017 12:03 pm
Reply to  LA Burton

See previous response re the forthcoming BS 5306-3:2017 (?) for further detail on the servicing point. See above point re BS 5306-8:2012 and their being specified for use for electrical fires.

James
James
October 13, 2017 3:13 pm
Mark Scott
Mark Scott
October 16, 2017 4:58 pm
Reply to  James

Nice link. Voted up

Confirms everything that you need to know about their claims

Im not saying there dishonest, lying toerags and you cant belive a word they say, im just sayin I wouldnt believe them…

Tom Clark
Tom Clark
October 21, 2017 6:11 pm
Reply to  Mark Scott

Dont even get me started with dishonesty and misleading. Lets take the name Britannia Fire for instance. All very British and patriotic? Nope.

Director? Guernsey
Shareholders? Guernsey again.
https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/06935191/filing-history

Why Guernsey? Something to do with it being blacklisted by the EU as a tax haven?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-guernsey-33181401

#BoycottTaxDodgers

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
October 13, 2017 5:13 pm

The simple fact of the matter is that such extinguishers are not so very different from other corrosion-resistant stored pressure extinguishers and actually have similar maintenance requirements. By any measure, they are certainly far from “service-free”, which is a misleading and potentially dangerous description. As is noted, BS 5306-3 is currently under review. The replacement, BS 5306-3:2017 (?), is expected to be published imminently, possibly in the next few weeks. If adopted in its expected form, this will make clear that, in broad terms, extinguishers with non-metal bodies: a) should be serviced little differently from other extinguishers; b) should be… Read more »

Andy Spence
Andy Spence
October 16, 2017 3:00 pm
Reply to  Alex Goodwin

Alex, we attempted to get the P50 into the latest version of BS5306-3 which you and I both know is Guidance- Not Law (as some people would like you to believe). We were met with objection from certain parties (you being one) who objected to the P50 in the standard, We have discussed and are still in discussion with BSI with reference to the P50 and this is confidential, as are any discussions that have taken place, I would further suggest that publicly displaying what you think ! is going to be published is unprofessional I note the word ”… Read more »

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
October 16, 2017 4:38 pm
Reply to  Andy Spence

My comments in this post are not based on confidential information, but follow reading of the publically available BSI documents (e.g. 17/30324854 DC still available at https://shop.bsigroup.com/ProductDetail?pid=000000000030324854). I appreciate that not everyone will have read the BSI draft documents, so my comments were designed to help shed a little light for the readers of this article, especially in an atmosphere with so much misleading and potentially dangerous information flying around. I have always been keen for BS 5306-3 to be an inclusive standard that provides suitable systems of maintenance for the largest practicable number of extinguishers, including the P50. I… Read more »

Adam Green
Adam Green
October 17, 2017 2:10 pm
Reply to  Andy Spence

Can’t help but notice that Andy Spence seems to have fallen foul of his own point about confidentiality.
“you objected to the P50 in the standard”. “any discussions that have taken place are confidential”.
LOL

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
November 2, 2017 9:53 am
Reply to  Alex Goodwin

The readers of this article may be interest to know that the new BS 5306-3:2017 was published on 31 October 2017. BSI considered comments received (including, I presume from Andy’s post, Britannia Fire’s comments). The standard is published largely as expected and incorporates the changes as above, namely that in broad terms, extinguishers with non-metal bodies: a) should be serviced little differently from other extinguishers; b) should be subject to the key safety-critical tests and actions (some of which have potential life-safety implications) which are included in the British Standard, but not included in some manufacturers’ suggested systems of maintenance;… Read more »

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
January 4, 2018 2:25 pm
Reply to  Alex Goodwin

The FIA has published some helpful advice on this subject in the document “FIA Short Guide to BS 5306-3: 2017” at http://www.fia.uk.com/resourceLibrary/fia-short-guide-to-bs-5306–3—2017.html It includes the following guidance: “3 System of Maintenance for Extinguishers with Non-Metal Bodies =================================================== • The 2017 revision deals with extinguishers with non-metal bodies manufactured in or after 2002 and such extinguishers now need no longer be automatically condemned by virtue of their type. The standard system of maintenance in BS 5306-3, including the system of (broadly annual) basic servicing and (broadly five-yearly) extended servicing by competent persons, has been extended in the 2017 revision to include… Read more »

Ian Walker
Ian Walker
October 19, 2017 4:34 pm

I think this practice goes against everything we have preached to customers since I don’t know when, and from a personal point of view find it a dangerous practice to let the unqualified end user check an extinguisher. I had a customer who bought some of these and told an employee to ‘service’ them annually. I recommended to the employee to refuse or get a disclaimer from his boss so he wouldn’t be liable if he made an error. No one has mentioned changing O rings on the discharge hose or checking it for foreign bodies during annual checks on… Read more »

Allen
Allen
October 20, 2017 9:17 am

so ask yourself this, why don’t Britannia Executives post a you tube video with one of them using the foam version on a large scale live electrical fire.
Also I do hope that no one is suggesting using powder indoors or in confined spaces as BS5306-8 says a big fat NO!!!!!
Options other than CO2 are running thin and for very good reasons…………..

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
October 20, 2017 4:54 pm
Reply to  Allen

To be fair, I have no doubt that in certain properly controlled circumstances it may be possible that such use wouldn’t cause the operator to be electrocuted. Indeed I have seen some (to my mind highly irresponsible) video footage purporting to show something similar.

However, this misses the point entirely: A responsible attitude toward safety should not just consider whether it can be demonstrated to be safe in CERTAIN controlled circumstances, but whether it would be safe in ALL reasonably foreseeable circumstances.

EN3 testing simply doesn’t test this (and doesn’t even pretend to).

Mark
Mark
October 23, 2017 8:57 am

Just come into the office and heard about this article. Really good discussion on this one. I find it staggering that so many people just accept such claims about whats adequate servicing, especially when it is so obviosuly contrary to accepted good practice. This is not new for them. I have been in the fire extinguisher game for over 35 years and remember when Britannia’s maintenance for theyre wheeled extinguishers didnt include a periodic test by discharge. Of course, alls well and good when tings work as they should. But design, manufacturing, and the like can go wrong. In Britanias… Read more »

Alex Goodwin
Alex Goodwin
October 25, 2017 9:19 am
Reply to  Mark

For reference, HSE safety alert: http://www.hse.gov.uk/safetybulletins/norfolk-large-wheeled-dry-powder-fire-extinguishers.htm HSE safety alerts are “for major faults that would result in a serious or fatal injury and where immediate remedial action is required” – source: http://www.hse.gov.uk/safetybulletins/whatarebulletins.htm#alerts Britannia publish maintenance instructions for their Norfolk range powder extinguishers at http://www.britannia-fire.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/NWM50-Maintenance-Sheet.pdf At the time of writing, I still see no recommendations for testing the unit through discharge (or partial discharge) each five years or indeed at all. I agree that such tests would help more promptly detect issues similar to those in the HSE safety alert. In the interests of accuracy and fairness, it should be noted… Read more »

Adam Bannister
October 25, 2017 4:44 pm

Wow, this article has prompted quite a debate! Thanks for your input all. I will update the article in due course if I can disentangle claims from counter claims. The author researched the subject thoroughly but of course there are some grey areas (it seems) while some information out there becomes out of date as guidance and standards evolve….

Gareth Dickinson
Gareth Dickinson
December 7, 2017 6:24 pm

Hi, I have a question if you don’t mind me asking. I couldn’t see this anywhere in other questions and responses. My question is regarding the servicing of portable fire extinguishers on site at my place of work and also on the vehicles. Every year they have been serviced in October, but this year on the 1st of November they still hadn’t been serviced and some were up to their 5 year shelf life. Having pointed this out to the powers that be and much arguing they told us that they now have + / – 1 months grace to… Read more »

G hoult
G hoult
December 23, 2017 7:06 pm

There is the repeated statement that the P50 saves lots of money over the first ten years,this is often not true.For example a 6l foam P50 at £130 compared to a sta.ndard AFFF at £25 and a fully inclusive package at £7.50 per year giving a total cost of £100 over ten years.Thats a £30 saving per unit over ten years.So the so called servicing cost savings depends on what kind of servicing deal you can get,shop around and look for a good deal many FRS trading arms provide very good deals!.

Fred 2016
Fred 2016
February 19, 2018 2:49 pm

I know I am going to get some stick for the following question however my Father used to say the only stupid question is the one not asked. On a campsite, with no person trained in the use of fire extinguishers, would it be safer not to supply them and insist on a 999 call should a fire break out? For example, most caravans and tents on site have gas somewhere and when I was fire extinguisher trained saw a demonstration of a small camping Gaz canister exploding. Even if I were retrained I am not prepared to tackle a… Read more »