Do I need …..Fire Extinguishers?

 

So many people seem to be asking me ” Do I need Fire extinguishers?” So I hope this post helps highlight that really we should all be safe and secure.

The change in legislation from prescriptive requirements from the state to risk based provision by responsible persons has undoubtedly given more freedom to businesses and also ensured that technical progress is accounted for.

Unfortunately the change has removed a useful safety blanket for responsible persons and particularly budget holders – whereas under previous legislation there was a clear detailed description of the requirements of law and what was needed to meet it (in the Form of the Fire Precautions Act; Blue, Red & Yellow guides; and resulting fire certificates) the current legislation (The Regulatory Reform [Fire Safety} Order and it’s Scottish and Northern Irish counterparts) simply sets out the broad general duties, leaving it to the interpretation of the Responsible Person & their Competent Person as to what provision exactly meets these general duties in their premises.

As a result, conflicting views can be held and those budget holders trying to seek approval for necessary works on the basis of explicit legal requirements have to deal with the fact the detail is not explicit in law – merely implicit in the findings of a fire risk assessment.

So, with respect to portable fire fighting equipment where do we stand in law?

Statute:

Fire-fighting and fire detection
13. —(1) Where necessary (whether due to the features of the premises, the activity carried on there, any hazard present or any other relevant circumstances) in order to safeguard the safety of relevant persons, the responsible person must ensure that—(a) the premises are, to the extent that it is appropriate, equipped with appropriate fire-fighting equipment and with fire detectors and alarms; and

(b) any non-automatic fire-fighting equipment so provided is easily accessible, simple to use and indicated by signs.

(2) For the purposes of paragraph (1) what is appropriate is to be determined having regard to the dimensions and use of the premises, the equipment contained on the premises, the physical and chemical properties of the substances likely to be present and the maximum number of persons who may be present at any one time.

(3) The responsible person must, where necessary—

(a)    take measures for fire-fighting in the premises, adapted to the nature of the activities carried on there and the size of the undertaking and of the premises concerned;

(b) nominate competent persons to implement those measures and ensure that the number of such persons, their training and the equipment available to them are adequate, taking into account the size of, and the specific hazards involved in, the premises concerned; and

(c) arrange any necessary contacts with external emergency services,      particularly as regards fire-fighting, rescue work, first-aid and emergency medical care.

It is clear that in all premises a fire risk assessment must be carried out to determine the number, type, and location of fire fighting appliances.

If no risk is present then no fire equipment is required – however, should a risk be present, appropriate equipment must be provided.

The law does not let a lack of training or procedure over rule the need for equipment – if the risk requires it, it shall be provided and persons nominated to ensure suitable training is provided (which can vary from a summary in fire safety training as part of induction to full practical fire team exercises – the risk determines how far the training need go).

There is sufficient case law and guidance in the Government Risk Assessment Guides (increasingly used as a benchmark by courts) to support this interpretation.

Determining the requirements – multi occupied premises

So having realised that some provision is required, it now remains to decide what and by whom.

The underlying factor is risk.

Tenanted Areas

Without a doubt the biggest risk area within premises is in the tenant’s demise.

Considerable amounts of readily combustible materials and ignition sources, plus the largest number of persons are present in these areas.

More often than not the primary risk is class A (flammable solids) along with an associated risk from energised electrical equipment, although some areas may have Class B (flammable liquid/liquefiable solids) risks or even the notorious Class F (cooking oils) risks.

The bulk of fire fighting provision therefore falls to tenants, who must make provision suitable to the risks – usually following the scales in BS5306-8, although in smaller premises the use of small multipurpose ABC Powder extinguishers is considered sufficient in the entry level Government Guide.

Common areas

These areas present the biggest debate and also the biggest examples of unnecessary provision.

Remember – risk is the key.

Most common areas consist of stairwells and landings. A number of these are usually plain concrete fire stairs or sparsely decorated, perhaps with carpet/floor tiles and similar. They are like this because they are protected routes for means of escape and must be fire resisting, free from combustibles & obstruction & have limited surface spread of flame

Do these require extinguishers? No – there is no risk – once the building is well alight and fire doors loose integrity the floor coverings will become involved, but we are well past the first aid attack stage.

What if contractors are working in these areas? Unless they are introducing a risk then there is still no need for extinguishers. If they are, then they should be working under Permit To Work and have been required to supply their own equipment appropriate to the risks they are introducing.

But I have a reception area with furnishing, a commissionaire’s desk & CCTV monitor, etc? This is indeed a risk in which case this area should have a suitable fire point – but the other areas still do not.

What about other common areas? Well these are often areas such as loading bays, switch rooms, boiler rooms, lift motor rooms, building manager’s offices, etc. All have risks present, both ignition risks and fuel sources, so these would require appropriate extinguishers.

What about the Housing Associations who removed extinguishers? Again, look at risk – the common areas in flat blocks (not HMO’s) are often protected routes and contain no risk, so it could be justified. The flats themselves are responsible for their own provision, which being single dwellings contain Relevant Persons, but otherwise are not covered by the Fire Safety Order so it is up to the householder what (if anything) is provided for fire fighting in their area.

This is a guest post from Anthony Buck of http://sm-ms.co.uk

Anthony’s knowledge of UK fire extinguishers and the Regulations is unsurpassed

Comments

  1. keith osborne says:

    Question

    Would it be safe to use a warer extinguisher of an electrical fire where the power is no greater than 25 volts. i.e. car battery.

    • Yes, I don’t think a car battery shock is going to kill you. But, even better would be to use one of the modern “spray” nozzle extinguishers such as the water spray, water additives or foam.

      As a side note, in my 30 years, I’ve never heard of anyone being injured by using water on any live electrics, anywhere.

  2. Steve Hogg says:

    Hi,

    I’m trying to find out what the standards are/ requirements are for fire extinguishers in cars and medium vans (mercedes sprinter sized) can you help please?

    best regards
    Steve

  3. I have a situation where the assessment determines the probable need for a small extinguisher but with only two or somtimes three normally women staff they do not wish to undergo fire ext training as they do not see themselves fighting fires but do understand the need to react to ensure staff and when appropriate members of the public are evacuated and that they close doors; windows etc and phone the fire service.

    What action do you suggest

    • Hello Roy

      As an employer, you have a responsibility and a duty of care to supply fire fighting equipment and have it maintained and in working order. You then should train the staff. But the training is not just how to use a fire extinguisher. It should encompass how to avoid fires, what to do in a fire situation, etc. It’s not really their call as to whether they want legally-necessary training and should be part of any induction training, no matter how part time the job. I recommend looking for an online course or buying a fire training CD as they cost less than £50 and can be done very quickly. It’s not feasible for everyone to actually let off extinguishers.

  4. Steve Hogg says:

    Thanks for the reply on the vehicle fire etinguishers

    Steve

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