Fire extinguishers do not have an indefinite life, even if they are never actually used. Their contents can lose pressure, the inside of the canisters are prone to rust and corrosion if liquid contents, and the canister seams can be weakened by continual high pressurization.
Seals can deteriorate, valves can stick, and fire extinguisher can become knocked and dented simply by being part of a building’s fixtures and fittings.
Fire Extinguisher Annual Maintenance
Fire extinguisher maintenance and care in accordance with the Code of Practice stipulated in British Standard 5306 part 3 should be integrated into your premises Fire Risk Assessment and is, in effect, a legal requirement of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
Annual inspections (or more frequent for high risk locations or corrosive environements) by a competent person will involve inspecting every fire extinguisher, and identifying those extinguishers which need repressurising, require replacement parts, or which have reached the end of their useful lives.
Fire Extinguishers: Refurbishment verses Replacement
Refurbishing fire extinguishers is a long process, requiring inspections, removal of your fire extinguishers to a factory, replacement parts, pressure testing, refilling, repressurising, and finally the return of your extinguishers back to your premises.
These days, most servicing companies just service exchange the unit for a ready-tested model although this can leave you with a different, sometimes inferior, model to the original. Service exchange generally costs half the price of a new extinguisher from a service company.
Many businesses have discovered it is far more time and cost effective to simply replace their fire extinguishers with new ones purchased at the huge discounts available online, and recycle their old extinguishers.
Check Your Business Fire Extinguishers Every Month
A visual check on your fire extinguishers once a month takes very little time, but can save both money and lives and is part of your legal duty.
1. Check that your fire extinguishers are on their proper fire extinguisher floor stands or wall hanging brackets, and access to them is unobstructed. Check that all fire extinguisher stands are undamaged, and that all wall brackets are secure. Check that signage is also unobstructed, so staff can easily see where fire extinguishers are located in the event of an emergency. Replace any worn, peeling or damaged signage
2. Check the pressure gauge where fitted. The gauge needle should be in the green zone. If it is in the red, either have the fire extinguisher repressurised, or replace it with a new fire extinguisher
3. Check that all seals are intact, that the safety pin is in place and secured by a tamper-evident seal or OK indicator. Gently dust or vacuum the extinguisher top to remove dust from the important valve, gauge and nozzle areas, and invest in a fire extinguisher cover if the area is particularly dusty, dirty or greasy
4. Check the fire extinguisher cylinder for any signs of leakage, rust spots or dents. If you find any, replace the fire extinguisher immediately and safely dispose of the old one. If a fire extinguisher is badly damaged, do NOT move it yourself in case the canister explodes. Call in a professional fire extinguisher company who will remove it safely
5. Check that the labeling remains clear and sharp to read. Some guides recommend you gently shake small powder extinguishers to prevent the contents from settling into a cake. In practice, you need to hold the unit upside down next to your ear without shaking so you can hear the loose powder gradually fall. Do not try this with large extinguishers
6. Finally, take a moment to look around the space to see if anything has changed that will affect either the operation, provision or location of your fire extinguishers. Is a new filing cabinet obscuring a sign, or has a new machine been installed in the area requiring access to a CO2 fire extinguisher?
Safe Disposal of Old Fire Extinguishers
Most important to remember is that a fire extinguisher is usually under pressure and removal of any of the parts can be dangerous without proper training. People have been killed trying to do this in the past.
Old but still safe fire extinguishers are ideal for staff fire training sessions, but , in reality, only plain water and CO2 are safe to use at most premises. Only plain water fire extinguishing agents can be emptied into drains, whilst powder needs to be disposed of in sealed bags and sent to landfill.
Small quantities of used fire extinguishers can be disposed of at your local council amenity site, whilst larger quantities should be disposed of through specialised contractors. All business owners have legal duty of care to properly dispose of waste, so only employ a company that has a license to carry controlled waste.
Recycling Fire Extinguishers
Some fire extinguisher maintenance companies have access to specialist refurbishing and refilling companies. Most parts of old fire extinguishers can be recycled, from the headcaps, valves and tubes to the contents themselves. The fire extinguisher body is then fully inspected and pressure tested, and if sound, will be reused. If not, the canister is either pierced or cut in half to prevent further use, and scrapped.