For Consumers

There is no right or wrong way of sourcing fire extinguishers and the guidance the UK Fire Association provides here is to help you decide which purchasing route is best for you to avoid some of the unexpected pitfalls and hidden costs along the way.

The bottom line is that if your fire equipment is not properly commissioned and serviced you are not just flouting fire regulations and risking prosecution, you will find that your insurance cover is affected and you are putting your facilities and employees at risk. Research has shown that over 80% of fires in the workplace are extinguished using a fire extinguisher - so it is essential that it works instantly the moment you need it – otherwise what’s the point in having it!

For anyone with a business or organisation looking to buy fire extinguishers the market can seem quite bewildering. Do I buy online or through a catalogue at what seem rock bottom prices or from the more ‘expensive’ fire extinguisher maintenance company?
 
The starting point is to ensure that from whatever source you buy from you getting BS EN3 extinguishers that have third party accreditation. The most commonly recognised in the UK is the BSi kitemark, but there are others including Lloyds Register. Regrettably the CE mark alone is no guarantee of product quality.
 
On the face of it the internet and catalogue distributors appear to offer low prices and are great when you are buying a ‘commodity product’ e.g. books, DVD’s, electronic equipment, etc. – the type of products that require little point of sale advice and after sales service. For home purchases and when you know what you are doing the internet and catalogues are fine, but beware the pitfalls when buying for commercial use.
 
Members are frequently reporting incidents where brand new extinguishers have been sourced and installed by the customer and found to be in a dangerous condition. Take for instance the multinational company who routinely use one of our members for servicing but as recession hit and quite a few extinguishers were due for replacement they decided to buy direct from an internet distributor. These came labelled in the warehouse so when the servicing company returned at the next service the customer was charged for the commissioning services. After analysing the additional cost of commissioning, delivery and the time it took one of their personnel taken off the production line to unpack, assemble and position the extinguishers, the company found that the real cost was only about 10% cheaper than if they bought it from the service company in the first place. The real problem was that as a high risk production facility their insurance cover would have been affected in the event of a claim – negating any saving made!
 
To ensure compliance with fire regulations you will unless you are qualified, need help and advice during the selection, commissioning and installation process.  As with any other product bought online or from a catalogue you are only buying a product, service if available will be extra.
 
Members regularly report finding buildings where the customer has incorrectly assembled the extinguishers or put in too few and the wrong types of extinguishers. A factory owner had installed the extinguishers themselves hanging them at the wrong height and not fitted the hoses and horns! A large taxi company occupying a multi storey office building had installed cheap catalogue sourced 1kg dry powder extinguishers believing that these were multi-risk. The big problem was that these were not actually rated to cover their main risk flammable solid fires and in the busy offices the powder would have obscured visibility hampering evacuation, not to mention the potential damage to all the office electronic equipment!
 
Most internet and catalogue distributors supply their extinguishers with a maintenance label completed and attached in the warehouse but this does not constitute a proper Commissioning Service as the extinguisher could have been damaged in transit and does not take into account local factors i.e. is it appropriate to the risk and do you have sufficient cover? To overcome this some distributors supply a loose tick box maintenance label which you fill in – basically self certification. But be aware, BS5306-3:2009 states that ‘Commissioning’ of the extinguisher has to be completed by a COMPETENT person, so if you complete the label and attach it to the extinguisher YOU will be taking responsibility for the extinguisher being safe and fit for purpose.
 
Yes you will pay more when using a bone-fide fire extinguisher maintenance company, but what they are providing is more than just a product – service costs money. It will be delivered, positioned, properly installed and commissioned by a ‘competent person’ and you normally get a five year warranty. They can provide a professional hand over and introduction to the safe use of the equipment along with setting up the ongoing service contract that you will need. Ultimately they are providing peace of mind by taking responsibility for your fire extinguisher cover and will carry appropriate and adequate levels of insurance to reflect this.
 
In selecting a fire extinguisher maintenance company always use a company that is a member of a fire trade association like the UK Fire Association and always check their membership is current by checking the associations’ membership list online. If the company you are using is not a member of a trade association it does not mean that they are bad, just ask to see evidence of;
 
QUALIFICATION - the technician needs to have a BAFE recognised examination certificate endorsed by BAFE and if over 3 years old, this should be supplemented with a Technicians Refresher Certificate from a recognised training body.
 
INSURANCE - employers, public liability and efficacy (failure to perform) – is the level of cover realistic for the risks they pose to your business?
 
Extinguishers seem to be simple devices and because of this people seem to think there is little skill in their selection, installation and use. The selection and installation needs to be carried out to BS5306-8:2000 and commissioning during installation and the ongoing servicing needs to be conducted to BS5306-3:2009. By doing any of this yourself you leave yourself open to prosecution and voiding your expensive insurance cover.
 
When buying from a UK Fire Association member you are assured of receiving quality service by a committed company where their first priority is looking after your best interests to ensure your continued custom. Members have to be qualified, adequately insured and work to our Code of Practice, which sets out exactly what you can expect from using a UK Fire Association member and the process to take should things go wrong.
 
For further information and to find your nearest member visit the Consumers section at www.uk-fa.org or contact Alan Palmer, Secretary at the UK Fire Association on 01932 252306 or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Fire extinguisher maintenance companies can find out what makes the UK Fire Association different by visiting the Trade section at www.uk-fa.org.