Did you know inspecting a fire extinguisher is a mandatory process for commercial building owners but not homeowners? However, given that it’s an easy 5-minute job that anyone can do, it makes sense to do it regularly!
Whether you’re a commercial building owner or homeowner, if you have a fire extinguisher on your premises, you want to make sure that it is in good operating condition so that it works when you need it the most. Hence the importance of learning how to inspect a fire extinguisher.
As part of Fire Armour’s regular series of educational articles, our fire safety professionals are here to share some important tips on how to go about inspecting your portable fire extinguishers.
Commercial Usage vs Home Usage
To be clear, the Singapore Standards currently stipulate that only commercial building owners need to inspect their fire extinguishers at least once a month and have the fire extinguishers serviced by a competent technician.
If you are a homeowner, there is no current requirement for homeowners to do the same. So, rest assured that SCDF is not going to break into your home and demand you to have your fire extinguishers serviced.
However, given that the inspection of a fire extinguisher doesn’t take up significant time and effort while ensuring your life-saving equipment is in operable condition when needed, it makes perfect sense to do it anyways.
Our recommendation? It would be good practice for even homeowners to at least inspect the fire extinguishers once every month or two months (if you’re not feeling up to it).
What’s the difference between inspection and maintenance?
To ensure that a fire extinguisher can be used reliably in an emergency, the Singapore Standards have two main safety checks that fire extinguisher owners should take note of – monthly inspections and annual maintenance checks.
In the Singapore Standards, the definition of “Maintenance” is
Maintenance is a “thorough check” of the extinguisher. It is intended to give maximum assurance that an extinguisher will operate effectively and safely. It includes a thorough examination and any necessary repair or replacement. It will normally reveal the need for hydrostatic testing.
In the Singapore Standards, the definition of “Inspection” is
Inspection is a “quick check:” that an extinguisher is available and will operate. It is intended to give reasonable assurance that the extinguisher is fully charged and operative. This is done by ensuring that it is in its designated place, that it has not been actuated or tampered with, and that there is no obvious or physical damage or condition to prevent operation.
Here’s a quick overview of the differences between the two types of safety checks.
|Who does it||Trained Tech||Anyone|
|Required for commercial?||Yes||Yes|
|Required for home?||Optional||Optional|
In between annual comprehensive safety checks by trained technicians, fire extinguisher owners should make sure that there is someone assigned to inspect the fire extinguisher every month to ensure that it’s still in good condition for use.
Inspecting your fire extinguisher – A comprehensive guide
Now that someone has been assigned to be the “official fire extinguisher inspector”, here’s a step-by-step guide on the important things he or she needs to look out for during each inspection (as per Singapore Standards 578: 2019 10.2.1):
- Monthly inspection is to be performed by the owner at least once a month.
- Ensure fire extinguisher is in designated location and unobstructed physically and visually.
- Ensure safety pin and safety seal is in place.
- Check if pressure gauge is in operative range (Green zone). Engage a trained technician to refill if under or over-charged.
- Ensure instruction labels are visible.
- Check if the hose or nozzle is deformed, choked or rusted.
- Check for obvious physical damage such as dents or corrosion. Engage a trained technician for hydrostatic testing if corroded.
Last but not least, heft the fire extinguisher to estimate the fullness. This is usually already done the moment you lift the fire extinguisher to see the pressure gauge.
1. Monthly inspection is to be performed by the owner at least once a month.
Do note that the suggested frequency of inspection is “at least once a month” which means a minimum of one inspection per month. Depending on the circumstances in which the fire extinguishers are stored, the frequency of the month may have to be more than that.
Fire extinguishers placed in vehicles, in hostile outdoor environments, or are suspected to be vulnerable to vandalism are particularly recommended to be inspected weekly rather than once a month due to a higher probability of damage or misplaced.
While this is not a hard and fast rule, this heightened frequency of inspection is recommended to ensure that the fire extinguishers are always in operable condition in an emergency.
2. Ensure fire extinguisher is in a designated location and unobstructed physically and visually.
While this may sound like common sense, in practice, it is not uncommon for fire extinguishers to get misplaced over time.
Sometimes it’s because of the accumulation of mess around the extinguisher, other times it’s because the extinguisher was moved to another spot for cleaning and forgot to be put back into its original place.
Whatever the reason, fire extinguishers should be placed in an easily accessible area.
That’s why the recommendation is to have a “designated spot” for the fire extinguisher, have regular inspections to ensure it’s always there, and keep the surrounding area unobstructed for easy access.
3. Ensure that the safety pin and seal are in place
As the name suggests, the safety pin and seal are built-in mechanisms to ensure the safe use of fire extinguishers.
The safety pin is a steel pin that prevents you from discharging the fire extinguisher by accident. Note that attempting to move a fire extinguisher without its steel pin in place will likely cause an accidental discharge.
The seal, a secondary safety mechanism, is used to prevent the safety pin from falling out of the fire extinguisher.
It is also known commonly as the tamper seal because if it is broken or missing, it is quite highly likely that someone has maliciously tampered with the fire extinguisher before.
4. Check if the pressure gauge is in the green zone.
As with most safety indicators, the green zone indicates that the fire extinguisher is pressurized and ready for use, while the red zones indicate that something needs to be done!
- If it’s in the upper limit of the red zone, it means it’s overcharged – this can result in disastrous consequences like damage to the safety valve.
- If it’s in the lower limit of the red zone, it means it’s undercharged – this means there might not be enough pressure to help discharge the extinguishing agent fully whilst in operation.
In any of the abovementioned situations, make sure that you get a trained technician to inspect and provide a suitable remedy to ensure your fire extinguisher is ready for use.
Fun Fact: If you look at the pressure gauge on your fire extinguisher, you’ll notice that the green zone is pretty wide and falls between 2 temperatures. Our Singapore Standards are based on European specifications, so there is a temperature range in the pressure gauge.
In Europe, there are many countries with 4 seasons. It is normal for the temperature range can go to the lower end of the green zone during winter and to the upper end of the green zone during summer.
However, in Singapore, where our climate is sunny and hot, it is perfectly normal for the needle of the pressure gauge to touch the upper limit line of the green zone most of the time.
5. Ensure labels are visible
When a fire extinguisher is exposed directly to the sun for a long time, the ink on the label will eventually fade off regardless of how UV-resistant it was made to be. This is something to take note of if your fire extinguisher is placed out in the open.
Otherwise, in most cases, as long as it is not exposed to direct sunlight, the label should remain visible for the entire lifespan of a fire extinguisher.
The key here is to ensure that if any labels are faded off, or damaged, they should be replaced to ensure that any potential user can follow the clear instructions on the labels in an emergency.
6. Check if the hose or nozzle is deformed, choked or rusted.
First of all, not all fire extinguisher have a hose. The smaller fire extinguishers have a steel nozzle while the larger fire extinguishers will have a hose.
It is important to check the condition of the hose and nozzle to ensure that they are not damaged or obstructed in any way that can affect the flow of discharge. If there’s any indication of being deformed, chocked, or rusted, you’ll need to clean out, or if necessary, replace the affected parts.
One of the most common reasons for the blockage of nozzles and hoses in Singapore? An unsuspecting cause – the mud nests of the Singapore mud wasp!
With 40 + years of experience in servicing fire extinguishers, we have noticed a lot of mud nests built inside nozzles and hoses. Mud wasps being very hardworking insects can build nests easily within a single day, creating plenty of blockage issues for fire extinguishers.
While it is important to be on the lookout for this issue, do note that clearing the nest once does not mean the wasp will not return. Possible solutions include checking the nozzle and hose frequently if placed outdoors, or keeping the fire extinguisher within a fire extinguisher cabinet where the wasps are less likely to get to it.
7. Check for obvious physical damage such as dents or corrosion.
This is the easiest part of the inspection checklist. If it looks damaged, it probably is. A quick look at the body will quickly reveal parts that are damaged or rusted.
What is not easy or rather, not convenient to check for, is the base of the fire extinguisher. This requires you to turn the fire extinguisher upside down to see if rust is forming. After wet weather, water usually collects at the base of the fire extinguisher. Over time, rust will start to develop.
If there are too many signs of physical damage, it’s probably also a sign to replace and reposition the fire extinguisher to keep it away from harm.
Make it a habit
While it may feel intimidating to go through these steps to inspect your fire extinguisher for the first time, you’ll eventually get used to it with more inspections over time.
The more practice you have going through the steps, the more natural it’ll be to look out for the potential areas of concern, and the time taken for the inspection will get faster and faster!
Our recommendation? Assign one or two designated fire extinguisher “inspectors” instead of having a different person do it every time.
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