Lunch was over.
I was walking back to our senior common room with my friends. When we reached Foundation House, we found all of the students and teachers standing outside while the fire brigade trailed in.
There was no smoke or visible flames but I saw three friends that we’d left in the common room off to one side of the car park looking sheepish.
Turns out that they’d managed to make a pseudo-napalm launcher out of a tube of Pringles, a rubber band, spray deodorant, a lighter, and a supply of biro casings.
My friends were smart but, as you might’ve guessed, had no common sense.
Whether you have students setting off fire alarms with molten flaming plastic or have a much larger accident, it’s important to know that your safety measures are up to standard.
$25 billion in damages were caused by fire in 2018 in the US alone, which should tell you how vital it is to catch fires and deal with them early before they need additional help to contain.
That’s why fire extinguisher inspections are so important.
In this post I’ll cover:
- What is a fire extinguisher inspection?
- How often do fire extinguishers need inspecting?
- Who can inspect fire extinguishers?
- Perform free monthly inspections with Process Street
What is a fire extinguisher inspection?
A fire extinguisher inspection is a way to check your fire extinguishers to make sure that, should you need them, they’ll do their job. This covers inspecting for damage, previous use (without refilling or recharging), and so on.
After all, it’s no good expanding and improving your business if you don’t combine that with the appropriate safety measures.
You don’t want to leave your safety up to chance.
The main areas that an inspection covers are:
- Accessibility and visibility
- Operating instructions
- Safety seals
- Physical condition
Quick reminder; if you want to get straight in and start inspecting your own extinguishers, check out our free Fire Extinguisher Inspection Checklist!
This Process Street checklist is especially useful as it removes the need for motivation at work. You don’t need to waste energy deciding what to do next – the instructions are right in front of you and you can be assigned to the checklist to keep yourself accountable.
Fire extinguisher inspection: Location
First up is checking the location of the fire extinguisher. There are two notable elements here:
- Expected location(s)
- Frequency for a given space
Starting off, your extinguishers need to be exactly where your team expects them to be. There’s no point in having safety equipment if your team can’t find it.
There’s no trick to this step – you need to know where the extinguishers should be and check that they’re in those locations.
The next element is a little trickier. You need to make sure that there are enough fire extinguishers in place for the space that you’re assessing.
Strictly speaking, the only way to know how many (and what type of) extinguishers you need is to have an official inspection done by a qualified party. More on that later.
However, a rough rule of thumb is that one type 13A extinguisher can safely cover a 200m squared floor area.
The type you require will largely depend on the potential fire causes in your location. Again, the best way to be sure is to contact a qualified professional.
Fire extinguisher inspection: Accessibility and visibility
The guidelines here are, once again, pretty straightforward.
Extinguishers need to be easily accessible and clearly visible.
However, there are more specific regulations depending on the type and size of extinguisher you’re using. As a rough guide, wall-mounted (the most common type) extinguishers should be mounted at least 4 inches off the floor but not more than 5 feet. If the extinguisher weighs over 400 pounds, the height limit is reduced to 3.5 feet.
The most important thing to remember is that this is vital safety equipment which has to be immediately visible and accessible.
For that reason, try to also keep a 36-inch (3 foot) clearance zone around the extinguisher no matter where it’s installed. This should make it easy to spot and access, so long as this zone is kept free of clutter.
Fire extinguisher inspection: Operating instructions
The operating instructions of your extinguishers need to, just like the equipment itself, be immediately visible and legible.
You want anyone who comes across the extinguisher to know how to use it.
These instructions usually accompany the unit – perhaps being mounted on the wall behind or next to it.
Fire extinguisher inspection: Fullness
While it’s not an exact science, the easiest way to see if a fire extinguisher is full is to lift it and see how heavy it feels.
If the tank is heavy, it’s most likely still full, and vice versa.
As stated previously, this should be true no matter whether the unit has been used before. If they are used, they should be immediately (or, as quickly as is safe to do so) refilled and recharged at an official station or by an official service.
Fire extinguisher inspection: Pressure
The pressure is, thankfully, easier to inspect than how full your tanks are. On every extinguisher there should be a pressure gauge that you can use during this stage of the inspection.
If the pressure gauge level is in the green (or the equivalent of high pressure), then the extinguisher is okay. Otherwise, it needs to be sent to an official service to be refilled (much like when they are used).
Fire extinguisher inspection: Safety seals
Safety seals are nice and easy to check! The main items you’re looking for in this step are the locking pin and tamper seal.
The locking pin is a metal pin with a circular head that slots into (typically) the top lever of the extinguisher. This prevents someone from accidentally setting it off by, say, leaning against the top of it.
Having said that, don’t lean against fire extinguishers. Another friend of mine (also in secondary school) did just that and set it off, getting himself and every other kid in our class covered.
I promise that those were the only fire-related incidents – we didn’t have a problem with pyromania.
In any case, the tamper seal usually looks like a ring of plastic, similar to a zip tie. This loops through the head of the locking pin and circles around the top lever of the extinguisher.
Fire extinguisher inspection: Physical condition
The final step of most fire extinguisher inspections is to check over the physical condition of the unit.
While this, again, comes down to common sense and knowing what to see, it’s nonetheless vital to make sure that the extinguisher will work when it needs to and not explode when it shouldn’t.
As in, it should never happen.
It shouldn’t explode, is my point.
Obvious damage such as broken piping, clogged nozzles, rust, leaking, and so on should all be logged, and will likely result in replacing the unit.
An extinguisher that’s been used can be refilled, but one that’s been damaged is no longer safe to do so.
How often do fire extinguishers need inspecting?
Fire extinguishers should be inspected by a qualified professional once per year. These official inspections are more in-depth than the one laid out above.
However, to make sure that you’re ready for these yearly maintenance inspections you should perform a basic fire extinguisher inspection every month.
This will help you to stay on top of how your safety equipment is faring. If you start to see wear and tear on a unit, you can order a replacement before it comes to the official inspection.
“Why does that matter? The official inspections approve the extinguisher for a year, so why should I inspect and replace them myself too?”
There’s nothing stopping you from only taking action every year when the official inspector comes around. However, doing so not only risks endangering your property in the event of a fire which you can’t control due to faulty equipment, it puts anyone in that location at severe risk in the same situation.
Who can inspect fire extinguishers?
The only people who can carry out your yearly fire extinguisher maintenance inspection are qualified professionals from a professional fire protection company.
That’s it. There’s no other substitute for safety.
However, as I mentioned earlier, there’s nothing stopping you from performing your own inspections every month to keep track of your safety equipment.
These monthly inspections can be performed by anyone – they don’t need training or any prior experience. The only thing they need is a set of instructions on what to look out for and a place to record their findings.
Perform free monthly inspections with Process Street
Need to teach someone how to perform a new task but don’t have the time to do it yourself? Give them a superpowered checklist to let them learn on the job.
Worried about the time and effort involved with digitalizing workflows? Process Street has a library of hundreds of free, ready-to-use premade templates for you to choose from!
To prove this point, we here at Process Street made this free Fire Extinguisher Inspection Checklist to accompany this post.
Each task uses form fields to let the person working through the checklist record information as they go, while following the instructions alongside them to get every check perfect.
There’s even a task at the end which will automatically assign their manager to review and approve their findings to make sure that nothing slips between the gaps. If the extinguisher needs replacing, the manager will instantly know about it.
It’s not just extinguisher inspections you can do with Process Street. Check out this more general Fire Inspection Checklist below:
Process Street has hundreds of premade templates like this one that are free to import into your account, such as:
- Fire Inspection Checklist
- Restaurant Health Inspection Checklist
- Home Inspection Checklist
- Vehicle Inspection Checklist
- ISO Container Inspection Checklist
- Inventory Management Process
- Warehouse Safety Checklist
- Hotel Sustainability Audit
- Laboratory Safety Procedure Audit
- Retail Store Audit Checklist
To get access to all of these and many, many more (from marketing workflows to daily checklists and employee onboarding) sign up for a free trial of Process Street today.
What common inspections do you struggle to keep on top of? Let us know in the comments below!