Safety Signs Blog

Fire Extinguisher ID Signs: Are they really necessary?

22nd October 2010 | Fire Signs

For years, every fire protection company in the UK has installed fire extinguisher ID signs next to any fire extinguisher they install. In the main most businesses accept it is good practice for them to do just this. However, every now and then, the company that is on the end of a higher than expected invoice will question why their 20 new fire extinguishers have 20 new signs next to them. The most common answer is because it is the law. Or, if it is not the law, then it must be what the British Standard recommends.

The question posed by this article is: is it a legal requirement to show any of the following signs:

this extinguisher contains water instructions for use sign this extinguisher contains dry powder instructions for use sign this extinguisher contains co2 instructions for use sign this extinguisher contains AFF foam instructions for use sign

Strictly speaking, the answer is no. There is not one British Standard or law that explicitly tells us to display this sign. However there are three pieces of legislation that have a bearing on whether or not they should be used.

In 1996 the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations came in to force. This clearly stated that at fire points the following symbol should be shown.

fire extinguisher & flames symbol only sign
…particularly if the fire extinguisher itself is obscured.

The British Standard BS5499 then gave us guidance on how and where this should be fitted: some 1.7 to 2 m off the ground. As such, legally this portion of the fire extinguisher ID sign must be shown, but not necessarily next to the fire extinguisher itself.

In 1997 the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations and the amendment regulations two years later then came into being with the guidance notes that stated that some form of training and instruction must be given on fire equipment. This could be anything from hands-on training to written instructions. In turn, these written instructions could be in the form of a permanently affixed sign.

The above Regulations were then absorbed into the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, without there being any further explicit and mandatory instructions for there to be written instructions next to every fire extinguisher.

So at this point the regular response from the fire extinguisher engineer saying it’s the law and/or a British Standard does not quite hold weight.

However, the most compelling argument for having a fire extinguisher ID next to every fire extinguisher actually comes from a piece of non-fire related legislation. The Provision and Use of Work Equipment 1998 clearly states that if you provide a tool or piece of equipment that is intended for use by staff or visitors, you have a clearly defined legal duty to provide “adequate training or instruction” on that piece of equipment. With only an estimated 2% to 4% of UK employees actually receiving hands-on fire extinguisher training, the need for fire signs next to the fire extinguishers themselves is absolutely critical. Not just because it safe-guards every person that elects to pick up and use a fire extinguisher, it also protects the owner of the building from a lawsuit.

History shows us that fire extinguishers, if used incorrectly, can present as much risk as they seek to prevent. For example, untrained operators of a CO2 extinguisher can asphyxiate themselves in confined spaces. Equally using a water or foam extinguisher on an electrical based fire can easily result in a pooling effect that can ultimately lead to electrocution of the would-be fire fighter.

Using all three of the above pieces of legislation, there is certainly a compelling legal case for it. But perhaps more importantly than this, these signs are also essential in protecting businesses and employees alike.


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