It sounds too good to be true: maintenance-free fire extinguishers!
“Maintenance-free fire extinguishers” are characterized above all by the nice “side effect” that no maintenance company has to be commissioned with the maintenance for at least 10 years and the subsequent bills for the service itself and possible spare parts are simply passé. So it is only understandable that such an offer simply has to make the hearts of operators beat faster. But is that really realistic? Is that possible, or shouldn’t the operator ultimately be responsible for the operation himself? We follow up.
Why does the legislature require red fire extinguishers for companies at all?
Fire extinguishers are used to protect human life, protect property and prevent damage to the environment, because everyone knows; every fire starts out small as an incipient fire. If it is deleted in time, there is usually no major catastrophe.
In order for technical work equipment, which also includes the fire extinguisher, to be able to reliably fulfill its task in the long term, the legislator assumes that it must be serviced regularly. This is understandable, because technical devices are subject to aging, environmental influences, wear and tear, and may be damaged or manipulated – especially if they are publicly accessible.
In Germany the maintenance period is acc. maintenance standard DIN 14406-4 for fire extinguishers 2 years, which is one of the highest in a European comparison. DIN 14406-4 is considered to be the legally recognized state of the art and, in conjunction with the ASR A2.2 workplace directive, gives the operator security. If the operator adheres to the technical rules, he can assume that he has complied with all relevant regulations. Of course, he can also choose a different solution. But then he must at least ensure the same level of safety and health protection.
The use of a maintenance-free fire extinguisher makes the operator solely responsible at this point.
Within his risk assessment, he must explain how he wants to ensure the same level of safety and health protection with safety devices that, according to the distributor, may not be opened for 10 years. The operator is responsible for dealing with the fine print. Are there any restrictions or conditions under which the manufacturer excludes its guarantee? Does the durability of the devices only apply under “normal” conditions and how are these defined? Can the operator rate them? What about exposure to heat, sunlight, humidity, temperature changes and exposure to heat? These conditions apply to every piece of technical equipment and thus to functional safety. Can the operator correctly evaluate and assess this risk with his expertise? And is it at all possible, in the absence of long-term experience and studies of such devices, to pronounce a service life of 10 years without maintenance? Does the manufacturer of maintenance-free extinguishing devices really not recommend regular inspections – even if only externally – to identify technical defects?
The fact is, operators definitely have to deal with the small print, because in the event of damage they bear full personal responsibility if they deviate from the current state of the art. – A liability risk, which can hardly be estimated in the current situation. Incidentally, § 4 para. 3 ArbStättV requires that the employer carries out regular maintenance.
The maintenance of a fire extinguisher serves to maintain its functional safety. Therefore, in the following, we show by way of example why the inspection of certain components of a fire extinguisher is essential for safety in the event of an emergency:
Fittings, ducts, pipes
The fire extinguisher is triggered via the fitting. External environmental influences can lead to the extinguishing agent settling and the fitting being impaired in its function. External verification is not possible.
The extinguishing agents themselves are subject to aging processes. Due to environmental influences (heat, vibration), powder can clump and liquid extinguishing agents can separate. It is not possible to judge from the outside whether the extinguishing agent can still extinguish a fire at all.
On steel containers, such as those used in common fire extinguishers, it is always visible from the outside whether there is a defect, for example if it has been dropped. A deformed container must be replaced for safety reasons (they are subjected to pressure). With containers that have a flexible outer container, such deformations cannot be guessed from the outside. Regular internal checks are all the more important here.