Fire Extinguishers and Irish Law
This article examines the general legal requirements for the provision and maintenance of fire extinguishers in Ireland as they are set out in the applicable Acts, Statutory Instruments, Irish Standard Specification, and approved Codes of Practice.
Principal Fire Safety LawThe Fire Services Acts 1981 & 2003 are the primary Acts in Ireland that govern the provision of fire-fighting equipment for use in buildings to which the public is admitted. The Fire Services Act 1981 was enacted after 49 people lost their lives in the Stardust fire disaster in Dublin. It established the fire authorities and made provision for the organisation of the fire service, training of fire personnel, fire-fighting and fire safety, and other matters relating to the protection of people and property from fire. It was amended by Part 3 of the Licensing of Indoor Events Act 2003.
The 2003 amendment expands the duties of persons in control of premises to make adequate provision for ensuring the safety of persons on their premises. The person in control must proactively promote good fire safety practice and procedures on the premises. It also strengthens the status of advice given by a fire authority or an authorised person and substantially strengthens their inspection powers. An authorised officer of the fire authority may serve on the owner/occupier of a premise a closure notice having immediate effect if he is of the opinion that a serious risk is posed to the safety of people on or in the premises.
Part 3 of the Licensing of Indoor Events Act 2003 and the Fire Services Act 1981 are cited together as The Fire Services Acts 1981 & 2003. As the former amends parts of the latter, both should be read together.
Duties of CarePart 3, Section 18, Subsection 2 of the Fire Services Acts, 1981 & 2003 (as amended) declares that:
It shall be the duty of every person having control over premises to which this section applies to –This duty of care is placed on every person having control over premises and involves the provision of adequate fire-fighting equipment for extinguishing fires occurring in the building - the absence of which could deem it to be a "potentially dangerous building" under Section 19, Subsection 1 (a) (i). The premises to which the section applies under Part 3, Section 18, Subsection 1 includes virtually all premises to which the public is admitted other than a private dwelling house in single occupancy.
- take all reasonable measures to guard against the outbreak of fire on such premises,
- provide reasonable fire safety measures for such premises and prepare and provide appropriate fire safety procedures for ensuring the safety of persons on such premises,
- ensure that the fire safety measures and procedures referred to in paragraph (b) are applied at all times, and
- ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of persons on the premises in the event of an outbreak of fire whether such outbreak has occurred or not.
It is an offence, subject to a fine or imprisonment, or both, for the person to fail to comply with the duty.
Section 8 (1) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 places a general duty of care on employers in respect of workplace health and safety:
“Every employer shall ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees.”
The Health and Safety Authority and the Fire AuthorityHSA inspectors are typically the employer's first point of contact with state authorities in the matter of fire safety provisions and practices in the workplace. However, primary responsibility for enforcement of fire safety resides with the Fire Service, which is operated at local level by 37 fire authorities.
The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government provides the planning and legislative framework for the enforcement of fire safety and the operation of the fire service through the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003, providing advice and guidance to local fire authorities on fire safety and on emergency planning and grants for capital expenditure on fire stations and appliances, etc.
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has "a role in monitoring the effectiveness of employers management of the risk associated with fire" in the workplace in the areas that it has specific responsibility for but does not have responsibility for enforcement of statutory provisions in areas of fire safety where that responsibility resides with the local fire authorities under The Fire Services Acts 1981 & 2003.
The HSA enforces The Safety, Health and Welfare Act 2005 and The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007, along with other legislation that may make provision for the supply and maintenance of suitable fire-fighting equipment.
Under Part 2, Chapter 1, Section 11 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, the HSA monitor an employer's "plans and procedures" in matters of fire safety emergency planning. Part 2, Chapter 1, Section 13 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 extended the statutory role of the HSA into areas formerly enforced exclusively by the fire authority under the Fire Services Acts 1981 & 2003. Without prejudice to the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003, the extended role is to ensure that a place of work is equipped with appropriate fire-fighting equipment and that it is maintained in good working order (see except below).
Under the powers given to them by the applicable Acts, both the HSA and the local fire authority may give advice and make recommendations about the provision of adequate fire-fighting equipment and its on-going inspection and maintenance and may also enforce compliance with their recommendations.
Provision of Fire ExtinguishersIrish Standards (IS) are published by the NSAI, which operates under the National Standards Authority of Ireland Act, 1996, on behalf of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The NSAI has published the standard specification I.S. 291:2002 "The Use, Siting, Inspection and Maintenance of Portable Fire Extinguishers." This is the Irish Standard Specification that controls the provision and maintenance of fire extinguishers for use in buildings to where the public is admitted
I.S. 291:2002 gives a formula (floor area of the storey in square metres x 0.065 = minimum class A capacity) for calculating the minimum number of class A fire extinguishers that must be provided for a building. The value per storey should not be less than 26A for class A fires. If the building is in single occupancy with the upper floor areas not exceeding 100 square metres then the minimum aggregate of the designation for these floors is 13A. You can learn more about how the fire rating system works here.
Additional extinguishers shall be provided over that calculated where the likelihood of fire is above average or where the fire could be particularly intense, and based on equations such as the distance travelled to reach an extinguisher and on a risk assessment of the occupational hazards, people, processes, etc, that are present.
I.S. 291:2002 does not have the legal status of an act or a regulation. Failure to comply with an agreed code of practice or Standard Specification that has not been referenced in a Statutory Instrument is not an offence in itself but a court may regard it as evidence of guilt in a prosecution unless it can be shown that the law was complied with by other means. Since it can be difficult and expensive to prove that such was the case, it is always best practice to comply with the provisions of I.S. 291:2002.
Part 2, chapter 1, section 13 (a) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 specifies four factors that must be considered to ensure that a place of work is equipped with appropriate fire-fighting equipment:
- the dimensions and use of the buildings,
- the equipment they contain,
- the physical and chemical characteristics of the substances present, and
- the maximum potential number of people present.
Essentially, apart from the above rudimentary formula for calculating the minimum provision and the need to comply with any applicable statutory specifications, the number and type of fire extinguishers to be provided for a building must be determined by an on-site process of fire risk assessment.
On-going Inspection & Maintenance of Fire ExtinguishersInspection of fire extinguishers is defined in Clause 6 of I.S. 291:2002 as an "examination to check that the appliance is immediately available for effective use so that corrective action can be taken if necessary." The standard declares that the frequency of inspection must be at least monthly or more frequently if necessary. It gives details about the inspection procedure and declares that it must be carried out "by the user, or agent appointed by the user, supplier, or a competent extinguisher maintenance agent."
Maintenance of fire extinguishers is defined in Clause 7.1 of I.S. 291:2002 as a "thorough examination of the appliance, which must involve opening the appliance, examining the body shell internally and externally and examining all parts and replacing any defective parts leaving the extinguisher ready for use." Clauses 8, 9 and 10, 11 give details about the examination and maintenance procedures for four types of fire extinguishers (water, foam, dry powder, and carbon dioxide, respectively) and also give intervals at which the maintenance must be carried out on each type.
I.S. 291:2002 declares that "at annual intervals all of the extinguishers shall be subjected to the examination" procedures given in the various clauses. It then declares that "at least one third" of water and foam types of extinguishers shall be test-discharged and refilled such that "within a three-year period all shall have been examined." When the total number of these types of extinguishers "is two or less one shall be examined." For dry power and carbon dioxide types, it declares that "at least one fifth" of these types of extinguishers shall be test-discharged and refilled such that "within a five-year period all shall have been examined." When the total number of these types of extinguishers "is four or less, one shall be examined."
It should be noted that the terms 'examination' and 'maintenance' can be used interchangeably in I.S. 291:2002 but have different values. Specifically, for a stored pressure fire extinguisher, it is only possible to meet the definition of maintenance given to all fire extinguishers in Clause 7.1 if it is emptied of its contents (discharged). However, annual maintenance of these types consists of an examination in accordance with the procedures given in the respective clauses, with the internal examination requirement given in Clause 7.1 occurring during their respective schedules for extended maintenance or as otherwise indicated in the specification. For clarification, a competent extinguisher maintenance agent must examine all fire extinguishers at least annually but there is no requirement to test discharge and refill all fire extinguishers as part of the annual maintenance procedure.
Without prejudice to the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003 and other relevant legislation, Part 2, chapter 1, section 13 (c) (i) & (ii) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 declares that fire-fighting equipment must be "inspected and maintained as frequently as necessary to ensure that it is in good working order, and serviced by a competent person as frequently as necessary."