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Fire Extinguisher Standards [Hardfacts]



A new harmonised European standard on fire extinguishers - BS EN3 - came into effect on 1st Jan 1997 providing a single standard for fire extinguishers across Europe.
It replaced the old British Standard BS 5423, which was withdrawn.


BS EN3 is the standard now used for the specification, manufacturing and purchase of extinguishers in the UK. An additional standard BS 7863 details the revised colour coding system, to indicate the extinguishing medium contained in portable fire extinguishers and supplements BS EN3. 

BS EN3 is not retrospective and pre-existing extinguishers do not need to be replaced with extinguishers to this new standard. However any replacements as a result of damage, wear or un-serviceability or new extinguishers will need to meet this new, later standard.

Colours and markings on fire extinguishers have been standardized.

The New Standard

 The main differences between the old standard and the new are:

  • A minimum of 90% of the extinguisher body must be red
  • Zones of colour, indicating the contents of the extinguisher are permitted
  • The markings on the extinguisher must follow a specified layout
  • Pictograms are used indicating the type of fires that the extinguisher is suitable for
  • A minimum body shell thickness is specified
  • Minimum fire performance ratings for the size of extinguisher are specified
  • Operating temperatures of some extinguishers are increased
  • Some discharge times are increased

Although there are many technical changes and improvements in the new standard, the most noticeable change is to the colour of the extinguisher bodies.

Extinguisher Colours

In the UK we were used to a system of using the colour of the body of the extinguisher to indicate its contents.

However, this system has been peculiarly British, with all extinguishers in European countries being coloured completely red.

Since extinguisher colour is not used to identify the type of the extinguisher, it falls to the standard pictograms to illustrate the types of fire that the extinguisher can be used on. These pictograms will be clearly visible on the body of the extinguisher e.g.



Class A fires involving organic solids e.g. wood, paper
Class B fires involving flammable liquids
Class C fires involving flammable gases
Class F fires involving cooking oil and fat

A concession was made in this latest standard for a small zone of colour to be available on the body of the extinguisher to further help identify the contents of the extinguisher. A colour zone of up to 10% of the surface area of the extinguisher (with a minimum of 3%) can be positioned on the top half of the front of extinguisher body and be visible from 180 degree angle.

The British Standard BS 7863 outlines the colours that can be used in this way, and follows the colour coding system that has been used to for many years.
In addition there is now a new colour for the Wet Chemical extinguisher.

The colour codes are:  










Carbon Dioxide

Canary Yellow

Wet Chemical

NB Halon extinguishers, coloured Green, had to be disposed of by an approved contractor by 31/12/2003 in line with the Montreal protocol.

A further effect of the latest standard is that customized colours (most commonly chromed stainless steel which are favoured by design conscious companies) no longer comply.

Replacement of Extinguishers

Even though pre-existing extinguishers do not need to be replaced, the gradual appearance of the new, latest standard extinguishers alongside older types may cause some confusion. The presence of black, blue or cream extinguishers in an area may suggest to some users that the red extinguishers will contain water, but this might not be the case, with potentially serious consequences.

All employees need to know what to do in the event of a fire and this includes being able to select the appropriate type of extinguisher to use. There is clearly a need to ensure that the latest extinguisher identifying system is understood by all.

To reduce the chances of confusion, mixing new and old standard extinguishers in the same building or area should be avoided.

Note also that BS5306-8:2000 states that to avoid confusion, all extinguishers installed in any one floor of a building or single occupancy should have the same method of operation and if intended for the same function should all be similar in shape, appearance and colour. These precautions apply equally to temporary replacement units supplied during maintenance operations.

Specifying Fire Extinguishers

When specifying Fire Extinguishers for the first time it is imperative that professional advice is sought to ensure that the correct appliance is specified in relation to the risk and that adequate maintenance is provided.

Whilst it may be assumed that existing appliances, which are no longer under any maintenance agreement, can be renewed on a like-for-like basis, there may be more appropriate appliances available now which were not on the market previously and this aspect should be investigated by seeking professional advice.

The use of a company whose products and services have third party accrediation from the LPCB (Loss Prevention Certification Board) or BAFE (British Approvals for Fire Equipment) is recommended.

Fire Extinguishers should always be specified as part of an overall Fire Protection package in the event that a formal Fire Risk Assessment is required.  

Key Action Steps

  • Ensure that all new extinguishers obtained comply with BS EN3 and are correctly specified.
  • Ensure that new and existing staff are able to identify the different types of fire extinguisher and their respective use
  • Provide training and information on the colour standards for fire extinguishers
  • Clearly sign extinguishers and their use and limitations 
  • Do not mix extinguishers conforming to the new and old standards
  • Do not mix extinguishers which have different operating methods
  • All fire extinguishers must be subject to an ongoing and suitable system of maintenance. Such servicing and maintenance to be undertaken by a competent person to ensure extinguishers are in an efficent state, in efficient working order and in good repair    


BS EN3-7:2004 +A1:2007- Portable fire extinguishers.
BS 7863: 2009 - Recommendations for colour coding to indicate the extinguishing media contained in portable fire extinguishers. BS5306-3: 2009 Commissioning and maintenance of portable fire extinguishers.
BS 5306-8: 2000 Fire estinguishing installations and equipment on premises Part 8; Selection and installation of portable fire extinguishers.

Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005 (or equivalent legislation in Scotland under the Fire Safety (Scotland) Act 2005 or in Northern Ireland under the Fire and Rescue Services (NI) Order 2006).  

Next Steps:

  • Source discounted products, available to Aviva insured customers and brokers only, via our Specialist Partners - click here to find out more about the savings you could make
  • Contact LPC on Tel. No. 0333 321 8811 or at or BAFE on Tel. No. 0844 335 0897 or at
  • Additionally, information and guidance in respect of completion of a formal Fire Risk Assessment can be accessed from the HSE's website and  
  • View our Tools and Templates
  • Call our Risk Helpline on 0345 366 66 66
  •  Email us at

Please Note
This document contains general information and guidance and is not and should not be relied on as specific advice. The document may not cover every risk, exposure or hazard that may arise and Aviva recommend that you obtain specific advice relevant to the circumstances. AVIVA accepts no responsibility or liability towards any person who may rely upon this document.

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