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Fire Safety in your Commercial Kitchen
Monday 3rd June 2019
Article featured in May's Caterer Licensee Hotelier Magazine
The kitchen is the heart of every good restaurant, and regrettably also many a so called ‘commercial fire incident’. Customer-friendly front of house operations can do much to attract them, but a discerning clientele only keep coming back if the kitchen delivers.
Restaurant chains including Byron, Prezzo, Strada and Jamie’s Italian have all suffered in the last year or so, with customers marching with their feet. Yet it’s the minds of insurers and the first responders called to kitchen fire incidents when they occur, which are preoccupied with the scale and frequency of commercial kitchen fires. Fires which can and do impact reputations, business continuity, cause extensive property damage, result in business failures and risk loss of life.
Fires involving restaurants and cafes represent some 42% of all fires within the food and drink sector put together. Fire industry/insurance data shows food and drink-related fires are statistically the third most likely cause of large fires, also accounting for nearly 10% of all large loss fires. So how can operators be sure they will not become part of these statistics? It’s clearly important to maintain the right oversight and policies to manage the risks.
Mindful of these, BAFE, the independent register of quality fire safety service providers, has recently launched its Kitchen Fire Protection Systems Scheme (SP206 to the cognoscenti), a code of practice for the industry to help address the issue by providing responsible persons with a means to help ensure premises are adequately protected from inherent risks involved.
The Scheme helps to ensure effective kitchen fire suppression/extinguishing systems - which have been available for a number of years - are designed, installed, commissioned, recharged and maintained in line with best practice, and which if called upon will deploy as intended.
In the wake of the 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy, the responsibilities of owners, leasehold managers and operators of all properties, including commercial kitchen operators has been brought into sharper focus. The responsible persons’ risk assessment responsibilities and related legal obligations under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005) have taken on more acute meaning. These legislative responsibilities demand that competent engineers/maintenance companies install and maintain kitchen fire protection systems – and that this work is not simply handed to contractors of unproven competence. For example, mistakenly the responsible person might assume maintenance providers working on other fire protection equipment e.g. a fire detection and alarm system, or portable fire extinguishers, may be capable also of handling kitchen fire protection systems.
It should go without saying that fire protection products and related services be fit for purpose, properly installed and, as importantly, maintained in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions and relevant standard(s). But how can a responsible person; be confident that installation and maintenance is indeed up to scratch - and demonstrate they have fulfilled their responsibilities? The answer in large part can be addressed by independent third party certification.
In the case of BAFE fire safety schemes, these provide ‘code of practice’ standards for a wide variety of fire safety activities ranging from Life Safety Fire Risk Assessment to the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire safety systems. Service providers who are independently and regularly inspected by a UKAS accredited third party certification body, are awarded a certificate of approval against those BAFE standards for the specialist services they provide thereby demonstrating their commitment to the standards and competence in practice.
Specifying third party certificated providers for the installation and maintenance of fire safety systems demonstrates reasonably practicable steps taken by the responsible person in meeting their obligations.
The statistics for all food and drink establishments reveal midnight-6am as the most likely time for fires to start with 43% of fires identified as starting at this time. This compares with 6pm-midnight at 24%. Other restaurants and cafes are also more susceptible to fires breaking out between midnight and 6am (35%) versus the evening trade time of 6pm-midnight (22%).
Kitchens are commonly sited at ground or basement level within buildings and together with the associated ventilation/extraction ducting expose occupants of buildings such as hotels and residential homes to risk of fire spreading upwards. During later at night/early morning hours whilst restaurant clientele may be long gone, residential and hotel accommodation sited within buildings housing kitchens poses serious risk, especially as at night kitchens are most likely to be unmanned. The reality is that with kitchen staff vacating premises at the end of their evening shift, dormant fire conditions can take hold unobserved/unchecked.
Flammable materials such as cooking oil help build up fat and grease deposits within extraction canopy systems, filters and ducting pipework – which often routes externally via roofing areas and other vulnerable sections of property. The often inaccessible, grease laden sections of extract ducting, fans and other filtration plant pose a common problem, particularly in view of its structural importance within many buildings.
Insurers do not approve of insufficient or incorrect systems being used to protect kitchens against fire, and are concerned to know if a system has been appropriately specified, installed and maintained properly.
The SP206 scheme helps ensure that even when kitchens are unattended fire protection in the kitchen can provide added security for the whole building including its occupants whether they are asleep at night or going about routine activity during day time hours.
BAFEs most recently launched SP206 Scheme defines best practice expressly for designers, installers and maintenance providers of kitchen fire suppression/extinguishing systems. Approved installers – who sign up to regular independent audits against this standard of their operations including site inspections – have an independently verified means of declaring they have been properly assessed for quality and competence in providing legislatively compliant and appropriate fire protection measures to their customers, and are authorised to issue Certificates of Compliance (like an MOT) to their customers each time they install or service a system.
Responsible persons now have an easy route to shortlisting competent contractors from those who understand how the equipment should function and have a proven track record.
Importantly, they also are now able to show due diligence in protecting their premises/property, for the benefit of the kitchen’s staff, visitors and patrons.
Jonathan O'Neill urges Government to “get on with it” and mandate Third Party Certification Thursday 7th November 2019
Fire Sector Federation acknowledges the Governments’ step change into action on building fire safety Wednesday 22nd January 2020
Government open consultation regarding fire safety in existing buildings Tuesday 21st January 2020
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Legal obligations nationwide require the appointed responsible person for fire safety for commercial/non-domestic premises to have adequate fire protection.