Avoiding Fire Hazards

Friday, 2nd March, 2018

Avoiding Fire Hazards

“The safest way to deal with fire is to prevent it” Fires in commercial kitchens are unfortunately common and the effects on a business can be devastating. Therefore ensuring that your business small or large is fully protected with the correct equipment and necessary legal paperwork and training, is of the utmost importance.

UK government statistics prove that professional equipment such as fryers, cookers and industrial ventilation systems combined with flammable materials such as cooking oil, can be a recipe for disaster. 
And in February The London Fire Brigade issued a safety reminder to restaurant owners to make sure their extraction systems are kept clean after a fire at a restaurant in Hanworth Road, Hounslow.
Six fire engines and 35 firefighters and officers were called to a fire at the restaurant with flats above.
Part of the ground floor, almost half of a flat on the first floor, a small part of the roof and all the ducting from the ground floor to the roof were damaged in the fire. There were no reports of any injuries.
The Brigade’s fire investigators believe the fire started in the ducting on the ground floor and was caused by a build-up of fat and grease deposits.
A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said: “The fire spread via the restaurant’s ducting.
“This serves as a timely reminder to all restaurant and takeaway owners to always take care to make sure their extraction systems are kept clean.
“A build-up of fat and grease within the filters can lead to a fire.”
We speak to three of the leading industry voices in the fire prevention sector, who give their insight into the latest in fire safety regulations and how you can fully equip your business to prevent fire.

• Ian Bartle, Managing Director, Nobel Fire Systems Ltd
• Doug Agnew, Business Development Manager at Abbot Fire Group
• Chris Auger, Schemes Manager, BAFE

What precautions should all food businesses make to reduce fire risks?

“As with a suitable fire risk assessment and keeping this up to date (e.g. if the kitchen/dining area layouts change your assessment should be reviewed), all of the previously mentioned systems and provisions should be maintained regularly to ensure they will work in the event of fire,” says Chris.

“This includes fire extinguishers, fire alarm systems, emergency lighting and depending on the size/nature of your kitchen, your fire suppression system.

“It is important that all staff are aware of the risk of fire. This is done through ensuring all staff have received fire safety training,” adds Doug.  “This training includes identifying the risk of fire, familiarisation of the different types of fire and the correct extinguisher to use, and can also include hands-on experience of operating a fire extinguisher in a controlled environment.”

Doug explains that a member of staff should also be designated with fire warden responsibilities. “Training should be provided for this role, as fire wardens have additional responsibilities related to the provision and maintenance of fire-fighting equipment, and also when the fire alarm sounds.”

Ian agrees explaining; “Make all staff aware of the risks and advise on the precautionary measures to be taken installation of an automatic fire system reduces not only the risk of fire spread to the rest of the building but keeps staff and customers safe.

“It ensures staff do not have to approach a fire with potentially the wrong methods or wrong equipment,” adds Ian.

Ensuring the premises are protected with fire safety measures, as identified in their fire risk assessment is also critical.  Doug continues; “This is likely to include the correct type and positioning of fire extinguishers, a working fire alarm system, and placement of fire blankets.

Adding; “Regular servicing of fire protection equipment, including a weekly test of the fire alarm which needs to be recorded in the business’ fire safety log book, ensures that all equipment is in working order, and can be relied upon if needed.”

What are the main dangers when it comes to fire safety?

Main fire safety dangers are obviously the potential risk to loss of life or major injury. Most of the time this is avoidable with the right fire safety procedures in place and being adhered to.

“Specific dangers will relate to how you operate within your building and a thorough risk assessment by a competent fire risk assessor and subsequent works required will ensure you have provided a safe environment to work in/visit,” says Chris.

“Complacency is also a major factor when it comes to fire safety. Thinking it is someone else’s problem and leaving remedial work are factors which can have a detrimental effect on fire safety.”

Staff not being aware of fire safety and the things that can be done to minimise the risk of fire adds Doug.  He continues; “Staff also need to be aware of the emergency evacuation procedures, this ensures they know how to evacuate calmly and safely in the unlikely event of a fire.

“Companies not implementing the fire safety precautions highlighted as required in their fire risk assessment can also be a danger,” adds Doug. “As this can result in premises not being covered by suitable fire safety precautions.”

“Fires should only be approached by trained personnel,” reiterates Ian.  He adds; “Fires on cook lines can be particularly dangerous to approach and using the wrong extinguisher or trying to approach a fire with a fire blanket exposes people to serious potential of injury.”

Why is a full fire assessment essential for any business?

“A fire risk assessment is a legal obligation under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, often referred to as the RRO,” says Doug.  “This assessment is the starting point for your fire safety prevention strategy. The assessment will look at your existing fire precautions, in addition to other factors within your business.

“It will identify if current fire precautions are adequate, and highlight any areas which may be missing or not covered by suitable fire precautions. It is crucial to ensure your fire prevention strategy suits your business needs.”

Ian agrees adding; “Until you complete a full risk assessment there may be sections of the business or area of risk that end up missed or under-considered.  Whilst the cook line and cooking appliances present the obvious first risk and primary source of fire you have to consider paths to and from that obvious area. For example what about the extract system that heads away from the canopy above that cook line?

“This path, be it short to outside or long through other sections of the property present a hidden fire load,” he continues. 

“Fats and grease from the cooking process are drawn into this area and deposit in depth along the full length of the duct work. Part of the assessment is to assess the cleaning regime and to consider the need for extending fire protection into those inaccessible grease laden sections.”

“According to the FPA (Fire Protection Association)/RISCAuthority statistics 53% of fires in food and drink establishments and 66% in other restaurants/cafes are accidental,” adds Chris Auger, Schemes Manager at BAFE.

“With a quality fire risk assessment of your premises any systems and provisions required can be implemented to prevent any avoidable fire risk creating a far safer working environment.”

Fire risk assessment – the steps:
1. Identify fire hazards
2. Identify people at risk
3. Evaluate, remove, reduce and protect them from risk
4. Record, plan, inform, instruct and train
5. Review
What equipment should all food businesses install or purchase to reduce fire risks?

The risk of a fire can be reduced through good kitchen management, cleanliness and operational diligence will enhance the safety.  Ian explains;  “A robust and quantified deep cleaning of not only the parts that can be seen but the extract air handing system as a whole will pay dividends in reducing the fire load. However due to the very nature of a kitchen environment the risk of fire can never be eradicated completely.

He adds; “There are active fire systems available and for a moderate cost can automatically detect and extinguish a fire that starts on the cook line.

“Nobel Fire Systems also offers a system that can follow that risk all the way to roof level through the extract duct, extract fans or other filtration plant so at the push of a button, or on automated fire detection fights fire in the area needed.”

“No two buildings are the same and the type of equipment used will depend on the purpose and use of the building,” adds Chris.  “Equipment and systems that should be installed are really dependent on the initial fire risk assessment to ensure these are correct for your premises.

“Appointing a competent fire risk assessor early in the process can help the development of your business running smoothly knowing you are providing the right systems and provisions early.”

Specific requirements for individual businesses will be identified by the fire risk assessment. However, it’s likely that all food businesses will have fire extinguishers suitable for the type of fire risk, a fire alarm system, and fire blankets.

Additionally for larger commercial kitchens, a kitchen fire suppression system should be considered. Doug explains; “When a fire breaks out a kitchen fire suppression system can respond automatically within seconds.

“The nature of an automatic fire suppression system ensures that premises are protected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The extinguishing agent in an Ansul kitchen suppression system is equipment friendly, resulting in an effortless clean up. This enables a business to start operating again quickly after a fire, without prolonged periods of closure.”

What documents, courses and checks should business operators keep up to date with to ensure safety?

“It is important to maintain good cleaning records and documentation on the cleaning regime undertaken,” says Ian.

“Staff should be trained on the safe use of fire extinguishers and a written risk assessment by a qualified professional will point out areas that need attention.”

In fact it is now the law that business owners and managers undertake a written risk assessment under the RRO- The Regulatory Reform Order. Ian adds: “Since its inception there have been massive fines and even cases of imprisonment for failing to carry out a risk assessment and then acting on the risks outlined by that document.”

The legal obligations that must be followed in terms of checks and fire safety include weekly testing of your fire alarms.  Doug explains; “Fire extinguishers should have a monthly visual inspection, usually by the designated fire warden within the business.

“Fire extinguishers and fire alarms should have an annual service. For businesses with kitchen suppression systems, these also need a bi-annual service.

Additionally ensuring evacuation routes, and final exit doors are not blocked are part of the daily checks within a business.  “This is in addition to ensuring that fire extinguishers are not removed from their designated location,” adds Doug. 

“Always look for a BAFE registered company to undertake your fire alarm and fire extinguisher servicing.”

What implications do businesses face if they don’t take the appropriate actions to avoid fire hazards?

There are multiple repercussions to having poor fire safety provisions in place but the major ones are loss of life or injury to staff/visitors plus the added risk from losing business as a result of fire.

“Within current legislation, you are permitted to provide your own company fire risk assessment if you feel confident you can fulfil this, but this could be a difficult task for caterers and restaurants due to the specific knowledge and equipment needed,” says Chris. 

“You can only identify risks you are aware of and how can you be confident you have provided a suitable assessment according to the law? If the assessment is insufficient, the person responsible for fire safety within your business can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison. This is only part of the implications your business may be effected as this could lead to further investigation of your fire safety and general safety hazard prevention.

Competent providers should always be used and it is important to look for their third party certification within the area of fire safety you require. “Always check your chosen companies to see this certification, competent and quality companies will be happy to make this information available,” adds Chris.

“Even a small fire can have a huge impact on a business operation, resulting in down time, and loss of earnings,” says Doug.  “Many small businesses who experience a fire find it can mean the end of their business and they cease trading. In a worst case scenario, someone could die as the result of a fire.

He adds; “If the health and safety executive deem that businesses are negligent in their fire safety precautions, they can be prosecuted.”

“Not only business owners but the managers of businesses will feel the full force of law if Risk assessments are not undertaken and then acted upon,” adds Ian. “Fire precautions are no longer a nice to have they are a legal obligation.”