With open flames, hot equipment, cooking oils, alcohol, and many more potential causes of fire in catering establishments, good fire safety practices are essential. Stuart Collyer, Staff Writer, Fire Protection Online advises on how best to ensure that the spectre of fire stays well away from your business.
While fires can be the undoing of businesses, they can be avoided when appropriate systems are both in place and followed to the letter. Such a system starts with a thorough fire risk assessment of your establishment.
Spotting fire hazards
A fire needs three elements to burn: heat, fuel, and oxygen. When just one of these items is removed, a fire is immediately less likely; the first stage of your fire risk assessment is to identify what these elements are.
Ovens, cookers, BBQs, lighters and electrical equipment are a few examples of heat sources you are likely to find in a hospitality establishment.
- Keep heat sources clean to prevent a build-up of grease, oil, and fat
- Ensure heat sources are well maintained
- By having such items serviced regularly, potential issues can be discovered and resolved.
Every year ensure PAT testing and gas appliance servicing are conducted by a trained professional.
Keep things that can burn well away from heat sources. Cooking ingredients, alcohol, pressurised containers, cleaning products, rubbish, boxed supplies and soft furnishings are all high-risk hazards.
Just be sensible about where they are kept and what potential risks there are nearby.
Who is at risk
Next, identify and consider the needs of those who are most at risk in an emergency. In a hospitality establishment, staff and customers are the most likely, but don’t forget contractors and other visitors too.
You then need to consider the people who are unfamiliar with the restaurant, as well as the disabled, the elderly and children, who are most likely to need assistance and extra provisions.
Evaluate and act
Now you have the necessary information, take the relevant action to make your establishment as safe as possible. You need to have precautions everywhere in your restaurant, including storage areas and maybe even outside.
You need a reliable method for detecting fires; in larger premises with different areas, these will need to be linked. Having a fire alarm system installed, or a series of connected smoke/heat alarms, will ensure everyone is alerted to a potential threat in unison.
In cooking areas, heat detectors are best as they are unaffected by cooking fumes, but be mindful not to place them above heat sources. Elsewhere, such as where the customers eat and toilets, optical smoke alarms will give the best protection.
It is crucial to have the correct fire extinguishers in place as using the wrong extinguisher can escalate a fire and put lives at risk.
Every establishment is different, so will require different extinguishers. Here is some general guidance:
- Fire blankets are ideal for putting out a small pan fire without fuss or mess
- Only a wet chemical extinguisher is safe to use on fires involving deep fat fryers
- Foam extinguishers will help with general fires including rubbish and furnishings, as well as flammable liquids
- Powder extinguishers are versatile and lighter, but as they can affect visibility and breathing, should be mitigated by a health and safety risk assessment if specified for indoor use
- On electrical equipment, CO2 extinguishers are the safest method and will also prevent further damage to the electronics
- Water extinguishers may be all you need in the areas where your customers are
- When you cook al fresco on a BBQ, have a powder extinguisher or a fire bucket full of sand nearby in case things get out of hand
- Extinguishers should be commissioned when you first get them, and then serviced annually.
To help customers make an emergency exit, you will need fire exit signs to direct them to safety. You may also need emergency lighting should the main lighting trip off.
Record, plan, train
If you employ five or more people, you must have a written record of your risk assessment. However it is good practice to do this regardless of the number of employees as a written record is proof that you are fulfilling your obligations.
It also pays to have a plan, and ensure all of your staff know what this plan is. Where will everyone assemble? Who will call 999?
Trained fire wardens are essential. They will know what to do in an emergency, will keep customers calm, and can help to promote good fire safety.
Practice also makes perfect, so do not forget fire drills, both with and without customers.
70% of businesses that suffer from a major fire either do not reopen or subsequently fail within three years.
Your fire risk assessment is never complete; it will need to be kept up-to-date with any changes or alterations to your establishment. Many fire services recommend reviewing your fire risk assessment annually.
The overall responsibility for complying with fire regulations falls to the owner of the establishment; failure to comply often results in large fines and even imprisonment. However the responsible person can also choose a competent person to assist them.
Another alternative is to hire a professional risk assessor. Not only will it save you time and trouble, it may also give you the confidence that no fire safety issues are missed.
To find out more about fire risk assessments and fire safety equipment, visit www.fireprotectiononline.co.uk
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 covers general fire safety in England and Wales. In Scotland, requirements on general fire safety are covered in Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, supported by the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006.
For further information, visit www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/fire.htm