H&S Specialist Warns of a ‘New Generation’ of Fire Risks

Long-established health and safety consultant, Gauntlet Risk Management, is warning that evolution in catering equipment and kitchen design, along with chronic employee shortages in the catering sector, are creating a ‘new generation’ of fire risks not readily appreciated by restaurant and hotel owners.


Gauntlet says an increasingly wide range of equipment, much of it with in-built controls and thermostatic devices, is leading to an over-reliance on technology within the catering sector, rather than good fire risk practice and common sense. 


“Assuming that a piece of equipment will do the thinking for you is dangerous from a fire safety point of view,” says Gauntlet health and safety manager, Andrew Scott.  “Kitchen teams need to remember that technology assists greatly, but it is still their responsibility to ensure that equipment is maintained and cleaned properly and that override systems on equipment, such as fryers, are working correctly.”


The increasing use of induction hobs also comes with some risks.  The lack of a visible flame or heat ring means it is easier to not only suffer a burn, but also potentially leave a pan carrying a flammable substance on the heat source, without realising the danger.


Change within kitchen environments does not end there. The introduction of solid fuel burning appliances, such as wood-fired pizza ovens, charcoal grills and tandoori ovens carries both a fire and carbon monoxide risk.  Eateries introducing these appliances must ensure that the kitchen has an adequate source of fresh air and that both their Fire Risk Assessment and their COSHH Assessment cover these pieces of equipment.


Additionally, ovens or grills of this kind should be professionally installed and be fitted with a suitable canopy or ducting mechanism that carries and removes all products of combustion to the outside of the building. Eateries should ensure that the operation of such equipment does not infringe Smokeless Zone legislation.


Purchasers of pizza and tandoori ovens should also establish whether the structure of the oven has passed fire tests and has certification from professional body such as HETAS, DEFRA  (and GasSafe for dual-fuel and gas ovens) asking to see the documentation when purchasing the oven.  Many cheap products are flooding the market and some may not comply with British regulations.


The desire for ‘theatre’ within restaurants also causes issues.  Many restaurateurs are moving their catering equipment front of house and not restricting any fire hazards emanating from it to an area separated from diners by fire doors that can contain a fire for at least 30 minutes.  Many restaurants are now cooking everything from pizza to tempura-fried dishes and from rotisserie chicken to burgers in front of their captive ‘audience’, with the distance between kitchen divo and restaurant diner becoming ever shorter.


“Ideally, an eatery should install fire-containing shutters that automatically lower in the event of a fire, to protect diners,” says Andrew Scott, “but this is not always possible.  If this is the case, then the owner should strongly consider other measures, such as automatic fire suppression devices, which will be activated if fire breaks out.”


Installing automatic fire suppression technology has advantages.  Gauntlet Risk Management’s health and safety team work closely with Gauntlet’s commercial insurance team and can advise on measures like fire suppression that will not only enhance health and safety, but also lead to savings on insurance premiums.  However, there are other reasons to install devices that will suppress a fire in a commercial kitchen.


Firstly, very few restaurants that suffer an extensive fire ever reopen.  Secondly, the punishments for not having followed health and safety guidelines, and done all possible to address risks, are now severe and based on business turnover.  Fines are now also levied even when no actual incident has taken place, but where a probable accident will occur.  Additionally, there is the possibility of penal sentences for owners and directors of businesses, in the worst cases.


But fire safety is not just about equipment and technology, but also greatly dependent upon people.  Restaurant owners must ensure that all members of the kitchen team are trained in fire and health and safety procedures, with this including part-time and seasonal workers and agency chefs.


With many kitchens suffering almost continuous issues with staffing, maintaining a regime of health and safety training can be hugely problematic.  When language barriers are added to the mix, handling this mission may seem daunting in what can already be a very frenetic schedule surrounding service and clean-down.


One solution introduced by Gauntlet is that of e-learning.  The new Gauntlet E-learning programme delivers an online course in fire safety, as well as covering many other aspects of health and safety, including food safety, first aid, machinery safety, slips and trips and electrical safety, which are all relevant to those working in the catering sector.


The training is easy-to-understand and memorable, incorporating video and 3D animation, to make messages stick.  It is compliant and can be undertaken at any location and at any time, within working hours, or at home.  Training is backed by interactive testing of the trainee’s knowledge and progress can be monitored on a user-friendly dashboard. The system also automatically generates training records that are ‘evidence’ of having ensured that employees understand the risks in the kitchen.


Caterers and restaurant owners can request a no-obligation free trial at www.gauntlethealthandsafety.com and can then pay for modules as and when needed, if they wish to sign up.  Licences covering a required number of employees can be bought, ensuring all team members have their health, safety and wellbeing better protected and can keep the public safer.


Andrew Scott says: “The secret to fire safety in the commercial kitchen lies in knowing what both the existing and new risks are, recording these and ensuring that all employees understand how to act so as to avoid them.  If procedures to address the identified risks are created, and everyone from the owner to the part-time kitchen hand are aware of them and follow them, the risk can be minimised. 


“Fire safety has a logic behind it, but has to have the buy-in of all.  To facilitate this, we have various tools that can assist, ranging from our e-learning modules, to toolbox talks.  We are here to help, not hinder, so caterers should just pick up the phone and get in touch, if they need help.”