Commercial catering outlets may need assistance to meet Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order

Despite being in existence for almost three years, the Regulatory Reform on Fire Safety continues to be ignored by many in the catering industry. In part, this maybe because the fitting of a fire suppression system is not mandatory, although the RRO does require the mitigation of fire risk through the provision of an adequate arrangement.
Often, fire extinguishers are regarded as sufficiently meeting the responsibilities of property owners or business managers. However, in the highly combustible environment of commercial kitchens, the safety of staff and customers can be put at unnecessary risk if there is not sufficient fire protection in place.
The vast majority of people who work in the industry understand that kitchen fires pose unique problems because of the specific chemical nature of fats and oils used in the cooking process. Therefore, it’s more often not a case of ignoring the problem, more a case of needing professional help and advice as to the optimum fire suppression systems to meet individual needs. Whether it’s a major restaurant chain, a café or takeaway, today’s commercial kitchens can quickly turn into an environment for fire risk due to the prevalence of hot cooking oils, fats, grease and other flammable substances.
Add to that the high-energy input/output cooking appliances that all kitchens need and you can see how the potential for fire risk is regarded as extremely high by fire inspectors and insurance companies. And yet there are still far too many building owners and operators unaware of what steps to take in order to alleviate the potential dangers. Another difficulty in adhering to RRO is the nature of many commercial kitchens in terms of transient staff.
While this has always been an accepted fact of life within the catering industry, it does mean that often, those staff trained in first aid and the use of fire fighting equipment move on and leave their previous employers without the necessary knowledge and skills to tackle an outbreak of fire. This poses an increased H&S risk to staff and customers as well as opening up the “responsible person” to potential negligence and subsequent prosecution.
This in itself is an identification of a risk to which fitting a fully automatic fire suppression system becomes the remedy. And it’s not just the hot oils and naked flames that cause the high fire risk. Research by the Heating and Ventilation Contractors’ Association (HVCA) has shown that up to 25% of fires in commercial properties can be attributed to ‘cooking appliances’.
This often means that there are problems in the kitchen extract systems and ventilation ductwork. If grease and other residue is allowed to build up within the system, the coating can easily be ignited and lead to a much larger fire ultimately leading to the endangering of lives and damage to property. Ventilation hygiene companies are on record as saying that they are “disturbed at the level of ignorance about the need for proper planning and continuing maintenance of these areas”. The HVCA claims that circa 80% of kitchen extract ducts in UK commercial kitchens are never cleaned and are therefore in a potentially hazardous condition. Well publicised fires at venues such as Heathrow Airport and the Hard Rock Café were traced back to grease extract ducts.
As in the case of automatic fire suppression systems to protect all cooking equipment, a permanent system that instantly provides kitchens with a safe, clean and hygienic working environment throughout extract systems and ventilation ductwork will provide the answer to meeting the requirements of RRO. For instance, the AX-E system from Nobel Fire Systems is designed to constantly remove the build up of grease in ductwork and ventilation systems while providing savings of circa 66% on both time and cost of installation versus alternative products. It can be programmed to automatically eradicate grease, control kitchen odours, and thus reduce the risk of fire in the whole of the canopy and extraction ducting.
Every building owner and every kitchen operator needs to be aware of the Fire Safety Regulatory Reform and ensure that there is a fire suppression system that is properly designed and installed to meet the specific needs of the individual kitchen in question. If there is any doubt whatsoever, contact a specialist company such as Nobel Fire Systems and have a full risk assessment carried out. The cost of this is minimal when compared with the potential alternative. And it’s worth remembering that as well as the potentially tragic consequences of failing to comply with the Regulatory Reform Order, there are severe penalties under the Fire Safety Order in addition to the new Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
Hopefully, given that information, the whole of the commercial catering industry will bring itself into line and embrace the spirit of the Regulatory Reform (Fire) Order. Remember also that compliance can bring its own financial benefits. Many leading insurance companies will often offer favourable rates to customers who work to ensure that fire risk is minimised.
Insurers continually carry out detailed reviews of available services, products and quality standards relating to fire suppression systems in commercial kitchens. They chose ‘preferred partners’ to work with based on knowledge, experience and professionalism. With this knowledge they can advise operators and building owners as to who they should contact to discuss their individual fire suppression needs. It’s an independent service that means that kitchen owners can minimise the potential of fire risk and get on with running their business.