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Managing Risks in Commercial Kitchens/Cafe’s/Restaurants

Nov 30, 2017
Each year a large number of fires occur in commercial kitchens, many of which result in extensive damage to property and business interruption to the income. It may also cause injury or loss of life.

Managing these risks are crucial whether you are insured or not. Not only can you destroy your business, but the landlord’s building if leasing, or neighbouring buildings causing you to be liable if you have not taken responsibility for making your kitchen safe.

Ultimate protection comes from being insured for Fire, Business Interruption and Public/Products Liability. But premiums vary according to how the risk is presented.

As a result, Insurers are extremely fussy about these types of risks, whether they will accept them or not depends on the following:

  • Type of Building, its age and construction
  • Type of cooking equipment that is being used
  • Fire Prevention and Housekeeping

There is a need to identify the risks of Ignition:

All cooking equipment represents a potential source of ignition and will vary with each type. Such equipment includes gas-fired equipment with an immediate source of flame, deep fat frying apparatus, as well as various electric equipment such as toasters, fryers and griddles. Trigger points can be in a number of forms including:

  • Oil/fat and food products
  • Combustible materials adjacent to exhaust ducts
  • The power supply to the apparatus e.g. gas supply

Air is supplied in large quantities by the inlets of the ventilation system, and the extract ducts act as chimneys, increasing the intensity of the fire.

The primary risks of fire in a kitchen:

  • Flames, sparks or hot gases from cooking can ignite combustible deposits inside extract ducts
  • Superheated oils leading to spontaneous ignition
  • Fan-motor failure or overheating caused by hardened grease, when restarting in seasonal catering establishments or non-24 hour operations
  • Working thermostats not working correctly, and the absence of a second high level safety thermostat
  • Individual equipment not switched off, especially on cessation of business
  • Metal extract ducts are good conductors of heat and can ignite nearby building materials or litter
  • Catalytic converters decompose grease, but operating at 1000 °C are a potential source of ignition
  • Solid fuel cooking equipment (such as barbecues)
  • Tandoori ovens without igniters/pilot lights lit by burning pieces of paper/absence of flame failure or safety shut off device
  • Gas torches used to brown some dishes
  • Cooking equipment which is left unattended during operation

Additional risk factors:

  • Lack of a competent person on site
  • Human error
  • Faulty or non-tested electrical appliances
  • Design aspects of the extract ventilation, such as length of ducts, length of horizontal ducts, type of fan, type and number of duct access panels
  • Cleaning contracts may only cover hoods and easily accessible visible areas e.g. those areas inside the ducting which are only within arm’s reach
  • Combustible food debris trapped in the grease filter
  • Remnants of paper napkins and other combustible waste oddments which may have been inadvertently left in cooker hoods or inside the extraction ducting etc.
  • Level of competence of cleaning contractor
  • Poor siting or failure of fire suppression system
  • Extract ducts are often completely inaccessible e.g. some duct systems may be routed inside masonry chimney breasts in older buildings
  • Unsuitable ductwork for kitchen environment
  • Lack of knowledge about the extract ventilation
  • Poor cleaning maintenance practice may compromise fire protection cladding or fire rated access panels on ducts
  • Insufficient number of access doors in ductwork to enable effective inspection and cleaning

Important Housekeeping & Maintenance:

  • All portable electrical appliances in use within kitchens should be inspected, tested and tagged on an annual basis by a competent person.
  • At the cessation of the working day all cooking equipment should be turned off and, if possible, isolated. The lids to the deep fat fryers should be replaced.
  • Kitchen staff should be adequately trained to deal with a fire or other emergency occurring therein, with this being repeated at six monthly intervals.
  • Housekeeping and cleanliness should be of the highest order in kitchens with waste food and waste/used packaging materials removed at regular intervals to lidded metal containers sited in the open, a safe distance from the building.
  • Smoking should not be permitted in or close to this area.
  • Waste cooking oils should be stored outside of the kitchen in a designated area in the open preferably, which if accessible to the public should be secure. The waste oil should be held in suitable secure containers and removed promptly.

What are the Insurers requirements?

Fire Protection and Maintenance Conditions

It is often a requirement under most insurance policies that you comply to the following conditions when it comes to cooking risks and the use of deep fryers or woks:

(a) At least one fully charged 4.5kg dry powder extinguisher is installed and mounted in the cooking area
(b) At least one fire blanket of approved design is situated in the cooking area
(c) All exhaust duct filters are cleaned weekly or filters replaced fortnightly
(d) All exhaust flues (ducting) are cleaned by a professional contractor once every 6 months
(e) Each deep frying unit is fitted with an effective automatic thermostatic cut-off switch
(f) All fire extinguishment and control devices be maintained in efficient working order with annual maintenance by professional contractor(s).

In Conclusion:

The equipment, fire prevention and housekeeping and maintenance practices should not be taken lightly. Managing these risks are essential to reduce the chance of a loss and an interruption not just to your business, but also your neighbours.

Insurance is a great way to transfer the risk away, but factors affecting the premiums are based on the probability of a loss and the more we can seek to reduce the chance of a loss, the cheaper the premiums for all the good risks.

Prevention is better than a cure and this can start with selecting an appropriate building to carry out such activities, selecting the best available equipment, setting it up safely and then follow a high standard housekeeping culture within the business.

If you would like to speak to your AustBrokers Comsure Adviser regarding your business insurance, contact us on 1800 122 194.

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