Running a commercial kitchen demands that you juggle many different duties, such as: ordering food and supplies, preparing employee work schedules, checking that consistent and quality food is being produced and ensuring customer satisfaction. Whether your kitchen is in a restaurant, hospital, school, long-term care facility, hotel or other location, your available time to focus on kitchen safety and adherence to fire codes is likely limited.
Failure to keep your kitchen safe can have dire consequences, ranging from unnecessarily endangering your staff or customers, to experiencing the devastating loss that a kitchen fire can wreak. You may even find yourself paying higher insurance premiums if your fire protection isn't up-to-date or paying costly fines for code violations. To avoid these unpleasant, dangerous and expensive scenarios, follow these 10 tips to keep your kitchen safe and up-to-code.
Tip #1: Have Your Suppression System Evaluated
With people becoming more and more health-conscious, cooking with trans and animal-based fats in restaurants is less common. If your kitchen is following this trend, you may be cooking with more vegetable oils instead. This can pose an added risk, as vegetable oil fires are far higher in temperature, compared to animal fats and oils, which means that your fire suppression system may not be sufficient to put out a grease fire caused by vegetable oil.
Regulations are moving towards UL300 rated hood extinguishing systems, which can successfully put out hotter grease fires. Failing to upgrade if it is required, could nullify your insurance policy if you suffer a fire. Just imagine your facility suffering extensive fire damage or even burning to the ground – only to discover that your insurance won't pay for the damage. Avoid this nightmare, by having your suppression system evaluated by a professional fire safety company.
Tip #2: Check Extinguisher Labels
Having fire extinguishers placed strategically throughout your kitchen can allow staff to quickly put out any fire before it grows in size. Yet, if these extinguishers don't work when called upon to combat a fire, they're little better than decoration. To ensure that these units are ready for action at all times, be sure to check the labels on your fire extinguishers regularly. It's especially important to determine if the fire extinguishers have been inspected by a professional company recently. If not, schedule a service call to have these units inspected – so you'll know they're capable of doing their job should they be needed.
Tip #3: Training Is Imperative
Keeping your kitchen layout up to code is important, but keeping your staff educated on how to use fire extinguishers, suppression systems and more is just as important. Take the time to call in a professional company to train your staff on how to react if a fire breaks out – or better yet, how to prevent one in the first place. This will also help you to stay in compliance, as OSHA requires that employees who are expected to use fire extinguishers be trained on their use.2
Tip #4: Practice FOG Safety
Cleaning is more than just a hygiene issue in your kitchen – it can literally save lives. Fat, Oil and Grease (FOG) buildup can be deadly and should not be ignored. In addition to strict environmental regulations that require you to keep wastewater clean (you can't simply flush FOG down the drain in large quantities), FOG buildup can present a serious fire danger.
Kitchens routinely fail to keep their range hoods and vents clean on a regular basis, and this allows FOG to accumulate. In fact, from 2006-2010, in about twenty percent of fires in eating and drinking establishments, a contributing factor to the ignition was a failure to clean.3 Even if your staff is highly conscientious with their cleaning, they won't be able to reach up into the duct system or clean around the vent on the roof. You should schedule a regular professional cleaning of your hood and ventilation system, to keep your kitchen safe and violation free.
Tip #5: Make Sure Posted Signs Are Easy to Read
Hanging signs that display the evacuation route in the event of a fire won't do your employees and customers much good if they're smudged with grease and difficult to read quickly. Be sure they aren't blocked by a recently added appliance, stack of boxes, temporary notice or even missing altogether. Keep these signs posted where they're easily visible to your employees, and while you're at it, make sure that all exit signs light up correctly to guide people to safety in an emergency.
Tip #6: Keep Evacuation Routes Clear
Commercial kitchens can be cramped, especially in a bar or restaurant setting. Often you don't have the space that you need to store the required supplies. You or your staff may be tempted to store supplies where you shouldn't, which could block emergency evacuation routes or exits. Not only is this a code violation, it can also have huge ramifications if you experience a large-scale fire. Without a safe means of egress from the kitchen, staff can become trapped inside and be hurt or even killed. Don't take a gamble – insist that these routes remain a no-storage zone at all times.
Tip #7: Fire Alarm Maintenance & Inspection
Relying upon your on-site fire extinguishers and fire suppression system alone is foolhardy. You always want to have a functioning fire alarm system in place as well, so you can quickly and easily call in professional assistance. With a single pull of any one of these alarms placed throughout your kitchen, you'll know that your local fire department is on the way. However, just like with your fire extinguishers, these alarms won't do you any good if they aren't in working order. Be sure to have these serviced and inspected regularly, so you'll know they're ready to use in the event of a fire.
Tip #8: Shut-off Valve Safety
The gas shut-off valve is a key area of focus when discussing kitchen safety. You need to know if the valve is designed to shut off automatically, or if you'll need to perform a manual shutoff if a fire breaks out. Removing a fire's fuel is critical, in order to stop it quickly before it grows larger or spreads to other areas of the kitchen or building.
Tip #9: Schedule Regular Fire Drills
This tip may remind you of your days as a student, when your school regularly conducted fire drills. You can never outgrow the benefits of this safety practice, and it is highly recommended. While fire drills can be a bit inconvenient, weigh this against the benefit of increasing the chances that everyone on-site will be able to safely exit if a fire occurs.
Experts recommend that you hold at least four fire drills every year, and that you take steps to make these as realistic as possible. This includes having one or more employees hide in the building, in order to teach your staff to search their surroundings for other people in need of assistance. You can even place signs on one exit or on stairwell doors, announcing that these have been blocked with smoke or fire, and an alternative route must be found.6 This small investment of time can reap large benefits if a fire should ever occur, as your staff will be prepared.
Tip #10: Don't Be Lulled Into A False Sense of Security
If you've never experienced a problem with kitchen safety or fires in the past, you may be lulled into a false sense of security. Adopting a lax attitude towards fire protection and prevention measures can have a high cost. According to a report by the NFPA, an estimated 7,640 structure fires were reported each year in establishments that served food and drink (between 2006 to 2010). The total yearly cost of these incidents was an estimated $246 million in property damage, 115 civilian injuries and two civilian deaths.
These statistics speak volumes - you simply can't afford to ignore this issue. It is always recommended that you bring in a professional fire safety company to inspect and maintain your fire alarms, extinguishers and fire suppression system.
Partner with Koorsen for all of your fire safety needs – to ensure that your kitchen, staff and customers are always protected. Call 1-888-KOORSEN or contact Koorsen online to learn more.