- M. Villarreal
Staying Safe as You Move at Full Speed
Training Restaurant Staff for Fire Safety in Commercial Kitchens.
As COVID-19 slowly recedes, a sense of normalcy lies on the horizon. However, as we begin to safely open again, we may wish to review ever-present workplace hazards. Especially for the hospitality industry, fire safety in commercial kitchens should be a pressing concern. Indeed, typical fire damages average over $30,000, and half of all establishments close their doors permanently afterward. There are multiple ways to tackle this unfortunate occurrence; fire prevention, NFPA 96 compliance, and staff training. Here, we’ll address all three, focusing on training restaurant staff for fire safety.
Potential fire risks and fire prevention
First and foremost, we should outline the three most common commercial kitchen fire risks and ways to prevent them.
1. Grease Fires
Perhaps predictably, grease fires are among the most common fires in commercial kitchens. Grease can typically build up all across kitchens, including:
● The walls and floors
● The vent hood and containment systems
● Ductwork and filters
By definition, then, grease buildup is nigh inevitable. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports outline that grease fueled about half of all commercial kitchen fires. Thus, the best way to prevent this type of hazard is to thoroughly and regularly clean all such surfaces and areas. Far from just a logical measure, the NFPA96 codes mandate a regular cleaning schedule as well.
2. Cooking Fires
A similarly common fire risk lies in deep fryers specifically. As they cook, oil reaches very high temperatures, which can easily cause fires if left unattended. To address this hazard and ensure fire safety, you may consider the following measures and practices:
● Install temperature limiters
● Install vertical dividers wherever possible if distance from open flame equipment isn’t possible
● Train employees to use the fire suppression system
3. Electrical Fires
Finally, electrical fires are much less common but equally devastating. Due to their nature, they may pose unique challenges as they require non-water-based extinguishers. This translates to an estimated $34 million annual cost for commercial kitchen electrical fires when they only account for 10% of all fires reported by the NFPA. To address them, training restaurant staff for fire safety aside, you may begin by reviewing the following:
● How plugs fit into outlets; loose fits may cause excess heat
● If cords run under carpeting or other combustible materials
● Whether extension cords are overloaded
● If frayed, broken, or spliced cords are used
NFPA 96 guidelines in Houston, Texas
With the above in mind, we may briefly outline NFPA 96 guidelines across Texas. As Houston is becoming a hotspot for the hospitality industry, businesses moving their premises here should ensure they adhere to such regulations. Specifically, NFPA guidelines outline the recommended cleaning frequency of different kitchen equipment based on their function and cooking volume:
● Monthly: solid fuel cooking systems such as wood and coal stoves
● Quarterly: high-volume or 24-hour cooking systems; charbroiling, wok cooking, etc.
● Semi-annually: moderate-volume cooking systems
● Annually: low-volume cooking systems
Thus, hood vent cleaning aside, you should ensure you adhere to this equipment cleaning guideline. This is particularly noteworthy for cases where local regulations may vary across cities or states.
Training restaurant staff for fire safety
Having outlined NFPA guidelines, we may delve deeper into training restaurant staff for fire safety. To do so effectively, consider the following steps.
Test suppression systems and train staff on their use
The most fundamental means of fire protection should include suppression systems. Such suppression systems may consist of any of the following:
● Fire sprinkler systems; wet or dry pipe, pre-action, foam water sprinklers, and others
● Chemical agent systems; wet or dry chemical
● Fully automatic suppression systems; external water spray systems, etc
Therefore, you should begin by ensuring your suppression system’s efficiency and maintenance:
● Test your suppression system regularly (these can not, and should not, be cleaned by your hood vent cleaning company).
● Maintain it according to the manufacturer’s instructions
Should your suppression systems not be fully automatic, you should likewise ensure your staff is trained on their use.
Engage in regular fire drills
Regular suppression system training aside, you may engage in regular fire drills to guarantee swift action in emergencies. In doing so, you can both guarantee you cultivate a culture of awareness and responsibility and ensure readiness. For fire drills, consider your staff’s knowledge on the following:
● Operating suppression systems and fire extinguishers
● Ushering out restaurant guests
● Evacuating the premises themselves
In doing so, you may minimize the potential costs in the event of a kitchen fire.
Provide fire extinguisher training
Similarly, on the subject of fire extinguishers, OSHA provides clear guidelines in this regard. It states explicitly that “[e]mployers are generally required by 29 CFR 1910 to provide portable fire extinguishing equipment for use in fighting incipient stage fires in the workplace”.
Thus, providing fire extinguishers in all areas and offering your staff simple training in their use can yield tremendous benefits. OSHA does indeed provide “alternatives for employers who do not want their employees to fight incipient stage fires in the workplace”, but you may still want to ensure your employees are trained to do so if need be.
Provide FOG training
Along similar lines of fire prevention, you may also consider fat, oil, and grease (FOG) training for your employees. As we highlighted above, the aforementioned materials can frequently build up in commercial kitchens and present fire hazards.
Typically, restaurant owners will consult cleaning professionals for such cleanup. That’s in no small part because there are areas in commercial kitchens which call for professional intervention. Nonetheless, training your staff on FOG cleanup and disposal, tedious as it can be, can also help prevent fires.
Keep evacuation routes clear
Finally, as highlighted above, your staff should be fully aware of all evacuation routes. Moreover, both management and staff should consistently keep evacuation routes clear of all obstacles and blockages. This will typically include boxes and chairs blocking doors and hallways and should be avoided at all costs. Consistent fire drills and, ideally, monthly training sessions should help maintain attention to this crucial factor.
To summarize, training restaurant staff for fire safety should be a priority for all restaurant owners. Entirely nullifying the danger may, of course, be impossible. However, knowledge of fire risk factors, compliance with NFPA 96 codes, and staff training can all minimize the risk.