Just how fire-proof is your commercial kitchen?

Fire suppression nozzles
Sarah Colwell

Third party approval offers an independent endorsement of fire suppression equipment performance, says Sarah Colwell.

It is often argued that the UK market for kitchen fire suppression equipment should be directly addressed within UK fire regulation guidance. Yet current legal and commercial drivers provide a sufficient imperative to install fit-for-purpose systems that will assist in providing a safeguard to commercial kitchens without the need for additional regulatory guidance, writes Sarah Colwell of BRE Global.

While fire safety regulation in England and Wales is designed to address the issues of life safety in and around buildings, the guidance in meeting the regulations, found in Approved Document B (Fire Safety), does not consider the impact of property protection or business continuity and therefore kitchen fire suppression systems are not directly cited.

However, there are other significant drivers setting the performance bar for kitchen suppression equipment in the UK market that responsible and resilient businesses ignore at great risk.

It goes without saying: owners and managers of catering kitchens have a legal responsibility, associated with potentially significant liability, for people’s safety under their Regulatory Reform Order — Fire Safety (FSO). The responsible person must ensure that premises are ‘equipped with appropriate firefighting equipment and with fire detectors and alarms’.

The wording may be simple, but decisions regarding fire safety provision, in the worst case scenario, must stand up to scrutiny in court. Additionally, health and safety legislation requires risk assessments to be undertaken in the work place and to mitigate identified risks, one of which will be fire in a kitchen environment.

Nevertheless, there is worrying room for manoeuvre, and costly error, in the interpretation of ‘appropriate’ and the types of fire safety solution deemed to fit the bill. In combining proprietary fire detection/extinction specifically for the cooking environment, automated kitchen fire suppression provides, by design, a reliable route to fire safety compliance.

As well as the legal onus of health and safety and the FSO, there is of course a second powerful driver for the adoption of kitchen fire suppression: insurers. Increasingly, they are reluctant to underwrite a policy unless an approved kitchen fire suppression system is in place, such are the assessed risks and potential impacts of a fire from a commercial catering operation.

Certainly, the presence of fire suppression equipment is favourably viewed by insurers when it comes to setting premiums for commercial kitchens, small and large. How favourably will depend to some degree on proof of equipment performance, prompting a strong reliance on third party approved systems.

As well as the legal onus of health and safety and the FSO, there is of course a second powerful driver for the adoption of kitchen fire suppression: insurers”

Third party approval schemes generally exist to fill gaps in or improve on available industry and/or national standards. As such, many set test thresholds for equipment to meet the performance needs of insurers and risk-averse end-users looking to better manage compliance and business resilience.

Additionally, the approved systems suppliers are subject to ongoing audits to confirm the reliability of the systems being placed on the market.

Indeed, the BRE Global Loss Prevention Standards (LPS) for LPCB certification, which are used for testing and approving fire protection and security equipment, were specifically created around the needs of both the insurance industry and the end-users.

By continuing to track the needs of insurers in setting rigorous benchmarks for system performance, the standards provide risk mitigation conducive to confident underwriting of property and business insurance. They also provide assurance to end-users that products and systems have been independently-assessed and verified.

Clearly there is an important pay-off for UK caterers from investing in suppression systems supported by the performance assurances of independent third party approval. But it doesn’t necessarily make equipment selection any easier; the third party approval sector is by no means standardised in what it offers and assures (see box opposite for tips of what to look for).

Different certification providers will use different performance standards and test regimes, and the functionality of the kitchen suppression system being certified may also differ. It is important to understand what the third party approval mark is actually offering, and how this fits with the overall risk assessment and operation of a catering operation.

In the current climate of deregulation, we are unlikely to see prescriptive fire regulation covering kitchen fire suppression in the UK in the near future. But, as discussed, the current market drivers of health and safety, FSO, property protection and business interruption compel a robust approach to risk mitigation in the catering kitchen that is well served by third party approval.

Sarah Colwell is Global Business Group Manager for Fire Suppression at BRE, an independent, third-party approvals organisation offering certification of fire, security, environmental and other products. www.redbooklive.com

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