Owning a restaurant comes with a lot more safety responsibility than other types of businesses. The proximity of cooking equipment to flammable objects heightens the risk when it comes to fire potential. Since restaurants are open to the public, mitigating fire risk is incredibly important in order to protect those who work at and frequent the business.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, 57% of all restaurant fires are a result of cooking equipment. Heating equipment, electrical/lighting, smoking and smoking materials, and intentionally set fires round out the top five reasons restaurant fires happen in the U.S., amounting to $246 million in damages every year. The combination of fire hazards and people on hand make it imperative that restaurants take extra precautions to prevent fire from hurting buildings, equipment, and individuals.
It takes vigilance to run a safe restaurant that is at a low risk for a fire. With the right planning, though, maintaining fire safety can be part of the typical restaurant business.
Your Staff: The best line of fire defense
An alert and knowledgeable staff is the best way to protect your restaurant from fire damage. It is impossible for one person or even a small handful of people to be put in charge of the fire safety in a restaurant. The entire staff must have a basic knowledge of how to prevent and put out small restaurant fires to provide a safe environment. Some of the things the staff should know include:
- How to use a fire extinguisher. This includes knowing exactly where the fire extinguishers are located and how to deploy them when needed.
- The rules for water. It’s important that staff members realize that all grease fires must be put out with an extinguisher, not water. Throwing water on a grease fire will only make it larger. Class K extinguishers are the most effective on grease fires. Class K extinguishers are required for commercial cooking media. It is best to appoint one or two people per shift to handle small grease fires and to keep everyone else away from the flames.
- How to use, and dispose of, chemical solutions. Be sure staff members know the right way to use, mix, and get rid of any chemicals used in the restaurant. Keep chemicals locked up with only a specially-trained handful able to access them. If any chemicals spill, make sure they are cleaned up immediately and the cleanup materials thrown away in a spot that is not near anything flammable.
- Understanding flammable liquids. Make sure any liquids that are fire hazards are stored away from flame sources and away from other supplies. Most flammable liquids come with a concise warning label on them, so be sure to keep them in their original packaging.
- The rules for smoking responsibly. There should be a designated area outside for smoking that has safe receptacles for getting rid of cigarettes when the smoker is finished. Cigarettes should never be thrown in trash cans or on the ground, and smoking should never happen near storage areas where there are any flammable materials.
- How to get rid of grease. Over the course of time, a lot of grease can build up in restaurants and this is a major fire hazard. Have employees clean exhaust hoods, walls, fryers, ovens, and any other area where grease may collect on a regular basis.
- The importance of staying clean. Keep items like receipt paper and unused towels inside of storage containers, and not just sitting out where they can easily catch fire. Keeping things in their proper places also provides a clearer, safer path to an exit if a fire should start.
- How to power down. Make sure at least one employee per shift knows how to completely shut down electrical and gas power in case of emergency.
- The evacuation plan. There are two parts to this important measure: getting staff out safely, and getting restaurant patrons out safely. Make sure one person on every shift is an evacuation supervisor and can direct both of these actions appropriately. You should also designate someone to be in charge of calling 911. Make sure staff are aware of all the available exits, including the front door. It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to restaurant fires.
Your restaurant staff is your first line of defense when it comes to protecting your investment from fire. Make sure you offer refresher fire safety courses annually so that everyone is up to date on the best ways to prevent dangerous conditions. With the extra eyes of your employees, your restaurant can be an even safer place to work and eat.
Other ways to keep your restaurant fire-free
There are several other specific ways you can keep your restaurant safe and open for business. With the help of professional technicians and trusted staff members, you should be able to incorporate these safety items into your everyday use.
Maintain electrical equipment.
Unfortunately, electrical equipment does not often show obvious signs of danger. It takes a professional technician’s eyes to spot any potential hazards and correct them. Schedule maintenance and inspection on all electrical items at least twice per year. If you see frayed wiring, or broken switch plates, call an electrician immediately.
Inspect exhaust systems.
All restaurant owners must legally have quarterly or semi-annual inspections of high-use systems to look for grease buildup that can lead to fires. If your restaurant uses charcoal or wood ovens, you must have that inspection done every month, according to National Fire Prevention Association rules.
Use an automatic fire suppression system.
Since we already know that over half of all restaurant fires are due to cooking equipment, it makes sense to install an intuitive system that will shut down a fire quickly. Fire suppression systems are required in commercial kitchens. Automatic fire suppression technology works by releasing fire suppressant chemicals at the first sign of a fire. There is also a manual switch to do the same thing. When the wet chemical is released, the fuel system to the cooking equipment shuts off. Per NFPA, systems must be inspected on a semi-annual basis.
Even a small fire can wreak havoc on your restaurant and put you out of business for a while. Train your staff to keep your restaurant safe and follow safety codes meticulously. A little bit of precaution up front will mean a safer, more productive restaurant environment for years to come.