From his vast experience as a fire risk assessor, Steve Solomon discusses areas in need of close attention in the catering, hotel and other hospitality services in his recent article, Room to Improve, in Fire Risk Management. These issues reflect the services and training opportunities that the FPA can bring to businesses and organisations across the country.
In any business that employs staff and welcomes guests onto premises, it is not just the financial costs of not having a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment that should be considered, but also the reputational implications of a prosecution or fire cannot be underestimated. Obviously, selecting the right fire risk assessor is critical as, if an assessor is appointed without ensuring their competency, there is the risk of being prosecuted. However, it is worse still when a fire breaks out that has tragic consequences.
With these considerations in mind, Steve draws together several common issues he has encountered as a fire risk assessor which illustrate the importance of competent fire risk assessments and staff training provisions.
These areas can frequently remain poorly managed, with damaged fire doors that have suffered from years of being rammed with trolleys, hidden extinguishers, covered detectors and poor housekeeping. Also, it is often discovered that the automatic suppression systems no longer protect deep fat fryers, as the chef has felt the need for a kitchen move around.
Further, for industrial kitchens, the extract ductwork should be professionally deep cleaned and reports issued by a competent contractor annually as a minimum, which is not always carried out.
Steps should be taken to compartment each high-risk room within restaurants and hotels with fire resisting construction, as well as measures to protect the means of escape and to limit travel distances. The compartmentation and, where necessary, subdivision of service risers should also be a key consideration.
Ascertaining that staff training regimes are sufficient for the roles they are expected to undertake is a vital part of the risk assessment. Talking to staff at random frequently yields a clearer view of how well trained they are.
Considerations might include the following:
have a suitable number of staff received practical fire extinguisher training?
is there a suitable provision of trained fire wardens to support a building evacuation during a normal day, overnight and during large functions?
are staff trained to use any evacuation aids?
if staff are used to help maintain fire safety equipment, are they competent to do the job?
do staff understand the evacuation procedures for the premises?
In addition to ensuring staff are trained to meet these expectations, it may also be relevant to ask a member of staff to attend a ‘Train the Trainer’ course on the equipment provided, so that if you have a high turnover of staff new staff can be trained promptly in-house and at no extra cost to the employer.
The types of people who make up the body of staff and guests alike can vary greatly at any one time. This can include mobility impaired guests, those with visual or hearing impairments, a wide range of ages or mental health considerations alongside people originating from many different countries who may not understand English.
Fire risk assessors need to consider many factors, but ultimately the question is: ‘With a transitory and unpredictable cohort in mind, can the premises facilitate a full evacuation without the intervention of the fire and rescue service?’.
This can include effective and safe disabled escape points wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair without impeding the escape, or if there is adequate provision for alerting hearing impaired guests and the provision of visual aids such as strobe lighting and language-free signage.
Further, a commonly overlooked part of the assessment is ensuring that a plan is in place for guest welfare after the evacuation. On a cold December night after evacuating guests into a car park assembly point, it is vital that a contingency plan is in place for where they can be re-located that is warm, dry and safe.
In his article, Steve goes on to discuss several other issues that are relevant for catering, hotel and other individual premises that reflect the services and training opportunities that the FPA can bring to businesses and organisations across the country.