Can Any Business Afford to Be Closed for Two Years After Fire Damage?

It is not unusual in the UK for restaurants to be situated in attractive ancient buildings and it is also not unusual for restaurants to be vulnerable to fires, sometimes with devastating consequences.

In June 2012 a fire in the restaurant kitchen in a listed medieval building in a Suffolk town caused substantial damage, halting business both for the restaurant and for nearby businesses.

The fire service’s subsequent investigations revealed in September 2012 that the fire had started accidentally in the neighbourhood of the main oven in the restaurant’s basement kitchen and spread quickly through the ventilation system. It has been reported that insurers are still investigating the situation further.

The damage to the timber-framed medieval building was extensive and restoration work to such a sensitive, protected building is predicted to cost £ several million and currently expected to be complete by the Spring of 2014.

No business owner would want to find themselves in this situation and although there is no information available about the condition of the ventilation system at the time of the fire this event does illustrate not only the difficulty of ensuring adequate kitchen ventilation and extraction systems in ancient buildings and also the need to be vigilant about the risk of fire.

Reducing the risks as much as possible depends on two things.

The first is installing a system that will be as fit as possible for the job it will have to do. There are unlikely to be adequate plans or drawings available of a building of such antiquity and the materials with which it has been built are also likely to be a factor in designing a suitable extraction system. The available space for installing such a system is also likely to be minimal. The design of an appropriate extraction and ductwork system, especially for use in a restaurant kitchen, requires considerable expertise not only in historic construction but also in assessing the risks of a fire.

The second consideration is the duty of the owner of the business to ensure that a fire assessment has been carried out and that proper measures have been taken to protect the health and safety of the workers using the kitchen and in the case of a restaurant, the customers patronising it.

The Health and Safety Executive in the UK has recently published what it calls a “tool kit” to help small businesses to manage their responsibilities to staff and customers. It offers guidance on every aspect of health and safety including fire risk assessment and prevention and is available from the HSE website.

A crucial factor in preventing fires from spreading through kitchen extraction systems and the ductwork leading from them is to ensure that all filters in the units above cookers and the ductwork are kept free of debris to prevent a build-up of flammable material.

Kitchen extract cleaning in a business environment is a job for the professionals and it is worth ensuring peace of mind by having a regular schedule of extraction cleaning in place geared to the level of use of the kitchen.

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