29 March 2021
In 2019, a fire at a doughnut factory caused severe damage, extensive business interruption and an estimated loss of £13 million. The culprit: the industrial fryer at the heart of the business’s operations, allowing it to produce tens of thousands of doughnuts an hour. You’ll find these fryers in manufacturing facilities around the country, producing some of the nation’s favourite fried foods. It’s not just factories at risk: fryers are in commercial kitchens of all sizes, from takeaway outlets to pubs and hotels.
Commercial kitchen fires can ruin your business
“People often don’t realise how one fire could eliminate their business,” says Daren Peace, Property Risk Consultant at RSA. That’s why he encourages all businesses to see fire risk in terms of their profit-making capability. Although the chances of a fire might be low, “if it does happen, it can result in major property damage and significant business interruption.”
Repairing fire damage takes at least three months, often much longer. Any downtime affects the bottom line – and customers can be quick to go elsewhere. For food manufacturers, this can be fatal. “Supermarkets will very quickly find a different supplier,” says Peace. If you rely on a production line for all your operations, and it’s out of action, then your customers are not going to stick around, no matter how good your doughnuts are.
“When I’m shopping with my wife, we could be at a large retail park and she’ll ask, ‘what are you looking at?’” he laughs, “I’ll be looking up to see if the buildings are sprinkler-protected.”
Fire services exist to protect people, not businesses
It’s surprising how few businesses consider a large fire loss in their business continuity plans, says Peace. “There is often an assumption that the fire service will prevent a large fire loss.” But the fire service is there to protect people, not businesses. They’ll put the fire out to make it safe, and that means dumping a huge amount of water on your building. “If the fire doesn’t ruin it, the water damage will,” says Peace.
Building regulations are similarly focused on people safety, with little provision for property safety and business continuity. That’s where insurers play a significant role: it’s often up to risk consultants like Peace to recommend the robust risk management and fire protection systems that a business needs. “Even if you follow all the government regulations,” says Peace, “we will often ask for extra precautions, precisely because these changes can make the difference between a controlled fire and a completely devastating one. It remains a continual concern to me that large buildings and estates are built without sprinklers,” he says.
Fryer safety: cleaning, maintenance and fire controls
There are several ways that businesses can significantly reduce the risk of industrial fryer fires. Peace recommends three main areas of focus:
- Cleaning and oil management. Dirty cooking oil ignites at lower temperatures, so it’s important to change it regularly. And all fryers and ductwork should be thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis. Inadequate inspection and cleaning of ductwork allows for rapid fire spread and extensive damage.
- Consider process and equipment controls. Make sure you have the right processes and controls in place. Even more importantly, make sure these are understood, and that managers and operators know how these work, and are trained to use them.
- Regular maintenance. Check fryers and associated control systems regularly to ensure correct and safe operation. When everything works as it should, fires can be contained and controlled effectively.
There are essential pieces of safety equipment that all fryers need, says Peace. All fryers should be fitted with safety controls such as over-temperature devices and low-oil-level switches that automatically shut down the fryers and heat source. Businesses often rely on manual monitoring and intervention systems to check these things – but an automatic system is much safer and more reliable.
Peace also makes sure businesses have adequate fixed fire-extinguishing systems on fryers and suitable levels of sprinkler protection in their buildings. All such systems should comply with relevant international approval standards, which govern things like equipment and testing procedures and are essential for keeping your business safe.
Checking buildings for fire safety is a habit that Peace finds difficult to switch off.
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