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Turning up the heat

24 September 2018

FSM managing editor Mark Sennett sits down with Chris Auger to discuss the increasingly common instances of fires in commercial kitchens and how BAFE is taking steps to help reduce the risks.

What is your role at BAFE and what is your professional background?

I’m a qualified professional engineer and moved into accreditation and certification through roles with UKAS and a large certification body. I took up my post at BAFE about two and a half years ago, where I am the Schemes Manager. This means I look after the development of schemes and review of all the schemes we offer to the fire protection industry.

For those who are unaware, can you tell us more about what BAFE does?

BAFE is an organisation that develops schemes for the fire industry. All the schemes we provide are third party certificated, which means anyone who wants to be registered with one of our schemes must go through the certification assessment process. The certification bodies we use are all UKAS accredited and registration to our schemes can only be achieved via these bodies licensed to deliver these. 

Organisations should be registered with BAFE as we are completely independent and not beholden to any commercial entity. Our existence is to ensure high levels of competence can be measured, with any financial surplus we make being redistributed back into the development and maintenance of new and existing schemes. This ensures our schemes remain relevant and the best measurement of competence for these specific services in the fire industry.

It’s always been important, but especially post-Grenfell, that organisations get independently assessed through third party certification and BAFE provides this. We offer independent verification of their competence and quality as an organisation providing fire safety works. 

Is there a particular area of focus for BAFE at the moment?

There’s not one specific area of focus as there’s a lot going on in the sector at the moment, which has been accelerated by the Grenfell tragedy. We are concentrating on both improving our existing schemes to make them more accessible, particularly in the fire risk assessment area and in considering new developments in areas where third party certification would be beneficial for the end user.

Because of insurers concerns, we are currently looking closely at the increasing number of fires taking place in commercial kitchens. There’s no doubt that the majority of fires that take place in hotels and restaurants are started in kitchens. The insurance industry is particularly concerned about this due to many hotel kitchens tending to be in basements and, if there’s a fire, it is more likely to spread to other parts of the building and has the potential to spread to adjoining buildings. This means that there is a potential risk for life safety as well as property loss which is going to potentially run into millions of pounds. 

Can you give any examples of major fires that have taken in hotels or restaurants that have emanated from inside kitchens?

In 1997, there was a very well publicised fire inside Terminal One at Heathrow Airport, which originated from a Burger King restaurant. It took 60 firefighters almost five hours to put out. The fire managed to spread to other terminals through interconnecting ductwork and caused hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage.

There was also an incident a few months ago where a restaurant in the centre of Manchester had a fire start overnight and spread through the ductwork and was spotted by people outside of the building the following morning and left huge damage to the building.

Both of those incidents saw fires start and spread through ductwork but there have also been incidents of fire starting inside kitchens themselves.  

What tends to be the main cause of fires in commercial kitchens?

Anecdotally, what we’ve been informed is that the fires usually don’t start inside the kitchens themselves as that can actually be seen by occupants and dealt with rather quickly by suppression systems or kitchen staff. Often, the filters of cooker hoods get caked with grease, fat and oil and also behind the filters there can be a build-up of combustible material if they haven’t been sufficiently cleaned. This can spread inside the ducting all the way up to the fan, which can be located many metres away. 

So, if grease is laying in the bottom of the duct this can act as a source of fuel when flames lick up above the filters, especially if the filter has been removed due to staff thinking they’re not getting a good level of control from the extraction system. The flames then get up into the ductwork which can’t be seen until it’s too late and the fire has spread throughout the building.

How is BAFE trying to help tackle this issue?

We have developed a kitchen fire protection certification scheme called SP206, to reflect growing concern about the manifest risks involved in commercial kitchens. For instance, the impact of a serious kitchen fire can effectively destroy a business through literal, as well as longer-term reputational, damage.

It’s important for end users to recognise their legislative responsibilities to ensure that competent engineers/maintenance companies install and maintain kitchen fire protection systems. This work must not be handled by companies whose claimed competence is unproven. For example, a maintenance provider working on other fire protection equipment may erroneously claim to be capable of handling these systems too.

In this context the market clearly needed a third party certification assessment process in which the demonstration of competence by providers of kitchen fire suppression systems is a key criteria for the benefit of end users. Customers will be able to select the right contractor, who understands how the equipment works and has a proven track record of their design, installation, maintenance and use. 

What are the main benefits from undertaking the SP206 scheme?

Customers will gain from the newly introduced SP206 scheme in a variety of other meaningful ways too, not least by showing their important due diligence to protect property. They also obtain an assurance that the contractor they’ve used has been properly assessed for quality and competence, and that legislatively compliant and appropriate fire protection measures have been introduced for the benefit of the kitchen’s staff, visitors and patrons. 

Fire industry and insurance data reveals food and drink-related fires are statistically the third most likely cause of large fires, also accounting for nearly 10% of all large loss fires. Meanwhile, fires involving restaurants and cafes represent some 42% of all fires within the food and drink sector put together. It’s therefore clearly important to maintain good management of the cooking equipment and extraction ducting systems involved, where fires can always occur. 

Fires between midnight and 6am for all food and drink establishments (at 43%) compare with the earlier period of 6pm-midnight (24%). Other restaurants and cafes are also more susceptible to fires breaking out between midnight and 6am (35%) versus the evening trade time of 6pm-midnight (22%). 

BAFE has acted to ensure that the capabilities of kitchen fire suppression systems can be utilised in tandem with cleaning procedures by end users. Effective fire protection systems of this kind have been available for a number of years, but what’s been missing is a recognised scheme covering their design, installation, commissioning, recharge and maintenance. 

What steps are you taking to ensure that this scheme is being embraced by the fire industry?

We started the process for creating SP206 nearly two years ago and since then it’s been very important to get the support of insurance companies, certification bodies and equipment manufacturers. I spent a great deal of time building enthusiasm from those three sectors and to gain their support. This actually proved easier than I anticipated as the equipment manufacturers were very supportive. They liked the idea that their brand could be linked with BAFE as we have a strong reputation in the industry.

What’s the next key project that BAFE is working on?

Well first and foremost the new SP206 scheme goes live at the end of September. But we do have a number of other schemes currently under development and also have a pipeline of schemes we’d like to start work on over the next six to twelve months. Development of our Fire Risk Assessment competence scheme (SP205) is a key activity, especially for high risk premises.

So, we are being very proactive on the schemes-development front and as such this is a very busy and exciting time for BAFE. We are committed to creating and developing new schemes and getting them out into the market as soon as possible.

Chris Auger is Schemes Manager at BAFE. For more information on BAFE or SP206, please visit www.bafe.org.uk