As an underwriter, you‘ll benefit from the guidelines presented here—intended to help you work successfully with your insureds to identify, reduce, or eliminate hazardous conditions.
Cooking hazards can cause serious fires and place lives at risk. Fires produce more than $10 billion of damage and kill more than 3,000 people every year in the United States. To protect against the loss of life and prevent losses to both the insurer and insured, underwriters need to be aware of the wide range of potential cooking hazards. By identifying those hazards, underwriters and loss control departments can work together to help insureds improve the safety of their cooking establishments.
You can find hazardous cooking conditions not only in normal cooking facilities, such as restaurants, diners, and taverns, but also in other occupancies, such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.
Cooking equipment clearances
When evaluating cooking equipment, you must consider how close the equipment is to combustible materials, such as plywood walls, wooden cupboards or shelving, and grease filters. The list below shows appropriate clearances.
Listed appliances to combustible material
- Per manufacturer specifications
Unlisted appliances to combustible material
- Minimum of 6 inches
- 24 inches to filters if no exposed flames
- 36 inches to filters if flames exposed
- 48 inches to filters for charbroilers
National Fire Protection Association
Scorched walls and grease around hood indicate inadequate clearances
Exhaust system schematic
Here's a schematic diagram of a typical cooking exhaust system, courtesy of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The schematic shows the components of an exhaust system and required roof clearances.
Reprinted with permission from NFPA 96, Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations, Copyright ©2004, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA 02169. This reprinted material is not the complete and official position of the National Fire Protection Association on the referenced subject, which is represented only by the standard in its entirety.
The class of fire determines the type of extinguishing agent used. Commercial kitchens use five types of automatic extinguishing systems.
The building should install sprinklers according to NFPA standards. Sprinklers protecting cooking equipment require separate control valves.
Dry chemical systems
Dry chemicals such as sodium or potassium bicarbonate can extinguish Class B and C fires. Those systems extinguish fires by interrupting the chemical reaction. However, because hot surfaces aren't cooled, reignition can occur.
Wet chemical systems
Wet chemicals are water-based solutions made of potassium carbonate and are used to extinguish Class A and B fires. The solution mixes with grease and forms a soapy mixture that cools and smothers the fire. There's less chance of reignition.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) systems
These systems function by flooding the fire area with carbon dioxide, smothering the fire. Because of increasing concerns of dangerous health effects at high exposure levels, CO2 systems are becoming rare.
Installation and maintenance
Underwriters should determine whether a facility has a certificate of installation and a current maintenance contract for its system. New systems and systems not previously recognized require certificates of installation. The certificate indicates that the property has installed the system according to listing and manufacturing instructions. A maintenance contract should indicate that the system is serviced twice a year.
In the event of a fire or damage to a cooking area, a qualified professional should inspect the risk to determine that the structure and equipment are sound, capable of maintaining their fire protection function, and in compliance with accepted guidelines.
Photo courtesy of Superior Safety
Underwriter's checklist for cooking hazards
- Have personnel installed cooking equipment, grease removal systems, and extinguishing systems according to the manufacturer’s instructions and the standards of the NFPA, the American Gas Association, or UL?
- Are cooking areas and exhaust systems clean and free from grease buildup?
- Do cooking equipment and exhaust systems have adequate clearance from combustible materials?
- Does the hood cover the cooking area?
- Is all electrical equipment, including fans, approved for use in a grease-laden atmosphere?
- Is there a certificate of installation and a current maintenance agreement for the extinguishing system?
- Has an automatic fuel shut-off been installed and connected?
- Is a manual activation device for the extinguishing system located in an exit path?
- Are extinguishers installed and maintained in accordance with NFPA standards?