Codes and Standards Governing Commercial Kitchen Ventilation Operations

This is the continuation of our fire investigation series. It will help investigators understand how commercial kitchen ventilation works, also known as restaurant grease fires.

This article will cover the foundations of the codes and standards that regulate commercial kitchen ventilation and appliances.

Federal, State/Provincial, Municipal and Municipal building codes as well supporting standards regulate construction, installation, and maintenance of kitchen system. Codes establish the basic construction features of buildings as well as performance criteria. The codes generally refer to standards that establish acceptable practices for meeting minimum criteria.

There is a common model code that all jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada adopt. Some jurisdictions modify the code or create their own fire and building codes. Once adopted, the code is an enforceable legal document that can be administered by different authorities within the jurisdiction. The building, fire prevention and mechanical, fuel gas, and electrical codes cover the requirements for commercial kitchens.

Various private standards and code development organizations are responsible for developing model codes and standards. Two major code development agencies in the US and Canada are currently involved in commercial kitchens. These organizations offer model codes that can be adopted by state/provincial or local governments. These are:

  • The National Fire Protection Association – NFPA
  • International Code Council – ICC

These bodies include building and fire officials, experts volunteers from industry or government, and professionals from engineering, insurance, and other interests. These technical committees meet regularly to discuss new technologies, construction, and other innovations that could affect the fire safety and building trade.

These bodies are subject to a variety of protocols and procedures when it comes to suggested code changes. There is a wide range of involved parties, with different levels of involvement. All have one goal: to improve fire safety.

Standards and codes governing commercial kitchen operations are continuously evolving. They are not up-to-date because they were written after incidents have occurred and research results have been obtained. The process of code adoption and development can often take many years. Most jurisdictions have codes and standards in place that govern existing buildings. Codes and standards that were in force at the time of installation govern cooking equipment, exhaust systems, fire-extinguishing system, and other systems. However, current fire prevention codes and system standards govern facility operations, fire safety practices, system maintenance, and other aspects of the facility.

An investigator or expert must determine when specific editions of codes or standards were adopted by local and state jurisdictions in order to conduct a system failure analysis or performance analysis. While it is difficult to keep up with all applicable codes, it is essential to have a good understanding of the basics of commercial cooking facilities and to analyze fire incidents.

In addition, codes and standards UL and similar organizations test products (systems) as well as recommending installation and maintenance procedures. These requirements are part the product or system “listing” terms.

These listing requirements are more current than the governmental Codes and Standards. Investigators must have copies of installation and operation manuals that are applicable to listed products and systems. This information, along with service records, will aid in determining if the listing requirements have been met.

We will be discussing third party listings in a subsequent article. A second section will focus on identifying installation and maintenance requirements, and how they could have affected fire spread.