The hospitality industry has won a major concession from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) over controversial plans to ban gas interlock overrides in cooking equipment.
At a meeting last week, the HSE and gas installers' group Corgi moved to ban the use of overrides, which allow operators to continue using cooking equipment when the gas supply has been automatically switched off because of a blockage.
If the new guidelines were agreed, overrides could have been outlawed before Christmas, forcing operators to invest in expensive new equipment.
However, last-minute representations from the British Hospitality Association (BHA) led to the HSE postponing its decision until the New Year, while it examines claims operators have not been sufficiently involved in putting together the guidelines.
The BHA also secured an agreement from the HSE that no matter what the final decision, it would not be retrospective, saving operators from costly changes to existing cooking equipment.
Despite the reprieve, David Cleave, managing director of manufacturer Oxford Hardware, believes a complete override ban for all newly purchased equipment, kitchen installations or refits is certain next year. "The HSE has taken legal advice which says overrides should not be used," he said. "So I expect a full ban with the HSE and Corgi playing the safety card."
A ban will mean that should the gas interlock fail on equipment during service, kitchen staff will have no choice other than to abandon cooking and wait for an approved engineer.
Barry Baker, principal inspector of health and safety at the HSE, insisted removing overrides from gas interlocks shouldn't have a detrimental effect on the performance of the UK's estimated 300,000 commercial kitchens.
"In theory if you are using a quality product and maintaining it correctly there shouldn't be a problem with a failing interlock," he said.
Gas Interlocks… Safety First
The interlock sits between the gas supply and fan/ventilation unit on cooking equipment. If a blockage occurs, the solenoid trips the interlock, shutting off the supply to protect from potential carbon monoxide or dioxide poisoning.
Although there have been no documented cases of accidents caused by use of an override, the Health & Safety Executive argues it goes against best practice. "The problem is that operators can override the gas cut-off without any understanding of why the supply has failed," said the HSE's Barry Baker.
• Information Sheet 23: Gas safety in catering & hospitality will be published in February or March next year.
By Chris Druce
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