These kitchens on wheels are rolling up to curbsides everywhere, delivering fresh, inventive and convenient food fare to hungry customers. Food trucks share many of the features typical of a restaurant kitchen but come with the added safety concerns of packing everything, including a power and fuel supply, into the confines of a vehicle. Find out what food truck operators can do to help keep their workers safe while working with propane and gas generators in this space restricted environment.
Over the past several years, food trucks have become a common sight on city streets, in parking lots, at festivals, and even in dedicated food truck lots. It is estimated that there are currently 117,000 food trucks operating in the US and over 350 in Canada, with the numbers continuing to grow.
Most food trucks use either gas or electricity to power the cooking and refrigerating appliances onboard. Propane gas fuels ovens, burners and fryers, and portable electric generators provide power to electric appliances and tools. While small fires can and do start on stoves, ovens and fryers, fuel sources have the most potential to cause destruction, injury and even death.
What the law says Most provinces and territories have regulations or guidelines for mobile food services, and many municipalities also have established by-laws, food safety regulations, and public health inspections. Creating and maintaining a safe food truck needs to be a priority for operators not only to stay in compliance, but to also ensure the health and well-being of their workers. Here are some ways that food truck operators can keep their employees and mobile kitchens safe from potential fire disasters.
Propane According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a standard 20-gallon propane tank (used on most barbecues) has the same explosive capability as 170 sticks of dynamite. Some food trucks use tanks as large as 100 gallons. An average of 540 vehicle fires (not necessarily all food trucks) where propane was the material first ignited occurred each year between 2007 and 2011 in the US. These fires accounted for 3 deaths and $8 million in property damage annually.
Because propane gas is heavier than air, an undetected leak can seep out and pool in pockets and crevasses inside and outside the food truck. Detecting the leak is made difficult because cooking smells can mask the smell of leaking gas. One spark from the stove or oven or other ignition source can ignite a pool of propane and cause disaster.
Safe propane practices
- Properly secure portable propane tanks when transporting.
- Contact a qualified propane service retailer to connect tanks to appliances.
- Understand the markings on your propane cylinder, including the symbols that show what type of tank you have, the original manufacture date, and the re-certification date.
- Ensure that your cylinders are not beyond their certified number of years.
- Know what propane smells like. Propane tank retailers offer scratch pads that can help your employees know the distinct odor of the fuel in case of leakages.
- Know where the gas lines are located inside your truck so that they do not get damaged when moving kitchen appliances. Routinely check the condition of connections to see if there are any leaks.
- Ensure you have sufficient ventilation.
- Shut the propane tank off at the end of the work day and during breaks.
- Never attempt to fix a leak yourself. If you suspect a leak, call your supplier immediately. Do not use any appliance connected to a problematic cylinder until the leak is resolved.
Maintain a combustible gas detector for daily reading on the truck, comply with local regulations relating to mobile food vehicle safety, and have all employees attend a fire safety class.
The International Fire Marshalls Association (IFMA) recommendations on food truck safety include education on fuel properties and training on how to:
- Use portable fire extinguishers and extinguishing systems
- Shut off fuel sources
- Notify the local fire department
- Refuel safely
- Perform leak detection
- Gas systems on mobile cooking vehicles comply with NFPA 58 in the US and, in Canada, CSA Standards for handling propane.
- Gas systems are inspected prior to each use by an appropriately trained worker.
- Leak detection must be performed every time a new connection or a change in cylinder is made to any gas system.
Portable electric generators Gasoline powered portable electric generators are commonly used to power appliances such as refrigerators onboard a food truck, but if improperly installed or operated can become deadly. Portable electric generators can introduce high levels of carbon monoxide, fire hazards related to working with highly flammable liquids such as gasoline, and the risk of burns from hot engine parts and electrical shock. Here are some tips for safe operation:
- Have a licensed electrician install the generator to make sure it meets local code.
- The generator should not be connected directly to mobile kitchen equipment without a proper transfer switch installed and must be properly grounded.
- Do not overload the generator.
- Use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to help prevent electrocutions and electrical shock injuries.
- Turn off all appliances powered by the generator before shutting down the generator.
- Never operate the generator inside the truck.
- Use carbon monoxide detectors to monitor levels inside the truck. Generators can produce high levels of carbon monoxide very quickly, which can be deadly.
- Do not store extra gasoline for the generator in your vehicle. The vapour from gasoline is heavier than air and can travel invisibly along the floor. It can be ignited by a pilot light or other source of flame, such as an electric spark. Inhaling the gas can cause headaches.
- Before re-fueling, always turn the generator off and let it cool down.
- Many generator parts are hot enough to burn you during operation. Stay away from the muffler and other hot areas.
- Always have a fully charged, approved fire extinguisher located near the generator.
The risks that come with working with highly flammable and potentially explosive fuels and power sources require that food truck operators and workers be trained and knowledgeable in the safe use of propane and portable generators. Installation and maintenance of this equipment must be done by trained and certified experts. Rapid growth in this industry has meant that although food truck safety regulations may vary from region to region, fire safety should always be a top priority.
- Cooks fact sheet, CCOHS
- Propane fact sheet, CCOHS
- Workplace Housekeeping - Basic Guide fact sheet, CCOHS
- B149.1-10 (R2015) - Natural gas and propane installation code, CSA Standard
- B149.2-10 (R2015) - Propane storage and handling code, CSA Standard
Tips & Tools
Running a real estate open house, conducting a home inspection, visiting a home care patient these situations can put workers in an unfamiliar, potentially dangerous environment. But for many, working alone and off-site is a necessary part of the job. Here are some tips for working off-site safely.
What employers can do
It is important for employers to conduct an assessment of the work employees will do when they are working in unfamiliar territory, and may be working alone.
- Prepare a daily work plan so everyone knows where and when off-site employees are expected somewhere.
- Have a check-in procedure in place where off-site employees check in periodically. Know when and who to call for help if they do not.
- Provide training on how to recognize and avoid potentially violent situations, as well as conflict resolution and mediation skills.
- Use a "buddy system" in high risk situations - make sure employees know this option is available to them and when to use it.
- Provide information on high risk geographical areas.
- Limit the time of day visits can be made to high risk areas/clients.
- Keep client records and ensure staff are aware if a client is known to be aggressive, hostile or potentially violent.
What workers can do
- Arrange to meet clients in a safe environment where other people are around, such as a restaurant, hotel lobby, or office/workplace.
- Wear comfortable, professional clothing and practical shoes which will enable you to leave quickly if necessary.
- Always wear or carry your identification badge. It will show that you are acting in an official capacity and that you are an employee doing your job.
- Carry only what is necessary. Large or numerous bags or cases are cumbersome.
- Always take your cell phone with you and keep it in a place you can access quickly.
- Avoid having new work contacts walk you to your car.
- Be alert and make mental notes of your surroundings when you arrive at a new place.
- Maintain a reactionary gap between yourself and the client (e.g., out of reach of the average person's kicking distance). Increase the gap by sitting across from each other at a table, if possible.
- If you are referring to written material, bring two copies so that you can sit across from the client, not beside.
- Ask a colleague or friend to come with you if something makes you feel uneasy. Tell your supervisor about any feelings of discomfort or apprehension about an up-coming meeting.
- Keep records and indicate if the client or patient is known to be aggressive, hostile or potentially violent. Do not leave out incidents that make you feel apprehensive.
- Do not enter any situation or location where you feel threatened or unsafe.
- Do not carry weapons of any type, including pepper spray. Weapons can be easily used against you and are illegal in some jurisdictions.
WorkSafeBC has launched a new mobile application to help agricultural employers keep track of confined spaces on their properties, including dairy farms, orchards, mushroom operations, greenhouses and ranches.
The My Confined Spaces app allows users to create an inventory using a map, log information and photos for each confined space, and record possible hazards. Users also can view potential hazards for common confined spaces and share their inventory. A resource library in the app contains documents, videos, tutorials and other resources.
Documenting agricultural confined spaces helps workers stay safe when working in and around these areas and helps employers comply with occupational health and safety regulations.
The app is available for both iOS and Android devices, as well as on desktop computers.
Visit WorkSafeBC for more information.« FIOSA MIOSA's 2014 Make it Safe Conference »
Health and Safety To Go
This month's Health and Safety To Go! podcasts feature the new episode Contact Dermatitis and an encore presentation on Workplace Noise.
Feature Podcast: Contact Dermatitis
In Canada, 1,000 compensation claims are reported for contact dermatitis each year. According to some US statistics, skin disorders comprise more than 35 percent of all occupationally related diseases. In this podcast, CCOHS offers tips on preventing occupational contact dermatitis.
The podcast runs 7:12 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Workplace Noise
Occupational noise is one of the most common health hazards in the workplace and can affect people differently, depending on how susceptible they are. CCOHS explains the types of workplace noise and how it can affect your health.
The podcast runs 4:22 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2016, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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