Hospitality Hazards

March, 2018


The recent fire in the flourishing hospitality area, Kamala Mills in Lower Parel, Mumbai, has got the city talking - what exactly went wrong? From the lack of general safety norms to a complete disregard for the ones that were already in place, where did the situation take a turn for
the worse?

The National Building Code is a comprehensive tool for safety standards that apply to new buildings. For older structures, there are no such guidelines that ensure that the space compliant to current safety requirements. While modifying older building, the safety code is inundated with blurred lines. C. Alankrutha, Architect N-Hance Interior Solutions Division, Navin’s, brings to light all the possible causes of hazards in hospitality design. “Predominant causes of hazards include: dysfunction in electrical equipment (e.g. electrical distribution systems, motors, transformers, ventilators, electrical heaters and lighting systems) that lead to short circuits, overloads, discharges, etc, maintenance or repair work such as welding or soldering, negligence in maintenance, turning off electrical equipment, use of combustible materials and liquids (cleaning, painting etc.), and smoking. Spontaneous combustion of cleaning rags, cotton waste and arson and sabotage acts also remain very serious fire risks. Sometimes, temporary decorations for festivities and functions with inappropriate material, flammable surfaces at inappropriate locations could also be a common cause for hazards. The key to hospitality designing however remains the same – proper ventilation and an outlet for smoke.”

Adding another dimension to the discussion, Deben Moza, Joint CEO & Executive Director, Project Management Services, Knight Frank India, talks about safety hazards for the differently-abled. “The fire evacuation procedures are not clearly visible and one has to struggle to even find the exit routes in certain places. For a physically challenged person it’s even difficult as most of the hotels are not designed to support the specially-abled. They do not provide ramps or hand rails for people to move around. In most of these places the floor finish is too slippery and hence carpets have been laid down which again makes it difficult for somebody to move on a wheelchair.”

Design execution aside, many owners and designers are questioning what is ever right when it comes to the norms. “The current law leaves a lot of loopholes as permissions are dependent on the building owner/mall owners depending on where the restaurant is placed. This needs to be centralised and have a designated department that can give out all necessary permissions to all restaurants and bars for fire safety provisions. There has to be a clear cut safety design manual designed and all restaurants must upload the compliances online and the process should be made transparent, quick and standardised. There has been no checklist provided by the government bodies that clearly states mandates that need to be followed for acquiring a licence, which is what needs to be done. The fire audit is never carried out by a structural engineer but is done rather by specialised personnel who are experts in fire audits. Unfortunately, in most cases, the fire audit is a mere piece of paper and not a serious document”, said Karan Tanna Founder & CEO, Yellow Tie Hospitality.

Which brings us to the imminent question…how can things change and get better from here? Minnie Bhatt, Design Director, Minnie Bhatt Designs, is of the opinion that “There are many licenses required to open a restaurant; a few of them being a certificate from the health department, the fire department and excise department in case alcohol is to be served. Besides these, there is a license required to serve on patios and open spaces attached to the restaurant and many others. I feel the guidelines with regards to fire compliance need to be clearer, there needs to be consolidated licences for a restaurant that takes care of various aspects as opposed to multiple licenses. If one apex body issues a single license after checking all compliances it will make the process easier and more practical. This would also make the system more transparent and leave less loopholes in terms of failure from either of the involved parties. Guidelines also need to be reviewed as the laws governing restaurants has seen little to no modifications in the last 30-50 years, while the restaurant landscape of the city has been fast evolving.”

The new generation of architects, planners and designers have a bigger responsibility of getting it right. Aparna Dhareshwar, Senior Associate at sP+A explains ways in which new age designers can be more responsible. “As we design for a special ambience to enhance the experience of dining out, we can take care to tastefully design the escape routes as well as their signage. The ceiling design, which becomes a tool to express spatial possibilities, can unobtrusively include the required sprinklers. Likewise, the material palette can balance the aesthetics and pragmatics, by including fire retardant materials over more flammable ones.” The professional community has a major role to play in choosing the right materials and right placement to ensure safety. This requires a designer to be mindful of all the possible activities conducted in the space and design accordingly. Dedicated budgets for safety measures are a definite need of the hour and only precision and care can mitigate such hazardous events in the future.