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Outdoor Dining Creates New Hazards for Restaurants

April 2021

Following months of closures and restrictions, restaurants are using innovative measures to create a socially distanced, private dining experience outside. From plastic, greenhouse-type bubbles, to large electric heaters fashioned to look like old wooden stoves, owners are extending the use of their outdoor spaces but are also setting themselves up for new risks.

ICC has been insuring businesses in cold weather areas for over seventy years, and we are here to offer some tips to secure your outdoor space.

  • When using pods, tents, or other enclosures, always use flame retardant materials.

    • Ensure that each is secured to the ground and marked to prevent tripping.

    • Display clear signage of how to exit the pods or outdoor spaces in case of fire.

  • Install appropriate lighting to create an atmosphere that is pleasant, but also well-lit and safe.

  • Clearly mark any step changes or wet areas.

  • Pay close attention to drain spouts that can accumulate snow or rain runoff.

  • Install sturdy handrails where needed on steps and ramps.

  • Consider delegating responsibility to one employee to check outdoor spaces and make sure everything is set up and shut down safely.

    • Routinely check outdoor furniture to make sure it is not loose, wobbly, or broken which could cause a puncture or for an individual to fall.

  • Continue to follow CDC recommendations for sanitizing and disinfecting outdoor furniture between uses.

Although the weather is getting warmer, the evenings may still be cool. Here are some considerations for using outdoor heaters:

  • Place heaters on a solid, level surface and keep heaters at least two feet from any surrounding objects or structures.

    • Do not store flammable materials near an outdoor heater.

    • Avoid placing heaters near overhanging branches, wooden fences, umbrellas, awnings, and high traffic areas.

    • On windy days, look for anything that could blow into, near, or onto the heater.

    • The housing portion of the heater has vent holes cut into it to provide adequate ventilation - it is important to make sure those vents are not obstructed.

  • Periodic checks and maintenance of patio heaters are recommended -if the patio heater has been sitting in storage since last season, it is important to check for any loose fittings, worn parts, and leaks.

    • Consider using electric heat with one electrical outlet per unit.

    • Make sure they plug directly into the outlet (not an extension cord).

    • Turn heaters off each evening – using electric timers can prevent human error.

    • Trip hazards can be avoided by dropping cords from above as opposed to along potential walkways.

  • For open-air outdoor spaces, a fire pit fueled by gas is a safer alternative to a real flame, wood-burning pit.

  • Turn off gas each evening and never store propane tanks on the interior of the premises, such as in basements or storage closets.

  • Fire pits should be at least ten feet away from any structure or combustible surface.

  • Before lighting an outdoor fire, check weather conditions - avoid windy days as embers can blow and cause a fire.

  • Routinely remove leaves from accumulating around fire pits.

  • Keep the fire small, so it is easier to control.

  • Fire extinguishers should be visible and within reach - all employees should be aware of their location and trained on how to use them.

Keeping these potential concerns in mind will help your business safely offer a comfortable outdoor experience that will keep your customers coming back.

Learn more about insuring your business with ICC by contacting an ICC agent today. The Find an Agent search on our homepage will help you locate an ICC agent in your area.

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