A reminder of the risks of kitchen extract ductwork

System Hygienics, kitchen extract ductwork, kitchen ventilation
Clean and safe ductwork is simple, if you know how — Darren Ling.

Just one recent fire at a popular restaurant in Brighton serves as a timely reminder of just how vital it is for kitchen extract ductwork to be subject to regular safety checks and cleaning. Darren Ling of System Hygienics takes up the story.

The Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES) recently warned that too many building owners are ignorant of the fire risks posed by kitchen extraction ductwork and their legal responsibility to reduce the risk of fire in their premises. It is vital to ensure that kitchen extract ductwork is subject to regular safety checks and cleaning.

Grease-laden kitchen extraction ductwork presents one of the most serious and common fire hazards in a building. Of the 24 000 accidental fires per year in commercial properties, around a quarter are attributed to cooking and extraction systems.

Kitchen-extract systems are the perfect landing place for grease, oil and other residues. If these grease deposits are left to build up within the extract duct and fans, the coating can easily ignite and cause fire to spread rapidly throughout the entire ducting system. As extraction ducts may often be routed through other parts of a building to reach a roof or are channelled to an external wall to extract fumes, sometimes the entire property is consumed by widespread fire damage as a result.

The solution is relatively simple — if you know how. All commercial kitchens should ensure their kitchen extract ductwork is subject to a regular and thorough programme of cleaning and maintenance. The reason for cleaning kitchen-extract systems is to remove the grease, thereby removing the fuel or ‘combustion-load’ to help reduce the chance of in-duct fires in addition to reducing potential odours and breeding grounds for bacteria.

If a system has only been partially cleaned there is still a potentially lethal fire hazard contained within the duct. Therefore, it is essential to use qualified and experienced kitchen-ductwork cleaners. Employing a substandard contractor to carry out a partial clean has the potential to land that owner/manager in jail. This is because The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 states that where necessary, in order to safeguard the safety of relevant persons, the ‘responsible person’ must ensure that the premises and any facilities, equipment and devices provided are subject to a suitable system of maintenance and are kept in efficient working order and in good repair. If a fire is traced back to dirty kitchen extraction ductwork, those deemed responsible face prosecution, which could result in fines, jail terms and the loss of business.

These before and after shots of a successfully cleaned kitchen-extract duct highlight the risks of an inadequate maintenance programme.

If the worst were to happen and an employee or tenant died in a fire where poorly maintained ductwork was deemed the contributing factor to their death, those responsible would be vulnerable to prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007.

There is also a significant threat to your insurance claim. Statistics from the Association of British Insurers indicate that pay-outs on fires caused by improperly maintained extractor ducts are running at around £65 million each year. This is a sobering enough thought, but poorly maintained kitchen extraction ductwork is an obvious fire risk so can render insurance policies invalid. The true cost of fire damage to commercial premises costs UK businesses more than a billion pounds every year.

In January this year (2013) a popular restaurant in Brighton, called Pinocchio, had to evacuate diners when a fire broke out in the kitchen on the ground floor.

It took firefighters from 10 fire appliances, including the aerial ladder platform, three hours to extinguish the flames. A spokesman for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said the fire was tricky to deal with as the flames had got into the wall cavities and the ductwork.

It was reported that Sue Addis, who owns Pinocchio, said they were devastated by what happened. Speaking at the time she said they did not know how much damage had been done but they would be closed for the foreseeable future.

In the first jury trial of a case under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in February 2012, The Chumleigh Lodge Hotel Ltd in Finchley, North London, and its sole director Michael had to pay more than £260 000 in fines and costs after pleading not guilty to a total of 12 offences under the Fire Safety Order. The offences dated back to a fire on in May 2008.

A tailor-made monthly or annual cleaning programme to remove grease deposits will minimise fire risks.

When commissioning risk assessments and maintenance work in buildings, it is essential to employ highly trained, competent suppliers who are able to give evidence of their skills and knowledge base. For example, Section 7 of TR/19 suggests that kitchen extract systems in heavy use (12 to 16 hours a day) should be cleaned at least quarterly, those in moderate use (six to 12 hours a day) should be cleaned half-yearly and those in light use (two to six hours a day) should be cleaned at least once a year.

Ignorance of the fire risks posed by kitchen extraction systems is no excuse for irregular, incomplete or neglected cleaning. The consequence of a fire occurring in the extraction ducting can be devastating, not only to the property, lives of occupants and firefighters, but to a business’s bottom line.

Darren Ling, a director of System Hygienics.

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