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Imprisonment for fire safety offences

11 August 2011

An expert on the fire dangers caused by uncleaned kitchen extract ducts has called for greater enforcement of the law requiring kitchen extract ducts to be cleaned frequently.

Two recent fires in Burger King fast food restaurants in London, one at Liverpool Street station last November and another during this June at the Burger King in High Holborn, have followed a spate of fires in restaurant kitchens in central London during the last year.

Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of Swiftclean Environmental, has played a major part in helping the Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA), The Heating and Ventilation Contractors Association (HVCA) and CIBSE to produce standards and guides to good practice relating to ventilation system hygiene and ductwork fire safety cleaning. He also acts as an expert witness to assist civil courts on technical issues relating to ventilation hygiene matters.

Gary Nicholls makes the point that the London Fire and Rescue Service has been able to link many of the fires in restaurants and fast food kitchens to uncleaned, or inadequately cleaned, kitchen extract systems which are installed to remove fumes containing particles of flammable fats and cooking oil residues from the kitchen.

“It is legally necessary for all restaurants, fast food outlets and other commercial kitchens in the UK to prepare and maintain a fire safety risk assessment, and to have the kitchen extract duct(s) cleaned and maintained regularly to remove flammable fats and grease and repair any breakages or gaps in the duct” he said. ”This requirement became law in 2006 with the implementation of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. Tougher enforcement of the law is needed to reduce the number of kitchen fires and the danger to life that they cause”.

The London Fire and Rescue reports that, in many cases, owners and operators of kitchens claimed to have had in place a duct cleaning service, only to discover, following a fire, that the key flammable cooking grease deposits had not been properly removed from the inside of the extract duct, so that the grease supported and worsened a fire that started in the kitchen.

The frequent fires in commercial kitchens are causing insurers to require that proof of regular professional extract duct cleaning is retained for presentation to the insurance company in the event of a claim.

A recent case in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, has shown the extent to which fire authorities are taking a tougher line when dealing with those who do not follow fire regulations. A fire risk assessor, John O’Rourke, and David Liu, who runs both the Dial Hotel and the Market Inn in Mansfield, were both jailed for eight months and ordered to pay costs for breaching fire safety regulations.

David Liu pleaded guilty to fifteen fire safety offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and was ordered to pay £15,000 costs as well as being sentenced to eight months; John O’Rourke, who runs Mansfield Fire Protection Services, was ordered to pay £5862 in addition to his eight-month sentence.

These sentences were despite the fact that no actual fire had occurred. Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service carried out routine inspections at both of Liu’s premises and established that fire precautions were inadequate. Fire risk assessments carried out by O’Rourke had overlooked a number of serious deficiencies which would have left occupants seriously at risk had a fire occurred.

Brian Hogg, a fire division manager at safety experts PHS Compliance, said that such behaviour is far from unusual, and that fire risk assessments can be completed by anybody, regardless of whether they have had appropriate training.

“British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE) and other bodies have been lobbying government to enforce the implementation of systems requiring that an organisation and its employees carrying out fire risk assessment have the right training, skills and certification” he said.

“Any kitchen owner unfortunate enough to suffer a fire that causes a death could find themselves facing a manslaughter charge”.

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