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Are you cooking up a fire or cleaning your way to safety?

05 April 2013

Commercial kitchens have come a long way in changing their menus in recent years to provide a wide range of healthy and low fat options

One thing they can’t escape, however, is the accumulation of fat, oil and grease deposits in the kitchen extract ductwork. These deposits pose a potential threat of a costly and life threatening fire.

Failure to clean this ductwork regularly and effectively in compliance with fire regulations could leave you seriously at risk. Should the worst happen and a fire take hold, it can spread rapidly through the ductwork and damage other parts of the building too. If negligence in cleaning is proved it can leave the building’s owner liable for prosecution and it could also invalidate buildings insurance. The conventional FM company, should they be unable to provide compliant cleaning, could then find themselves at the end of a law suit from their understandably aggrieved client.

Specialist cleaning company Swiftclean has more than three decades of experience in this expert service. Here are their guidelines to help you stay safe from fire and the threat of prosecution.

1. Spotlight on the unseen areas
The areas you can’t see in a kitchen need at least as much care as those you can. Failure to remove grease from all visible work surfaces poses a health hazard, behind the scenes, fat deposits in the unseen interior of kitchen extract ventilation systems automatically establishes a fire hazard as well as a potential health risk. Most kitchen fires can be extinguished quickly, but not if the deposits of fat in the extract system catch alight and the fire takes hold where you can’t reach it. The nature of the ductwork construction often means that it forms a chimney, which allows both grease deposits and fire itself to spread. It must be given the attention it deserves for both health and fire prevention reasons.

2. Access all areas
The very nature of extract ductwork is that it carries airborne grease away from the kitchen. Unfortunately that means that it is deposited in hard to access areas. If you are installing a new system, you need to give thought to how it will be accessed and cleaned. If you want to clean an existing system, you may need to install access doors so that operatives can enter the system to clean on a regular basis. Many companies make an effort at cleaning but don’t entirely remove the grease deposits. They must be thoroughly and completely removed – or you haven’t removed the fire risk.

3. Insurance – cover all bases
Statistics from the Association of British Insurers tell us that pay outs on fires caused by improperly maintained extractor ducts amount to roughly £65m each year. However, what is even more alarming is that there are a large number of claims disallowed each year because failure to properly clean extract systems has rendered the insurance policy invalid. The true cost of fire damage, therefore, will be many millions of pounds a year more than the official pay out figures. Regular, effective and documented cleaning is the only real way to ensure you are adequately protected.

4. Comply with regulations
Each commercial building must have a responsible person. Where there is a commercial kitchen, failure to remove grease deposits from the extract ductwork can leave the responsible person open to prosecution by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) under Fire Regulations or Health & Safety regulations. As well as the fire risk, grease deposits foster the spread of bacteria and pests, including cockroaches, and the presence of these in ductwork, even in an otherwise spotless kitchen, can result in prosecutions by the HSE. If found guilty, you could be facing hefty fines.

5. Appoint a responsible person
The Oct 2005 Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, which came into effect in April 2006, stipulates that building operators must appoint a responsible person for fire safety. The responsible person must ensure that kitchen grease extract systems in restaurants, hotels, pubs, canteens, food production areas, hospitals, schools and anywhere that has a commercial kitchen are cleaned as required by Fire Safety Regulations. This includes the canopies, filters, ductwork, risers and fans. They will also need to make sure that cleaning is conducted in accordance with Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) regulations, in order to protect the building’s occupants, and they should also make sure that they are satisfying all the conditions of their buildings insurance policies.

6. All part of the process
Ductwork cleaning should be high enough profile to have a process for managing it. Identify and assess all the possible sources of risk; prepare a scheme for preventing or controlling the risk; appoint a person to be managerially responsible; implement and manage precautions; and keep records of the precautions implemented. In order to comply with all the regulations you’ll need to make sure this is all covered.

7. Keep to the schedule
As with all cleaning, to be effective, it must be regular. Section 7 of TR/19 is recognised as the leading guidance document for controlling fire risk in kitchen extract systems. It suggests that kitchen extract systems in heavy use – 12 to 16 hours a day – should be cleaned at least quarterly. Those in moderate use – 6 to 12 hours a day – should be cleaned half-yearly. Finally, those in light use - two to six hours a day – should be cleaned at least once a year. Keep to the schedule and you will keep on the right side of the law.
 
8. Use a specialist
Most FM experts don’t have extract cleaning services as an in-house capability, so you should consider appointing a specialist subcontractor. If you do, make a thorough check on their track record and reputation within the industry. Swiftclean, for example, has provided technical input to the Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES Association), BSRIA and CIBSE to assist with developing their own technical advice and standards. If the company that you are considering appointing has a positive relationship with leading industry bodies you are more likely to receive a high quality service. Ask for guarantees that all work is carried out to relevant B&ES Association, BSRIA, Health & Safety guidelines and regulations. Most importantly, all the work done must be fully certified, and post clean reports should be provided on every clean. You may need this evidence should the worst happen.


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