Bad ductwork design can be a maintenance nightmare

One of the greatest threats to business continuity in the catering industry is fire exacerbated by grease deposits in kitchen extract ductwork. Serious thought needs to be given to the ongoing cleaning and maintenance of ductwork at the time of installation or the fall-out could be costly, writes Gary Nicholls of Swiftclean.

"Regular kitchen extract ductwork cleaning is not just desirable in a commercial kitchen, it’s both a legal and fire safety requirement — and rightly so.

A grease fire can turn extract ductwork into an effective channel through which flames and smoke can spread to cause thousands of pounds’ worth of damage to the rest of the building and ultimately it can kill. It can also make buildings insurance invalid so that there may be no pay-out in the event of fire.

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When designing an extract system, therefore, you must bear in mind under CDM regulations that it must be possible to access the system to clean it in order to reduce the risk of fire as much as possible.

Straight runs are easier to clean and also provide less opportunity for fat deposits to accumulate. However, it isn’t always possible to create a ductwork system that avoids turns or elbows, so some careful consideration of these features is essential.

When constructing a ductwork system, make sure you install access doors at critical points such as turns in the ductwork so that operatives can enter the system to clean thoroughly at the regular intervals prescribed under fire safety legislation.

We often see cases of poorly-maintained kitchen extract ductwork that has led to a serious fire, and part of the cause is normally inaccessibility. Fat must be completely removed and this may mean scrubbing and scraping — you can’t just spray cleaning fluid to clean here.

In an existing system there are often occasions when we are required to cut the ductwork and install access doors so that regular cleaning can be carried out in future.

Obviously, including access at the system design stage is a far better option and it is important to bear in mind that under CDM regulations designers have a duty to design systems that are maintainable.

If a fire caused by fat deposits which have not been cleaned results in a fatality, the failure to clean could result in a charge for corporate manslaughter for the business.

Even more alarming, if gross negligence manslaughter is proved when individual officers of a company (directors or business owners) through their own grossly negligent behaviour cause death, the offence is punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment.

When handing over a newly-installed system it is wise to pass on some information about the guidelines for regular cleaning. Section 7 of TR/19 is recognised as the leading guidance document for controlling fire risk in kitchen extract systems. It suggests that if the kitchen extract system is in use for 12 to 16 hours a day it 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.

This type of cleaning is a legal requirement and must be certified to prove it has been done correctly, so it’s also worth advising caterers to employ a specialist rather than a general cleaning company.

As a general rule of thumb, anywhere that isn’t immediately visible and travels significant lengths through the body of the building will need a specialist cleaning company to keep it legally compliant.

If the caterer keeps to a regular cleaning schedule and has evidence to prove it, they will keep on the right side of the law, so a ductwork system that makes this possible is an obvious asset."

Gary Nicholls is Managing Director of Swiftclean, one of the UK’s most established providers of commercial kitchen extract cleaning services. www.swiftclean.co.uk

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