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Distributors that want to provide their customers with a true all-round service could do worse than remind them why a failure to have kitchen ductwork professionally cleaned is putting their business in jeopardy. Recent incidents prove that identifying a system at risk really can make a difference, writes Paul Downing of Compliance (Air & Water) Ltd.

"Kitchen owners tend to get a bit cranky when a single piece of equipment goes down for a few hours or a cooking part needs replacing. So imagine their reaction if their operation ground to a halt indefinitely.

That was a scenario that faced one London-based restaurant, which after suffering a major fire outbreak took almost 12 months to reopen and a further three years to settle the insurance claim. The incident serves as a timely reminder to your customers why they must carry out regular cleaning of their ducted extraction systems.

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As an industry, it is important to emphasise that if ducted ventilation systems are not cleaned regularly, grease and debris can quickly build up, creating a very serious fire hazard, which in turn can cause thousands of pounds worth of damage, loss of earnings and often lengthy insurance claims.

In the incident mentioned, the fire allegedly started in the cooking range and ignited in the ducting, before spreading to other areas of the building.

It is not the only episode of grease-laden ducts causing fires in recent years. In fact, it’s estimated that 80% of kitchen extract ventilation systems are never cleaned and are, therefore, operating in a hazardous condition.

What’s more, according to London Fire Brigade data, 70% of fires in commercial kitchens are said to originate in faulty ventilation due to the build-up of fat and grease. Unfortunately, as you may already have found, it’s something that a lot of people in the trade put to the back of their minds. It’s often a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, with operators typically more concerned with the hygiene in their premises, such as the prep areas, which they can see with their own eyes. But they need reminding that the build-up of years, or even months in some cases, of grease inside that ducting can pose a fire risk.

Although fire is the main concern associated with grease-contaminated ducting, there are other risks, too. For example, they pose the ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Fortunately, because of the temperatures that ducting tends to get up to, much of this microbial growth is killed off, but it’s when systems are not switched on that there is the potential for it to spread.There’s also the issue of ventilation efficiency, as grease build-up inside the ducting can compromise the efficiency of the fan. Your customers need to know that inside ducting systems are catchment areas, which get more heavily coated in grease than others.

This can put resistance on the fan, which will affect its performance. You then have a double whammy, as this creates the fire risk from the grease build-up as well as unwanted smells and odours accumulating in the restaurant itself.

It is a statutory requirement to have a building risk assessment carried out and ideally this should include the kitchen’s ventilation system. This will ultimately determine how regularly the ducting should be cleaned. This, at the very least, will recommend a clean every 12 months, but depending on the type and volume of cooking and the build-up of grease deposits, it could be as often as every three months.

Not only is it important for operators to undertake a risk assessment and instigate regular cleaning, but it’s vital to accentuate the need for the work to be carried out by a specialist contractor as ducting systems often pose access difficulties. Your customer should be made aware that once the extraction and ducting has been cleaned, a certificate of compliance should be issued together with a post-clean report containing photographs of the ducting before and after cleaning — some companies these days supply CCTV images.

In the event of a fire, this is the first documentation insurance companies will want to see before going ahead with a claim. Likewise, anyone applying for a new policy will generally find their insurance refused unless they can meet standard duct cleaning requirements.

It is also worth noting that up until now finding a reputable contractor to carry out high level cleaning work hasn’t always been straightforward as there is no central database of engineers qualified to carry out the work, like there is with gas engineers, for example.

However, this is due to change. The Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES) has introduced a programme called the Green Book Training Scheme. It carries a certificate so that personnel who carry out the course become qualified duct cleaning operators. Although it is still in the early stages, in future insurance companies will ensure that clients only use duct cleaning companies.

For now, the advice is to ensure kitchen ventilation systems are included in a building risk assessment in compliance with the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order (RRFSO) and the specific terms associated with insurance conditions and warranties relating to ductwork cleaning frequencies.

Paul Downing is principal consultant at Compliance (Air & Water) Ltd, a specialist building services safety consultancy. He is also an associate member of the Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES). www.complianceairandwater.com

Tags : catering equipmentFirefire safetyFire suppressionManufacturersProducts
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