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Kitchen ducts - ensure yours are not a recipe for disaster

We may well be entering the busiest time of year for the hospitality industry, but you ignore certain elements of your business at your peril. While kitchen ducts may be out of sight, they should never be out of mind as grease build-up in extraction systems is one of the most common causes of fire in catering establishments. By Allister Smith, property risk manager for Aviva

Of the 24,000 accidental fires per year in commercial properties, around 6000 are attributed to cooking and extraction systems. Businesses need to pay closer attention to maintaining their catering extraction systems, since claims arising from fires caused by poorly maintained kitchen extraction systems regularly cross insurers’ desks, and many of these fires could have been avoided with good risk management practices.

Too often, businesses don’t give enough consideration to cleaning their kitchen extraction systems effectively.

In many cases, grease deposits that have built up in extraction ducting become ignited and cause rapid fire spread throughout the entire ducting system. As extraction ducts may often be routed through other parts of a building to reach either a roof, or are channelled to an external wall to extract fumes, we have seen some cases where the entire property has been consumed by widespread fire damage as a result.

The consequence of a fire occurring in the extraction ducting can be enormous, not only to the property, lives of occupants and fire fighters, but to a business’s bottom line. Business interruption costs are likely to have a significant impact, as an out-of-action kitchen is catastrophic to a catering establishment or licensed premises.

FireGreek tragedy

Aviva has seen a number of devastating commercial kitchen fires in recent times. For example, a Greek restaurant that had a 24-hour takeaway facility – where the dangers of the immense amount of grease being deposited in the ducting were simply not recognised by the owners – suffered a large fire.

As a 24-hour catering operation, cleaners were simply unable to carry out the work needed. Shutting down the fryers meant lost profits. The grease had accumulated over several years to the point that this was effectively a fire waiting to happen.

Help is at hand

The insurance industry is trying hard to raise awareness among bar and restaurant businesses of the dangers of not paying attention to grease and oil build-up in the kitchen extract ductwork of catering premises. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) makes it a legal requirement for the nominated ‘responsible person’ in the workplace to carry out regular fire risk assessments and take necessary steps to reduce any potential fire hazards.

The alarming frequency and scale of kitchen duct fires has lead the RISC Authority (Research, Insight, Strategy & Control Authority), and the Building Services Research and Industry Association (BSRIA) to publish together a guidance document that is aimed at helping those who are responsible for assessing fire hazards and taking suitable precautions in commercial kitchens. Recommendations for Fire Risk Assessment of Catering Extract Ventilation can be downloaded free of charge via

FREE fire risk assessment

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False economy

Businesses failing to pay adequate attention to cleaning their extraction systems could be doing so for a number of reasons. The usual suspects in this arena are ignorance and cost. Unfortunately, due to the current economic climate it is more often than not cost issues that prevent businesses from ensuring theirs is not only a legally run but safe establishment.

Many insurance policies contain specific conditions relating to regimes of kitchen extraction cleaning. If a fire occurs within the extraction system and can be shown to be associated with inadequate cleaning, it could jeopardise a claim for loss or damage.

In assessing risk, one has to consider fire hazards such as cooking equipment left unattended or not switched off after use, poor maintenance, or the absence of safety thermostats and shut-off devices in appliances. Flames, sparks and hot gases from other cooking can ignite combustible deposits inside extract ducts, which will quickly spread around the building.

FireStaff training

The training and expertise of staff are crucial in minimising the risk of fire. Staff should know how to use commercial cleaning chemicals, and know what to do in the event of a fire breaking out. It is vital that all staff understand the risks of grease in extraction systems as well as how to use the specialist tools required to remove the grease.

It should also be compulsory for staff to undergo safety training to learn how to isolate the extractor fan or identify faulty controls and sensors.

Keeping records of staff training and property maintenance is essential. Should there be a fire or accident, all these records may provide the only defence against criminal prosecution for non-compliance with the RRO.

Cowboy cleaners

Finally, when employing professional cleaning contractors, you must always be aware that some of these ‘experts’ have been known to quite literally ‘cut corners’. Bends and corners of ducts – which often trap highly flammable grease deposits – are hard to access so can be all too easy to ignore. A good competent contractor will always ensure a thorough, deep clean is carried out.

For further information on fire procedures at work visit

LawLaw in a nutshell

Despite stringent legislation, there are still businesses and other organisations that are flouting laws and risking prosecution by failing to have basic fire procedures and safety equipment in place, according to workplace equipment provider Slingsby.

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, all employers are required to carry out a fire risk assessment to identify potential hazards and then take action to reduce them. Employers must also have a plan in place in case of emergency that all employees are aware of, nominate people to assist in implementing it and provide relevant training where necessary.

All buildings should have adequate escape routes that suit the size and layout of a building and relevant signage should be displayed detailing fire procedures and highlighting exits. In premises where employees could be unaware of a fire, either because they can’t see it or they are too far away to hear warnings from colleagues, suitable fire alarms should be installed and emergency lighting may be necessary in escape routes that are very dark or used during the hours of darkness.

Lee Wright, marketing director of Slingsby, explains: “In most cases, introducing fire procedures is quick and easy, yet we still regularly visit workplaces that require help because they are breaking the law. In every workplace there should be a nominated person who is responsible for taking charge of the fire procedures.

“This involves carrying out and regularly reviewing a risk assessment, making sure all employees are aware of the fire procedures, ensuring that the workplace has the correct equipment in place and that it is maintained in accordance with both the law and the manufacturer’s guidelines. It’s also vital that any employees who would be expected to use extinguishers, or other more complicated equipment, have had relevant training.”

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