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Ductwork Dangers

Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of ductwork cleaning business Swiftclean, reminds us that while kitchen extract ductwork may be out of sight, it must never be out of mind. Hidden away in your professional kitchen’s ductwork is a serious potential fire hazard that needs constant attention. By law, the deposits of grease, oil and fat in your ductwork must be professionally removed on a regular basis. Failure to do so may jeopardise your building’s insurance.

Grease could be the undoing of youGrease could be the undoing of you

In around 25% of cases investigated by forensic fire investigators, fires are reportedly made significantly worse by allowing the spreading of flame through inadequately cleaned or uncleaned ductwork, which acts as a chimney and route for fire to spread, often carrying the fire beyond the kitchen into residential quarters and even adjacent properties – especially in multi-occupancy buildings.

You have been warned

property and you cannot prove that you have done all you can to remove grease deposits from your kitchen’s ductwork in line both with good practice and the conditions of your insurance policy, you could be facing serious consequences. A bleak financial future with no insurance pay out could even be followed by proceedings against you for not complying with your legal responsibilities under the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order.

DIY not acceptable

Some of the grease removed during a Swiftclean fire safety ductwork system cleanSome of the grease removed during a Swiftclean fire safety ductwork system clean

Compliance is actually fairly simple. It is down to regular, effective fire safety cleaning; but this is a specialist job. Most kitchen operatives and cleaners, who maintain an otherwise spotless kitchen, simply do not have the expertise to ensure that ductwork cleaning is carried out in accordance with the law and is certified and documented to give you some legal protection, should the worst happen despite your best efforts.

You may find that parts of the ductwork are inaccessible, but these too have to be cleaned to comply with the law. A specialist will be able to install strategically located access panels that will allow regular cleaning on an ongoing basis in order to maintain compliance – this is not a one-off task.

Regular cleaning required

How often you are required to clean will depend on how much each kitchen is used. At Swiftclean we recommend, as a minimum, cleaning in accordance with Section 7 of TR/19, which is the recognised leading guidance document for controlling fire risk in kitchen extract systems. This recommends that if the kitchen extract system is in use for 12 to 16 hours a day it should be cleaned at least quarterly. Kitchens that receive more moderate use – six to 12 hours a day – should be cleaned half-yearly. Finally, those in light use – for two to six hours a day – should be cleaned at least once a year. Some responsible restaurant chain operators recognise that duct fires are such a significant risk to their operation and company brand that they are known to have their ducting cleaned as often as every two weeks in their flagship sites, where turnover and covers are at their highest.

Ductwork with three inch grease layer prior to cleaningDuctwork with three inch grease layer prior to cleaning

Keeping records

Following the guidelines within TR/19 as a minimum, and making sure that this fire safety cleaning is certified and fully backed by photographic evidence, is vital. If a fire does break out and you have documentation proving that you have fulfilled your legal responsibility, you will have some protection against prosecution. This is well worth having, because if gross negligence manslaughter is proved, when individual officers of a company (directors or business owners) by their own grossly negligent behaviour cause death, which is clearly possible in the event of fire, the offence is punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment.

Health & Safety

As well as the fire hazard, grease does of course pose a risk in terms of Health & Safety legislation. Again, you may be scrupulous in cleaning every visible part of your kitchen, but on the inner surfaces of uncleaned ductwork – where fat, oil and grease accumulate – a perfect breeding ground can develop, both for bacteria and pests such as cockroaches. If this isn’t tackled, then no matter how meticulous you are about cleaning elsewhere in the kitchen, you may still have a hidden health hazard. Naturally, this could affect customers as well as your own staff and if a health inspection reveals this, or staff and diners are made ill through lack of sufficient hygiene, you could be fined heavily for not cleaning the ductwork. Needless to say, the bad publicity thereafter will destroy the good name you have worked hard to secure for your business because, after all, metaphorical mud sticks as fervently as FOG.

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