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Richard Norman, Managing Director of Indepth Hygiene, evaluates the business implications of leaving grease extraction systems untouched in commercial kitchens.

In nine out of 10 fires linked to catering facilities, uncleaned grease deposits in grease extract ducting have ignited to make fires more widespread and destructive. In facilities with large kitchens, such as hotels and shopping malls, filters alone cannot remove all traces of grease and dirt from the air. Over time, a layer of grease and dirt builds up on the surfaces of ventilation ducts, canopies and extractor fans. The evidence that grease deposits in extract ventilation systems present a serious fire hazard is compelling, but many establishments don’t prioritise grease extract cleaning.

The cost of neglecting grease extract cleaning can be very high; business disruption (typically it takes six months to recover from a fire, but many businesses do not re-open at all); and reputational damage and injury (or worse) to staff and the general public. There are also significant legal implications.

Fire authorities believe that the grease extract ventilation system linked to catering facilities is the greatest risk to the safety of building occupants, and indeed grease deposits in extract ventilation systems must be removed for compliance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 England and Wales, and similar legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Fire Safety Order requires that ‘a person who has some level of control in the premises must take reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire’. Should a fire occur in grease extract ductwork where there has been compliance failure and a fatality arises, the ‘responsible person’ could be facing criminal prosecution.

In addition to the requirements of the Fire Safety Order, UK property





insurers, including major providers such as Aviva, Zurich, Liverpool Victoria and AXA, are now demanding kitchen grease extract ventilation ductwork be ‘cleaned in its entirety’ to comply with policy warranties.

The frequency of grease extraction systems is normally determined by usage. The industry standard TR/19 from B&ES states, for heavy use (around 12 to 16 hours a day), the system should be cleaned every three months. For moderate use (six to 12 hours a day), systems should be cleaned every six months, and for light usage (two to six hours a day), cleaning is required every 12 months. However, grease build-up can also be affected by the nature of cooking and fuel being used. Where cooking processes involve fat frying or wood/ charcoal burning, cleaning may need to be more frequent.

In any event, regardless of usage, most property insurers require grease extracts to be cleaned every six months or annually at an absolute minimum, but we are seeing an increasing number of insurers requiring as many as four ductwork cleans per annum under their policies.

We are frequently asked to provide expert witness services in court cases dealing with disputed incidents involving fires in grease extract systems. Businesses need to pay attention to fire risk management; if it is not done in-house, it is essential to ensure the company it is outsourced to is accredited by the Fire Protection Agency (FPA), Institute of Fire Engineers (IFE) or the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH). Failure to ensure this could lead to substantial financial implications if a fire was to occur.

Caterers may believe cleaning and maintenance of their grease extract ductwork to be disruptive and costly. But a professional duct cleaning specialist will work round an organisation’s operating hours to minimise inconvenience and downtime, and costs can start from as little as £300 depending on the location of the ductwork. In any event, the implications of invalidating property insurance by not adhering to the required cleaning regime could be very costly indeed.

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