Dirty ducts are a fire risk

19 September 2011
Dirty ducts are a fire risk

Don't get burned by ignoring the potentially devastating problems caused by kitchen extract systems and ventilation ductwork, says Ian Bartle

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order came into force almost five years ago. In theory it should have had a major impact on the way in which the catering industry conducts its responsibilities in terms of fire safety issues. In many ways it has but it's no longer a case of just thinking in terms of employee safety.

With so many commercial kitchens now located in buildings that have multiple usage, fire protection procedures must be considered with regard to the whole building.

With a commercial kitchen it's not just the hot oils and naked flames that cause the high fire risk. Research carried out by the Heating and Ventilation Contractors' Association (HVCA) shows that almost 25% of fires in commercial properties can be attributed to cooking appliances, often through problems in extract systems and ventilation ductwork.

Grease and other residue builds up within the system and this then leads to the coating igniting with the consequence of a much larger fire breaking out.

HVCA warns that as poorly maintained kitchen extraction ductwork is an obvious fire risk, insurance companies will very likely refuse claims where a fire is traced back to grease laden ductwork.

Restaurant owners and managers have seen to their cost that neglecting the potential hazard of unclean extract ducting can result in a loss of business, considerable repair costs, potential prosecution for non-compliance with the law and insurance claims declined.

However, the cost of regular cleaning procedures plus the cost of inspection and re-commissioning can hit profit potential.

So what's the alternative? Owners and managers need to ensure they have a fire suppression system fitted that's specifically designed for commercial kitchens and protects both the cooking area and the ductwork on a permanent basis. Ideally it should provide fire risk cover from the last nozzle at the extract plenum downstream along the entire length of the ductwork to the extract fan or point of extract to the external environment.

Where ductwork goes beyond 5m or in multiple occupancy buildings, this isn't just desirable, it's essential. So speak to a reputable specialist before it's too late.

Remember, it's your responsibility.

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