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Local authorities face up to fire risks
Compliance Principal Consultant Paul Downing’s Presentation to Westminster City Council EHOs
Since the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) in late 2006, building owners and managers have faced far more stringent requirements to carry out fire risk assessments and manage those risks effectively.
Local authority environmental health officers (EHOs) are particularly focused on the threat posed by poorly cleaned ventilation ductwork and kitchen extract systems and have been urging building managers in their boroughs to tackle this serious problem.
Paul Downing, led a delegation from the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’(now B&ES) Association,who presented a seminar to over 30 EHOs employed by Westminster City Council. He told delegates that to few building owners were aware of the Fire Safety Order and so had failed to carry out the mandatory fire safety risk assessment, which would flag up the serious threat posed by poorly maintained ventilation systems.
“Fires are an occupational hazard in commercial kitchens, but their impact is made far worse by the rapid spread of the fire through poorly maintained extract systems and ductwork,” says Downing “If grease deposits in uncleaned ductwork are ignited they will spread the fire rapidly to other parts of the building – we have seen this happen on many occasions.”
He also points out that many insurance companies are now making it a condition of cover that building managers have a planned maintenance strategy in place and, in the event of a fire, they will insist on seeing evidence that ductwork. cleaning had been carried out before agreeing to pay out.
Failure to comply with the Fire Safety Order by identifying potential ignition sources and putting a comprehensive risk management process in place can lead to hefty fines and possible prison sentences for the designated responsible person.
The Building and Engineering Services Association (Now BESA) advises that extract systems in commercial kitchens that are in heavy use i.e. 12 to 16 hours a day should be thoroughly cleaned every three months. Medium use systems – 6 to 12 hours per day – should be cleaned every six months and lighter use – 2 to 6 hours – once a year.
other visible parts of the system are usually quite well cleaned by the kitchen staff so an external visual inspection will show a gleaming and apparently well maintained system, but the hidden parts of the system often tell a very different story, says Downing. “Fans and flow control dampers inside the system – as well as the ductwork itself – will be covered in grease if they have not been maintained
and, quite apart from the fire risk, this means they will not work properly so driving up energy consumption and reducing ventilation air quality. “Likewise, attenuators will cease to tackle noise effectively because they are so clogged.”
Downing was a member of the inaugural HVCA (1998) committee that produced the best practice guidance document designed to reduce confusion about standards of ventilation cleanliness, which is now widely used across the building maintenance industry. TR/19, gives comprehensive information about how often a system should be cleaned dependent on the amount and type of cooking that is done. It also specifies approved cleaning methods including access. Building operators who follow the procedures laid down in TR/19 will be able to meet the requirements demanded by the fire safety order.
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