Fire hazards in grease extraction

10 February 2006
Fire hazards in grease extraction

The problem
A grease-extraction ventilation system draws grease-laden air directly from the areas above cookers, grills and fryers, via the cooker hood, and vents it to the atmosphere. But while the filters in the canopy are designed to trap grease particles, some pass through into the extraction system, coating the inside of the ductwork, the fan and exhaust with flammable deposits.

These grease deposits are easily ignited by even a small flash fire on the cooker, hob or grill, and flames and heat can then quickly spread through the building, causing substantial damage and endangering lives.

Cleaning of the grease-extraction system is frequently overlooked, often because the ducting runs behind false ceilings or walls and, therefore, tends to be in areas that no one feels responsible for.

In fact, almost one-quarter of the 24,000 accidental fires in non-domestic buildings each year are attributed to cooking appliances and, in the past decade, fires in grease-extraction ducts linked to catering facilities have caused considerable damage.

The law
Sweeping changes made to fire safety legislation by the new Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which comes into force in England and Wales on 1 April, will place responsibility for preparing fire-risk assessments, and notifying building occupants of the identified risks, squarely on the shoulders of a designated "responsible person".

This could be an in-house or outsourced manager, or any person deemed to be in control of all, or part of, the premises. In many cases, this could be the catering manager, who, particularly if employed by a contract caterer, would thus be responsible for preparing a fire-risk assessment specific to the catering unit.

Grease vapours produced by the cooking operation and accumulating in the canopies, filters and grease extraction ductwork will present a fire hazard - an ignition source, in the eyes of this legislation. The catering manager will thus have a responsibility not only to his catering staff but to the building occupants in general to ensure that the fire hazard is removed, whether by remedial action carried out directly or in conjunction with the client.

Expert advice Inspection and cleaning of grease-extraction systems require specialist techniques, training and equipment, and should be carried out only by a qualified professional contractor, not left to a general cleaning contractor.

The Heating and Ventilating Contractors' Association's (HVCA) TR19 guidelines, launched last summer, lay out specific recommendations for cleaning practices for grease-extraction systems. These underline the importance of using only contractors which comply with HVCA recommendations, as the use of non-approved contractors could result in inadequate cleaning and disputed insurance claims in the event of a fire.

TR19 also specifies how often you need to have your extraction system cleaned, depending on the amount and type of cooking that is done.

Beware! Indepth Hygiene has visited 464 premises in the past 12 months and found that, in 78% of catering units, the grease-extraction system was in need of cleaning to remove fire hazards.

This is a small improvement on 2003, when similar research found that more than 90% of such systems linked to catering facilities were not being properly or regularly cleaned.

The change in the law means that failure to have systems thoroughly and regularly cleaned could result in prosecution of the responsible person if a fire were to cause damage to property and/or injury to building occupants.

In addition, as a result of the escalating costs of compensation for losses arising from major fires, insurers are now starting to include clauses in their policies requiring that specific action be taken to reduce fire risks in grease-extraction ducting by the regular removal of hazardous deposits.

Norwich Union, one of the UK's leading insurers, now states: "Kitchen extraction ductwork needs to be inspected internally to check on the build-up of grease deposits and cleaned annually as a minimum, although the exact frequency will depend on the level of usage of cooking equipment."

Increasingly, those who fail to take note of these developments will find property insurance impossible to obtain, difficult to renew, or invalid in the event of a fire.

ContactRichard Norman
Managing director
Indepth Hygiene Services
020 8661 7888

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