Infozone: Check your fire insurance

25 June 2004
Infozone: Check your fire insurance

The problem
A fire has damaged or destroyed your hotel or restaurant. When you try to claim on the insurance, the insurer refuses to pay until you can produce evidence of regular deep-cleaning of high-risk areas specified in the policy.

Expert advice
Increasing numbers of fire insurance policies now stipulate that areas of a kitchen posing a particularly high fire risk must be cleaned on a regular basis.

The policy document of one leading insurance company that provides cover to hundreds of hotels and restaurants in the UK states that extraction hoods, canopies, filters and grease traps must be cleaned once a month, and that grease extraction ducting must be cleaned at least once every six months.

Growing numbers of fires and consequential losses mean pressure is being brought on the catering and hospitality trade to reduce fire risks by ensuring these key areas are properly cleaned.

There are about 5,000 fires each year in non-domestic fat fryers, and although there are no precise national figures for the number of fires in kitchen grease extract systems, the London Fire Brigade tackles 50 large fires every year involving commercial cooking and extract ducts.

In recent years, fires in grease extract ventilation systems have resulted in severe damage at Heathrow Airport, the Amberley Castle hotel, West Sussex, the Hanover International hotel in Basingstoke, Hampshire, and the Albion hotel in Brighton.

A fire in a grease extract duct in particular can cause devastating damage. Even a small flash fire on a hob or grill can ignite the grease deposits in the ductwork behind the cooker hood, with flames spreading quickly along the duct. They can then break out into the building at joints or other weak points to cause damage and endanger lives.

The only solution is prevention, by regular cleaning of the entire internal surfaces of extract ductwork - a specialist task that cannot be performed by kitchen staff. Access panels of at least 300mm x 100mm must be in place every three metres to allow thorough cleaning of the internal surfaces. Large vertical risers may require rope access techniques in order to clean inside the ductwork.

Professional cleaning contractors will provide written and photographic "before" and "after" reports on the cleaning, which are excellent evidence of compliance with the relevant conditions in the insurance policy.

The law
The insurer is entitled to refuse claims under your policy unless you can demonstrate compliance with all the conditions contained in the policy and attached schedules. So check the detail of clauses in your insurance policies. Ignorance is no defence.

Check list

  • Read your policy carefully. If in any doubt, contact your fire insurance company for clarification.
  • Make sure hazardous areas such as fryers and cooker hoods are cleaned in accordance with the policy wording.
  • Call in professional contractors with properly trained operatives and full professional insurance to clean extract ductwork at the intervals specified in the insurance policy.
  • Obtain evidence of a thorough clean - written and photographic - and keep it in a safe place, ideally with your fire risk assessment of the grease extract systems which by law you are required to have produced.
  • For more information contact the Association of British Insurers (020 7600 3333), or read its useful guidance, Fire Risk Assessment - Catering Extract Ventilation.

After a serious fire at a hotel in the South-east of England, the insurance company has refused to settle the £2m claim because it says the owner didn't have the kitchen grease extract system regularly deep-cleaned in accordance with the terms and conditions of the policy.

Check your policy carefully and ensure you can prove you have a proper system of inspection and cleaning in accordance with the HVCA industry specification TR/17.

Richard Norman
Indepth Hygiene Services
020 8661 7888

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