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Swiftclean fire safety extract cleaning prevents fire damage
Swiftclean fire safety extract cleaning prevents fire damage

Grease – why we’re not summer lovin’ it

Gary-Nicholls,-MD-Swiftclean-Building-ServicesOne of the best things about a good summer in the UK is that it allows commercial kitchens to capitalise on a slightly larger clientele. By adding outdoor covers, more people can be served; but behind the scenes, that also means more hidden grease and a potential threat to compliance, warns Gary Nicholls, MD of Swiftclean Building Services, and member of the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) steering group for TR/19. 

A good summer with plenty of sunshine, such as we experienced in the early months of summer 2017, means that you can increase the number of people that you serve from one commercial kitchen. This may be good news for revenue, but it also presents a few extra challenges, and not just in terms of staffing and customer service.

More cooking means that more airborne fat, oil and grease (FOG) is produced. FOG-laden air is extracted from the kitchen indoor environment by the kitchen extract system and expelled to the outside, in order to help ensure good air quality. As the air cools, however, FOG condenses and is deposited on the inside surfaces of the extract system. The grease deposit that builds up represents a potential fire risk, which must be removed at set intervals in order to meet the requirements of Article 11 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

The problem with warm summer months is that although they allow restaurateurs and canteen operators to increase their revenue, it also means that the grease layer inside the extract system can build up more rapidly. The thickness of the layer that constitutes a fire risk is far less than you might think. In order to reduce the fire risk from grease accumulation in kitchen extract ductwork, the grease layer must be controlled within an average 200 micron tolerance. The maximum average thickness reached before cleaning is required is about half the thickness of an average business card. If you cook for more customers during the summer, this limit will be reached more quickly so the system is likely to need cleaning sooner.

Seasonal trends can affect TR/19 compliance. Christmas is another busy season, so it is wise to make sure the extract system is cleaned at the end of the summer before the increased demand starts; and it also makes sense to make TR/19 cleaning a priority for the New Year, once the festive season has passed. An expert cleaning provider will be able to help analyse patterns of usage and establish the most effective schedule of cleaning. TR/19, very helpfully, contains tables which explain how often you will need to clean your extract system, depending how heavily it is used, but this largely assumes the same levels of usage all year. Seasonal fluctuations should also be factored in.

If the kitchen extract system is not cleaned and the grease deposits removed at regular intervals, the fire risk which builds up can be very serious. Apart from an immediate risk to kitchen staff and clientele, there is a very real risk of the spread of fire through the ductwork to other parts of the property.

Kitchens are frequently located on the ground or basement floors, with offices or accommodation above them.  This could comprise other businesses, private dwellings or hotel accommodation. The ductwork from the kitchen often runs up the outside of the building, but can also be routed through the property itself, up into the roof space. It is quite common for upper floors to be damaged in the event of a kitchen extract fire as the ductwork will act like a chimney and the grease deposits as fuel, spreading the fire much further than the kitchen itself and frequently doing a great deal more damage. Because the fire is initially contained within ductwork, it is also difficult for fire fighters to gain access to tackle it effectively at an early stage.

Access door, Swiftclean Building Services

Access door, Swiftclean Building Services

Access to the ductwork is also critical for regular TR/19 compliant cleaning to be carried out successfully. Even newly constructed kitchen extract ductwork does not always have the full remit of access hatches at the intervals recommended in TR/19 and this is one of the reasons why you should use a specialist ductwork cleaning company which can retrofit additional access doors if needed, in order to complete the clean thoroughly and achieve TR/19 compliance.

Not surprisingly, many insurance companies now insist that TR/19 compliance is maintained as part of the terms and conditions of the insurance policy. It is assumed that the property owner will fulfil all their obligations under fire and safety regulations, in order for the insurance policy to be honoured in the case of a fire. There are now many cases in which insurance companies refuse to pay out if TR/19 compliance cannot be demonstrated.

Evidence of TR/19 compliance requires full documentation. BESA Technical Bulletin TB/009 states that this should include photographs which clearly show the condition before cleaning and that all traces of grease have been removed after the clean. Pre and post clean wet film thickness tests should also be conducted and recorded. In the event of a fire, this constitutes vital evidence that a TR/19 compliant clean has been carried out, by a competent professional technician. The person responsible for the property may also need to rely on full documentation in the event of a fire.  If it is believed that there has been negligence, and that TR/19 has not been complied with, the responsible person may be prosecuted and the consequences can be very serious. If they are found guilty of negligence, a custodial sentence may be imposed. Before and after photographic evidence will therefore be essential to demonstrate that the person has fulfilled their legal obligations and has not been negligent.

It isn’t only the kitchen extract which should be cleaned in accordance with TR/19, the ventilation ductwork which serves the rest of the building must also be cleaned on a regular basis in order to ensure that the building has a healthy indoor environment. How frequently it must be cleaned is determined by its function and how heavily it is used.  Ventilation systems must be classified as high, medium or low, in accordance with TR/19 guidelines.

Ventilation cleaning, Swiftclean Building Services

Ventilation cleaning, Swiftclean Building Services

Large buildings may have several zones with differing classifications.  For example, in a hospital, areas such as operating theatres or intensive care units will be classified as high, as an exceptionally high degree of cleanliness is critical to their usage.  Kitchens will also need a classification of low, medium or high, the level of their usage determining the required frequency of cleaning. General wards, day rooms and visitors’ restaurants might be classed as medium, requiring good air quality but not a sterile environment; while plant rooms and laundries may only require a low classification. High classification systems will need cleaning most frequently, medium areas less frequently and low areas the least frequent of all.  Laundries however, will need to have their tumble drier ductwork cleaned regularly as a build-up of dust, fibres and lint creates a significant fire risk too. Dishwasher ducted systems also need regular cleaning.

Again, TR/19 gives guidance as to how to classify each area, but an expert provider will be best placed to assist with this. They will also be able to devise an overall plan to provide TR/19 compliant cleaning programme which will help to ensure that you achieve and maintain compliance in every differently classified area in the most cost-effective way.

Most general cleaning companies will not provide TR/19 cleaning; a specialist will usually be needed in order to ensure that every minute part of the system is accessed and thoroughly cleaned.  Lives may depend on kitchen extract cleaning; general health, concentration and productivity may be affected if the ventilation system isn’t also cleaned.  In either case, TR/19 cleaning should be high on the cleaning agenda; compliance isn’t an issue on which we should ever cut corners.

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