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Grease Extract Ventilation Systems

publication date: Oct 10, 2007
 | 
author/source: Richard Norman
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Richard Norman explains why grease extract systems are a serious potential hazard

As the new Fire Safety Order (The Regulatory Reform [Fire Safety] Order 2005) reached its first anniversary in October, it seems timely to check out how well those responsible for the safety of a building’s occupants have complied with its requirements. This legislation replaces more than one hundred pieces of fire regulations and at the same time makes some significant changes in the responsibilities for fire safety.

Most significant is to transfer the responsibility for ensuring that all possible precautions and actions have been taken to protect building occupants from the dangers of fire away from Fire Authorities and onto the shoulders of those responsible for buildings or premises. Fire Authorities no longer issue fire certificates and have a changed role. It is their responsibility to police the new legislation and they have the powers to inspect premises to ensure appropriate fire prevention measures and means of escape have been put in place.

With their powers of enforcement, the Fire Authorities have the legal right to check that fire risk assessments have been carried out. In a recent statement, the Assistant Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade made it clear that Parliament has given Fire and Rescue Services substantial powers for enforcement and fire investigation. He underlined their role to monitor compliance and take appropriate action against those who do not comply.

The law makes it clear that fire risk assessments must be carried out in any office or factory where more than 5 people are employed on the premises. Findings of the fire risk assessment have to be recorded and shared with other interested parties. This has particular relevance for multioccupied premises. In such a building the landlord / owner / managing agent is responsible for the areas which affect the safety of building occupants in general.

They will have responsibility for the property protection of installations, including fire alarms, emergency lighting, fire extinguishers, etc.

Any occupier of a leased space in a multi-occupied property who employs more than 5 people will be responsible for carrying out a fire risk assessment. It is a requirement of the legislation for each business so described to appoint a ‘responsible person’. It is this person’s responsibility to ensure that fire risk assessments are carried out and that all necessary action to eliminate, or at the very least minimise, any risk to building occupants is put into effect.

At the same time, the responsible person must cooperate and coordinate with other responsible persons who also have premises in the building, to inform them of any significant risks that have been found which might affect the safety of their employees.

One installation which invariably carries a risk to the safety of all occupants in a multi-occupied building is the grease extract ducting which often runs from a catering facility through a building behind walls and ceilings to exhaust to atmosphere. Fires at Heathrow and in hotels and restaurants have clearly shown that a fire in an extract duct is likely to present a risk to all those who occupy areas adjacent to its path to atmosphere. It is therefore of the utmost importance that in buildings owned by someone else, or where this is more than one occupier and others are responsible for different parts of the building, close liaison is fully effected.

Information must be exchanged on any significant risks that have been identified which might affect the safety of building occupants wherever they are situated. Similar cooperation is essential in ensuring effective action can be taken to eliminate potential fire hazards which might threaten the safety of all the building’s occupants.

Where, for example, potentially fire hazardous grease deposits have been identified in grease extract ducting running through a building to exhaust to atmosphere the ‘responsible persons’ for each of the building tenants must cooperate in arranging entry to their premises in order for the extract ducting to be accessed for cleaning and thereby to remove fully the fire hazard to all occupants.

Should a fire occur and it is found that fire risk assessments have not been carried out the person or persons responsible for the safety of building occupants could face personal liability claims in the event of a fire, and in cases where there was injury or death, likely criminal prosecution. As Managing Director of a large fire prevention company, I have been talking to Fire Authorities about the level of compliance with the new legislation. It is clear that performance has not been consistent. Fire Authorities are fully aware of the potential fire dangers in grease extract systems. Several have gone on record as saying that in many buildings these systems represent the greatest potential fire risk to building occupants.

The risk is easy to understand. Cooking processes can operate with high temperatures involving large quantities of oil and combustible food stuffs. The main causes of fire are ignition of cooking oil and proximity of flames to flammable items such as butter.

Grease particles in the fumes from the cooking operation accumulate on the internal surfaces of the ducting, providing the source of combustion, requiring only a spark or flame from the cookers or fryers to provide the source source of ignition. Only professional cleaning in accordance with HVCA TR19 will ensure removal of the fire risk and my company is able to carry out system surveys and provide reports, quite free of charge, to assist management comply with their legal responsibilities.