Failure to test and maintain fire prevention equipment can lead to serious consequences

Ventilation duct systems may be out of sight but should never be out of mind when it comes to fire prevention says Dermott Quinn MD of duct maintenance specialist Ductbusters. “Ducting provides the perfect conduit for fires to spread rapidly through buildings – and into neighbouring buildings,” he says. “The heat build-up inside ducts can cause combustible materials nearby, such as roof joists, to ignite;  dust, debris and drafts within ductwork will also  exacerbate the spread of fire, leading to significantly higher insurance claims and presenting fire fighters with a more difficult task than needs be.”

All mechanical ventilation systems should have fire dampers installed (Building Regulation 38,   and for healthcare facilities,  the Department of Health’s Health Technical  Memorandum [HTM] 03-01 Part A specifies requirements for fitting of fire dampers).  Dampers are designed to drop down in the event of a fire effectively containing it by creating a physical barrier in the duct.

But regular ‘drop’ testing of fire dampers is essential to ensure that should a fire occur, fire dampers will do their job. Fire Damper Regulation BS9999 states that ‘all fire dampers should be tested by a competent person at regular intervals not exceeding 2 years, and to be repaired or replaced immediately if found to be faulty. Spring-operated fire dampers should be tested annually and fire dampers situated in dust-laden and similar atmospheres should be tested much more frequently, at periods suited to the degree of pollution.’ And, in addition, periodic maintenance of any smoke detector system used to operate fire dampers is required to determine whether detection occurs at the appropriate design smoke density. Any faulty smoke detector systems should be either repaired or replaced immediately. In the case of healthcare establishments HTM 03-01 Part B stipulates annual maintenance of all ventilation plant.

Dermott Quinn comments: “You would think that regular damper drop testing would be a given as part of the ongoing fire prevention procedure, but it is  shocking how many badly maintained and faulty fire dampers we find when we are called into establishments for the first time. We have found fire dampers with collapsed blades, corroded or jammed springs, dampers jammed open with wood, tied up with wire, even dampers incorrectly installed upside down!”

A recent Channel 4 programme highlighted the problem, citing tests in hospitals of 418 fire dampers during 2010 – only 218 passed.

The Fire Safety Order requires that ‘a person who has some level of control in the premises must take reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire’. If a fire occurs and the responsible person cannot demonstrate that they been executing their duty correctly, they can be liable for hefty fines – or in the case of fatality, possible criminal prosecution. In addition, the local fire officer has authority to close any premises if they suspect the correct procedures have not been followed.

Insurers are also becoming increasingly concerned with fire prevention according to Dermott Quinn. He says ”Some insurers are including duct cleaning and maintenance directions as part of their policy requirements and failure to comply with these requirements could void buildings insurance. For the peace of mind of property owners and managers, fire damper testing should be done by a qualified specialist that can provide comprehensive reports, detailing the performance of each fire damper, and recommending


Dirty ductwork – the hidden fire hazard in your kitchen

Commercial kitchens play a crucial role in many public sector organisations, such as hospitals, schools and prisons, so their maintenance and upkeep is vitally important. They are hardworking environments, not just for the people who cook in them, but also for the equipment. Ductwork, extraction and ventilation systems form a critical part of any catering operation, but as the majority of it is concealed, it can be easy to forget about the hidden danger that lies within.

Accumulated grease and oil within an extract system build up fast, forming an unseen combustion load. Flash flame or very high temperature within the duct can ignite the grease, causing fire to spread rapidly, igniting flammable materials at various points along the ductwork path. These sort of fires are difficult to predict and control and can lead to some difficult evacuation scenarios when you are talking about large numbers of sick, vulnerable or high security residents.

Laurence Freeman, Ductwork Manager at TWO Services says: “I often come across the assumption that cleaning ductwork once a year is satisfactory. This is usually woefully inadequate as you will often find that after only two months the levels are higher than they should be, yet there are still 10 months to go before it will be cleaned again. We use a wet film test to determine the thickness of deposits which must be below 200 microns as a mean across the system. However if thick grease is visible to the naked eye then it is clear that particle levels are already many thousands of microns above this!“

Despite the risk to life and property, and the rigorous reforms to Fire Safety Legislation in 2006, the Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES), estimates that 80% of UK kitchen extract ducts are never cleaned. What’s more, if you have not had a regular ductwork clean by an accredited organisation to TR/19 standards, any insurance policies will potentially be invalidated.

Thorough inspection and cleaning requires specialist techniques, training and equipment and should only be carried out by a professional specialist contractor. It should not be left to a general
cleaning contractor.

TWO Services are experts in commercial cleaning and work to the highest standards. Staff are trained to European directives and accredited to all COSHH, B&ES and Food Hygiene standards. They can carry out cleans overnight, at no extra cost, to ensure minimal disruption to service. Certificates of hygiene, plus before and after pictures are included to give you and your insurers’ added peace of mind that risk is being mitigated.

The wet film test is used alongside an assessment of the hours spent cooking, the number of stations and the type of cooking – is there a lot of frying for example that will affect the speed of hazardous deposit build up? TWO gauge these factors before providing a report that will help your business understand your specific level of risk. They make recommendations on ideal cleaning schedules and any measures that should be taken to reduce grease build up. Where access is an issue, they may suggest installing additional panels (in ceilings for example) to ensure the job can be carried out thoroughly.

Aside from preventing catastrophic fires, compliance with TR/19 does have many long-term positives. Less overheating, fumes and smells means that staff will be more comfortable, leading to improved productivity and less work related health issues, while clean equipment means reduced wear and tear, increasing lifespan. Energy bills should fall dramatically as once ventilation fans are free from the extra weight of dirt built up on their surfaces it takes up to 35% less energy to make them move.

Finally, in the case of outbreaks of bacterial infections and airborne germs such as Norovirus (a particular threat in closed environments such as care homes, hospitals and schools) TWO can even offer a fairly unique sanitisation service. After cleaning, the ventilation ducts and any hard surfaces are ‘fogged’ with a food-safe substance that kills bacteria such as e-coli, salmonella, c-difficle and various airborne and surface viruses in 30 seconds, providing a barrier that lasts 30 days.

When was the last time your ductwork was cleaned by an expert? Why not give TWO Services a call today on 0800 22 44 33 and quote BFM for a 10% discount on your first clean with them. If you need deep kitchen cleans, maintenance or equipment supply, they can quote for that too. Visit to find out more.