Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Duct Cleaning – Your Legal Responsibility

Duct cleaning is necessary to prevent dangerous build ups of dust, grease, bacteria and mould which can pose serious fire and health risks to the occupants of your building. The risks are so serious that duct cleaning is required by law. Businesses and organisations that fail to carry out duct cleaning to an adequate standard lay themselves open to fines and prosecution, and can lead to a business being shut down either temporarily or permanently.

But what does the law actually say about duct cleaning? And which types of business does it apply to?

Why Duct Cleaning is Required By Law

While Health and Safety law may be a source of humour for some, when it comes to duct cleaning the consequences of not complying with the law can be deadly serious.
Every year there are cases of fires in restaurants and commercial kitchens resulting from kitchen extract systems full of dust and grease. Just one spark from an open flame cooker can be enough to ignite the entire duct system, quickly spreading the fire throughout the building. If the restaurant is part of a larger building – for instance, on the ground floor of a hotel – the fire can easily spread upwards to the rest of the building, creating a deadly risk to all the building’s occupants.

The contents of uncleaned ductwork can include dangerous levels of mould and bacteria. In kitchens these airborne micro-organisms can contaminate food, endangering the health of diners. In other buildings a range of serious illnesses can be harboured including legionnaire’s disease and MRSA. While these are dangerous enough in healthy populations, they can be particularly deadly in schools, hospitals and nursing homes where the occupants have compromised or immature immune systems.

Even in buildings with healthy occupants such as office blocks, shops or factories, a build up of mould and bacteria within a ducting system can encourage the spread of illness through a population and can result in loss of productivity through sickness absence.

So it is no surprise to find the necessity for duct cleaning enshrined in law. This is enforced in two ways. Firstly, government inspectors can, especially in establishments such as restaurants and hotels, demand to see evidence of duct cleaning. Secondly, insurers insist on evidence of regular duct cleaning as a condition of providing fire insurance.

Duct Cleaning - contact Ingot today for a free quote on 0800 731 7892.

Duct Cleaning – The Law

Regular duct cleaning is required by law – several of them in fact. Here are the main laws which apply.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

This act makes it the responsibility of business owners to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees, and all non-employees (customers, visitors, other building occupants etc) who may be affected by business activities.More specifically, owners are required to ensure that premises, plant and machinery do not endanger the people using them – this would include cooking plant and associated kitchen extract systems.Further, employers are required to prevent and control noxious or offensive emissions into the atmosphere. While this has in mind things like fumes from chemical processes, it includes exposure to contaminated air from dirty air ducts.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

This law addresses the physical conditions of the workplace and requires employers to meet minimum standards across a range of issues. It specifically includes ventilation and general maintenance of buildings and equipment. Kitchen extract systems and air conditioning ducts clearly fall under this law.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Under this law an employer must carry out a general risk assessment to minimise risks to health and safety.Specifically, a business owner is responsible for arranging implementation of measures necessary to prevent risk.So it is not enough to identify the possible risks from dirty air ducts – it is necessary to arrange duct cleaning on a regular basis in order to satisfy this law.

Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

Aka “The Fire Safety Order” this piece of legislation came into effect on 1st October 2006 and abolished the need for a “fire certificate” and instead made it the responsibility of business/building owners to have a more in-depth personal understanding of fire risk and to take reasonable steps to minimise risk.

A risk assessment is required to be carried out by an appointed “responsible person” (usually the business owner but this can be delegated) and if your building has ducting of any kind it should be included in the risk assessment. It is the job of the “responsible person” to arrange for any relevant precautions such as duct cleaning to be carried out.

In terms of enforcement, your premises may be visited at any time by an inspection officer from the local fire authority. The inspection officer has the right to entry and the right to require production of relevant documents. This will include a certificate showing that duct cleaning has been carried out within the last 2 years and by a suitably qualified company.

If duct cleaning cannot be shown to have been carried out the inspection officer has the right to issue an alterations notice or an enforcement notice (e.g. that duct cleaning be carried out within a specified timeframe). If the inspection officer believes that the state of the ducts poses a serious fire risk then a prohibition notice can be served to restrict the use of the premises for certain activities (e.g. cooking).

In other words, it can result in your business being effectively shut down. Repeated failure to comply can result in a fine or up to 2 years imprisonment, neither of which are good for business. And it seems that the number of successful prosecutions is rising since the introduction of this law, as the introduction of the “responsible person” makes it far easier for a fire authority to press a case against a specific person. Fines can vary depending on the severity of the case. In one case an Essex company was fined a whopping £240,000 for repeatedly ignoring this law.

Duct Cleaning - contact Ingot today for a free quote on 0800 731 7892.

Duct Cleaning – Does the Law Apply to Me?
These laws and regulations apply to any non-private premises i.e. just about any building other than a private residence.It applies to any building where members of the public may visit or stay, and any building where employees are present, whether or not it is open to the public. It includes all charitable organisations (e.g. offices and hostels). And it includes premises which although may be technically someone’s permanent residence, is nevertheless run as a business (e.g. care homes).

You should therefore assume that these regulations apply to you unless you have specific information that it does not.Some businesses or organisations may not have to worry about arranging compliance directly For instance if you rent offices in a managed building, it will likely be the building owner who is responsible for arranging duct cleaning. As a business owner you are obliged to show that you have carried out a fire risk assessment for your business. This should include checking that the building that you occupy has its own adequate fire safety in place - you should be able to ask to see the latest cleaning certificate and ask about the cleaning schedule.

Will Cleaning Every 2 Years Make Me Compliant?

Not necessarily. Cleaning every 2 years in the absolute minimum regardless of the type of building or activities within it. But the above laws make it clear that you are responsible for assessing the actual risk and putting in place arrangements to address that risk.So, if you run a high volume fast food restaurant with a bank of fryers and grills, you can expect your ducts to fill up with grease far quicker than if you run a sandwich and coffee shop. Similarly, a clothing factory or shop can expect air conditioning ducts to fill up with dust and cloth fibres much quicker than a office housing a few computers and a handful of people. Duct work needs to be regularly inspected to see if cleaning has become necessary and a schedule put in place which reflects the actual cleaning requirements of your particular establishment.

Duct Cleaning – How to Stay on the Right Side of the Law

Luckily, compliance with the law could hardly be easier. All that is required is a phone call to Ingot to arrange regular cleaning of your ductwork. We are HVCA approved and can provide the necessary certificates required by fire authorities and insurers. And if you are in doubt about whether you need to clean more frequently than the statutory 2 years, we can also arrange inspections to let you know whether more frequent cleaning might be necessary.

Duct Cleaning - contact Ingot today for a free quote on 0800 731 7892.

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