Catering and the Fire Safety Order

February 10, 2010

Most Golf Club Managers will be familiar with the visit from the Environmental Health Officer. Satisfying the local EHO that the catering facility is being operated in compliance with all the Food Hygiene Regulations will be well known to many. But the EHO’s brief is essentially concerned with practices and procedures relating to the storage, preparation and cooking of food. There is however one important aspect of running a Golf Club’s catering facility which does not fall within the EHO’s remit yet requires priority management attention. It is the fire risk to be found in most extract ventilation systems linked to catering facilities which are designed to take grease laden air from the cooking operation to exhaust to atmosphere. As the air cools so grease particles settle on the internal surfaces of the extract ducting requiring only a spark or flash to ignite and create a fire which will be a threat to the safety of staff and golfers.

Before October 2006 the inspection of building fire risks was the responsibility of the Local Fire Authority. All that changed with the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005, now usually referred to as the Fire Safety Order. The responsibility for ensuring the building occupants are not at risk from fire is now placed squarely on the shoulders of owners or managers of buildings and premises. A Golf Club Manager fits this profile and in the terms of the legislation would be named ‘the responsible person’. His essential responsibility is to carry out comprehensive fire risk assessments of the premises and to take appropriate action to eliminate, or at the very least to minimise fire risks to building occupants.

At a recent seminar a spokesman for the Fire and Rescue Services stated “Uncleaned grease extract systems present probably the greatest potential fire risk in buildings with catering facilities”. He was referring to the typical extract system which takes grease laden air from the kitchen canopy to exhaust to atmosphere.

To underline his message, in the last months of 2009 there were six serious fires in restaurants involving uncleaned grease extract ventilation systems. The destructive force of these fires resulted in major structural damage and will lead to lengthy closures and inevitable loss of business revenue.

The Fire Safety Order has real teeth. For example, the ‘responsible person’ can be prosecuted for failing to fulfil his responsibilities, and in the event of death or injury resulting from a fire be subject to criminal prosecution. There is also the question of property insurance warranties to be fulfilled. More and more property insurances now spell out the frequency with which grease extract systems should be cleaned, and most commonly these require cleaning every six months.

A NOTE OF CAUTION: Unfortunately there are so-called cleaning contractors who will promise to clean the grease extract system only to clean where there is easy access (usually immediately behind the canopy filters and the exhaust grille for example). Because so often the work is not properly checked the ‘responsible person’ accepts the contractor’s assurance that it has been cleaned.

In three out of the six cases mentioned above the insurance companies are disputing the claim because the extracts had clearly not been cleaned of fire hazardous grease deposits to meet the requirements of the insurance policy warranties although the owners thought they had been cleaned. The ‘responsible person’ must check the system after any cleaning. If, for example, no access panels in the ducting can be found he can be fairly sure the internal ducting surfaces have not been cleaned of fire hazardous grease deposits in compliance with the Fire Safety Legislation and insurance conditions.

Incidentally, even when the catering service has been contracted out the responsibility for meeting the requirements of the Fire Safety Order remain with the Golf Club and cannot be passed to the caterer.

My company, which is the UK’s leading provider of specialist ventilation system cleaning, will check out whether your grease extract system is a potential fire hazard and provide you with a “risk of fire survey”. It will be carried out free of charge and will tell you whether or not you are complying with the Fire Safety Order and the terms of your insurance policy. To arrange for a risk of fire survey to be carried out free of charge please call 020 8661 7888 or email