Don't let your business go up in smoke over Christmas, says Norwich Union

Article date: 15 December 2008

With the increase in food preparation during seasonal highs, businesses need to pay closer attention to maintaining their catering extraction systems, says Norwich Union, soon to be Aviva.

The warning comes as almost a quarter of the 24,000 accidental fires that happen each year in commercial properties are attributed to cooking and extraction systems1.

Allister Smith, fire risk manager for Norwich Union, said: "Too often, businesses don't give enough consideration to cleaning their kitchen extraction systems effectively.

"When deposits of grease build up in extraction ducting, there is potential for these to ignite and fire can spread rapidly throughout the entire ducting system.

"The consequences of a fire occurring in the extraction ducting can be devastating, not only to the property, lives of occupants and fire fighters, but also to the future of a business. Business interruption costs are likely to have a significant impact, as an out of action kitchen is catastrophic to a restaurant or licensed premises, particularly during a peak season.

"The current economic climate might be forcing catering establishments to cut back on the frequency of cleaning and maintenance regimes and on employing external contractors to clean its kitchen ducts, but this can increase the risk of a fire.

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, the onus is on an appointed ‘responsible person' who has a legal duty to carry out a fire risk assessment and take steps to reduce a potential hazard.

"Staff training is crucial in minimising the risk of fire and should include: understanding the risks of grease in the ductwork; how to use commercial cleaning chemicals; how to isolate the extractor fan; cleaning methods for grease filters; switching off appliances individually rather than at the mains; reporting of faulty controls and sensors; fighting cooking fires and understanding fire detection and extinguisher systems; safe handling of oils, fats and cooking appliances.

Smith added: "The ducting equipment itself presents additional risk factors, such as the design of the extract ventilation, including length of ducts, fan types as well as the grease filters. Because extraction ducts often run through a building to reach either a roof or are channelled to an external wall to extract fumes, this can invariably result in the entire property being put at risk of fire.

"Paper napkins and other waste inadvertently left in cooker hoods or inside the extract ducting can also cause a fire. Keeping records of training and maintenance is essential. Should there be a fire or accident, these records may provide the only defence against prosecution.

"A good contractor will always ensure a thorough, deep clean is carried out. Norwich Union, in particular, has special arrangements with professional kitchen duct cleaning firms, EMS Ltd and Rentokil Hygiene Ltd, to provide discounted rates to policyholders.

"If a business fails to ensure an adequate cleaning regime is in place to clean its kitchen ducts, it could jeopardise a claim for loss or damage should a fire occur. Most insurers clearly stipulate their requirements for ducting cleaning and these are built into policies as claims conditions or warranties. The requirements are things which a sensible restaurateur will be doing anyway, but it is always worth checking that your regime is in accordance with what your insurer expects."

The frequency and scale of kitchen duct fires has lead RISK Authority (formerly InFiReS), and the Building Services Research and Industry Association (BSRIA), to publish ‘Recommendations for Fire Risk Assessment of Catering Extract Ventilation', a guidance document aimed at helping those 'responsible people' to assess fire hazards in a catering kitchen and take suitable precautions. This is available free of charge and can be downloaded from (link is no longer active).

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Press office contacts:

For further information, please contact: Sam Bramwell at Staniforth on 0161 919 8024/077381 96667 or Vicki Burn on 01603 682 224/ 07800 692909.

Notes to Editors

This press release should not be relied upon as Legal advice.

Norwich Union is the UK's largest general insurer with a market share of around 15%, with a focus on insurance for individuals and small businesses.

It is a leading provider of life, pensions and investment products and one of the largest Financial Adviser (FA) providers.  FAs provide over 70% of the company's long-term savings business in the UK.

In the summer of 2009 Norwich Union will change its name to Aviva.  Aviva is the world's fifth largest insurance group and operates in 27 countries.  Aviva is to become the customer brand worldwide, thus enabling the company to compete even more effectively on a global scale for the benefit of customers, staff, business partners and shareholders.

Norwich Union's news releases and a selection of images are available from Aviva's internet press centre at

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