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Compliance is in the air – and water

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Did you know it’s a legal requirement to provide clean fresh air and water to your residents? Gary Nicholls, MD of Swiftclean Building Services, and co-author of TR/19, the widely recognised industry guide to ventilation hygiene, outlines what you need to do to comply.

 

When running a care home, you have several legal responsibilities that may not be immediately obvious. Several of these are concerned with your air and water supplies.

 

Legionnaire’s disease is a ‘flu-like illness, caused by water-borne legionella bacteria, and to which the elderly, frail or infirm are particularly vulnerable. Some people will recover from it, but it can be lethal. In order to ensure a safe, clean water supply you must comply with the requirements of L8, Approved Code of Practice and guidance for the control of legionella, issued by the HSE.

 

You also have a legal duty under Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 to provide a safe environment for employees as well as residents and visitors. Care homes which have served other purposes in the past are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of legionella, often because the plumbing system has been changed and adapted over the years to accommodate the new purpose. You must be sure that there are no ‘dead’ areas in the system where water does not circulate freely. You must, by law, have an up to date risk assessment for legionella, and it is wise to review this regularly.

 

Any pipework, taps or showerheads that have not been used for more than a week, perhaps while a room is unoccupied, must be flushed through before use again, without causing undue spray to occur. Water tanks must also be kept clean and adequately screened from the effects of solar gain. Tepid water provides an ideal breeding ground for legionella. Tanks should be cleaned regularly and any rust, debris, birds or rodents removed. If necessary the tank should be disinfected, refurbished or replaced to ensure a clean water supply. Water from your system in some cases should be tested regularly to detect the presence of legionella.

 

All work must be carried out in accordance with Legionella Control Association (LCA) code of conduct. The penalties for negligence in legionella control are severe; limitless fines for the organisation and, if neglect is proven, a possible custodial sentence for the responsible person.

 

Another essential area for compliance is the annual testing of fire dampers. These are sets of steel louvres which are installed within ventilation ductwork at the point where the ductwork passes through a fire resistant rated internal wall. The opening in the wall creates a potential opening through which fire can travel, using the ductwork as a channel. The louvres should shut automatically to close off this route, delaying or halting the fire, so there is time to evacuate residents and staff to safety. Because they are a potential life saver, you must have fire dampers tested annually, in accordance with BS:9999.

 

Your kitchen extract ductwork is also a potentially serious fire hazard. As food is cooked for your residents, airborne fat, oil and grease travels through the extract ductwork. As it cools, it leaves grease deposits on the insides of the ductwork. A surprisingly thin layer of this grease can represent a fire hazard. The grease itself can fuel a fire, while the ductwork provides a chimney through which it can spread to other parts of the building. The grease layer must be controlled within an average of 200 microns across the surface of the ductwork; this is about half the thickness of an average business card. Even an otherwise spotless kitchen can harbour grease deposits within the ductwork, so it must be removed regularly, in accordance with TR/19, the leading guidance document for ventilation hygiene, which is issued by the Building & Engineering Services Association (BESA.)

 

TR/19 contains handy tables to tell you how frequently your ductwork should be cleaned, depending on the rate of grease build up or initially on how often and for how many hours the kitchen is used for cooking. In a care home, there will obviously be a fairly high demand for meals and consequently, quite heavy use of the kitchen. It is essential that the kitchen ductwork is also accessible for TR/19 compliance cleaning, so if there are insufficient access points, you may need to have additional access doors retrofitted.

 

Your laundry extract system may also pose a fire risk. During the drying process for bedding, clothes and other items, lint, fibres and dust collect in the ventilation ductwork for the driers. An accumulation of dust, lint and fibres is highly flammable and drier extract fires are all too frequent in the UK. These fibrous deposits must be removed on a regular basis, this time in compliance with Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, in order to minimise this fire risk.

 

If you have a mechanical ventilation system, that should also be cleaned regularly in accordance with TR/19, simply to ensure fresher air and a healthy indoor environment. This also requires you to classify your ventilation systems according to the function they serve as high, medium or low. If you have a clinically sterile area, this would probably need a high classification, while bedrooms and living areas would be medium. A boiler room might need a low classification.

 

To provide ventilation, kitchen extract or laundry ductwork cleaning you will need a specialist provider, especially if additional access doors are required to be retrofitted. As compliance in these areas is a legal responsibility, you must have your compliance clearly documented. You may need this evidence in your defence, should the worst ever happen. It is worth bearing in mind that if negligence if proved, your insurance company is unlikely to pay out, so it may be impossible to continue your business.

 

We provide robust documentation of all our services. This includes before and after photography so you can demonstrate that you have complied with your legal responsibilities. You may need this as a defence against prosecution. You should always choose a member of the LCA for legionella control services and for TR/19 compliance, a competent, expert member of BESA. Swiftclean is also recognised as an expert provider by AXA Insurance.

 

That way, you, your staff and your residents can all breathe easily.

 

www.swiftclean.co.uk

Outstanding cleanliness for air and water

By | News, Swiftclean | No Comments

Your school menu may be the healthiest in the education system, but preparing it will still give rise to airborne fat, oil and grease in the hot air stream produced by cooking. You must combat this grease as it represents a serious fire hazard, as Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of Swiftclean Building Services, explains.

 

As grease-laden hot air travels through your extract ductwork, it cools, leaving greasy deposits on the inside of the ductwork. This process also forms a serious fire hazard. Should a kitchen fire reach your extract system, it can use the ductwork to spread to other parts of the building, increasing the risk to staff, students and visitors.

 

Failure to remove these grease deposits can constitute negligence, with all its legal consequences, including prosecution and, potentially, even a custodial sentence. Accumulated grease deposits may also compromise your buildings insurance, so, if you haven’t complied with TR/19, your insurer may refuse to pay you compensation in the event of a fire.

 

The solution to kitchen extract fire safety is to appoint a specialist to clean your ductwork regularly in compliance with TR/19 the leading guidance document on ventilation hygiene. Once the grease is removed, the risk of fire is greatly reduced and your system is compliant. Swiftclean is one of the UK’s leading specialist Kitchen Extract Fire Safety Cleaning experts, providing full compliance with TR/19. To achieve compliance, you will need specialist expert cleaning of the entire extract system, including the canopy, removing all traces of grease. You will also need documentation of your compliance, in case you need to demonstrate that you have not been negligent. We provide full post-clean reports, including before and after pictures of every asset cleaned, because it is essential to document your compliance thoroughly.

 

There may be areas of your system that are inaccessible for cleaning, and these should be rectified wherever possible. We often install additional access points so that a system can be made compliant and kept compliant with TR/19 for the future. Other providers will also provide this service, but it is worth remembering that Swiftclean is recommended by AXA Insurance for Kitchen Extract Fire Safety Cleaning.

 

Within your ventilation system, you may also have fire dampers, sets of steel louvres which close automatically in a fire to compartmentalise your property and delay the spread of fire and smoke. Fire dampers must be tested regularly, in accordance with BS 9999:2017, using a method known as drop testing.

 

Providing clean air throughout an educational building is a legal requirement, as it promotes good health. In an education setting, clean air also helps with concentration and learning. Your mechanical ventilation system should, therefore, also be cleaned in accordance with TR/19, BS EN 15780 and the BSRIA BG49/2013 Air Commissioning Guide.

 

During academic breaks, your water system is often not used for weeks at a time. Tepid, static water provides the perfect breeding ground for legionella during shutdown periods. Holidays are therefore also the best time to carry out water tank cleaning and legionella control services. These must comply with L8, the Approved Code of Practice issued by the HSE.

 

Local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems in science laboratories also need regular specialist cleaning, in compliance with COSHH regulations and HSE guidance (HSG 258) to protect students, teachers and technicians from airborne contaminants.

 

Compliance in these areas may not be an Ofsted requirement, but it should be a top priority for the health and safety of all school users. A standard cleaning company will not have the skills to provide all these services, so you should ensure that you appoint a competent specialist provider.

 

www.swiftclean.co.uk

A swift clean-up in the lunch hour

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Enthusiastic staff from Swiftclean Building Services, based in Aviation Way, Southend on Sea, gave their lunch hour to clean up litter at a local beauty spot. Equipped with bags, gloves and grabbers, courtesy of Rochford District Council, they blitzed part of Cherry Orchard Country Park where it is particularly littered because it is used as a shortcut to and from fast food and retail outlets. Locals were delighted by the results, returning a corner of the park to its beautiful best.

 

The group of more than a dozen Swiftclean employees were led by Jackie Lansley who is an employee and used to live in the local area. She said, “Cherry Orchard Country Park is such a lovely place to walk so it seemed such a pity for it to be ruined by rubbish that had been carelessly dropped. I just thought something should be done about it and my colleagues agreed, so we put together a working party, asked the council for help and did something about it.”

 

The cleaning team set out during their lunch hour, in heat wave conditions, and set to work in the popular 200 acre park. Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of Swiftclean, said, “It’s our business to make workplaces safer and cleaner, so it’s a delight for us to do the same for the families and locals who use the park. We hope that the newly cleaned landscape will encourage people to collect their rubbish and take it home with them.”

 

Jackie commented, “It was also really good fun to do something together and we laughed such a lot. It was great to see it before and after and we hope everyone notices how clean it is and helps to keep it that way. Putting litter in the bin isn’t just a good idea from the perspective of hygiene, it also helps protect wonderful facilities like Cherry Orchard Country Park from the risks of fire during drought and protects the local wildlife.”

 

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Air quality relies on compliance

By | Ductwork Cleaning, Kitchen Extract Cleaning, News | No Comments

For a safe and healthy building, maintaining ongoing ductwork compliance with TR/19 is essential, and will be a legal requirement throughout a ventilation system’s lifetime, as Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of Swiftclean Building Services, and co-author of TR/19, explains.

 

In order to maintain a healthy indoor environment with good air quality, you need a well-designed, clean, TR/19 compliant ventilation system. The leading industry guidance document concerning ventilation hygiene is TR/19 (Second Edition) Internal Cleanliness of Ventilation Systems, which is issued by the Building & Engineering Services Association (BESA). Following this guidance also ensures that you stay compliant with British Standard and European Norm BSEN:15780 and BG49/2013, BSRIA’s guide on Commissioning Air Systems.

 

All ductwork needs to be cleaned, and the accumulated dirt in it completely removed, at regular intervals. The frequency of those cleaning intervals will vary, according to the purpose and usage of each of the ventilation systems. The system in each part of a property must be classified under TR/19 as high, medium or low. For example, in a hospital, operating theatres and laboratories which require a particularly clean environment will require a high classification and more frequent inspection and cleaning as necessary. Wards, offices and visitor areas will require a medium classification and slightly less frequent inspection and cleaning as necessary than the high classification areas. Less populated areas such as boiler rooms or workshops can be given a low classification and will need attention the least often.

 

Kitchen extract systems must also be TR/19 compliant. Cooking even the healthiest food causes airborne fat, oil and grease which, as the exhaust air stream cools, solidify, forming deposits on the inside of the kitchen extract ductwork. These pose a serious fire risk. The thickness of these deposits must be controlled to ensure that average thickness does not exceed 200 microns – approximately half the thickness of an average business card. To ensure this control, the grease must be completely removed on a regular basis.

 

TR/19 contains very helpful tables which indicate how frequently the system must be cleaned, depending initially on how often and for how many hours each kitchen is used and once historical grease accumulation rates are established frequencies should be adjusted to keep within TR/19 defined limits. In a stadium or shopping centre, there may be different catering concessions with widely varying patterns of usage. It is important, therefore, to have a management system in place to control grease levels adequately in each kitchen extract system.

 

A clean mechanical ventilation system is more efficient and therefore takes less energy to run, so TR/19 compliance can reduce your energy costs. Insurance companies expect that you will comply with industry best practice in managing your property, so it may compromise your buildings insurance if you don’t comply with TR/19 and provide robust evidence of your compliance.

 

You must have before and after photography to demonstrate that your system has been regularly, competently and effectively cleaned to make it TR/19 compliant. If the worst were to happen, a fire can spread through your kitchen extract system to other parts of the building. If negligence is proved in the event of a fire, and you haven’t maintained TR/19 compliance, the responsible person could face criminal charges and a potential custodial sentence; so evidence of your compliance will be vital.

 

In order to achieve TR/19 compliance, the system must be fully accessible. A new system must be tested and where necessary fully cleaned and commissioned before being handed over and put into use, but it does not currently have to include the full remit of access hatches or aids to access that TR/19 requires for ongoing compliance. In some instances, we find permanent features such as walls, ceilings and even staircases obstructing the ductwork, preventing access. Where we find inaccessible areas of a system, we can often retrofit additional access hatches to allow TR/19 cleaning to be carried out.

 

You will need expert help and guidance from a specialist provider to achieve and maintain TR/19 compliance.

 

www.swiftclean.co.uk.

 

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Rising damper issues

By | Fire Dampers, News | No Comments

Over a year after the British Standards Institution issued new advice on fire damper maintenance, this area of essential compliance is still not receiving the attention that it deserves – and indeed requires by law – warns Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of Swiftclean Building Services.

 

In carrying out fire damper maintenance we have discovered that a large number of building managers were unaware for some years that they actually had fire dampers installed in the properties for which they are responsible. Some inherited properties with lists of assets which neglected to include fire dampers entirely, others had lists which did include a number of fire dampers, but with no clue as to their type or location. Others have been handed incomplete lists which entirely underestimated the number of assets.

 

Fire damper maintenance advice under BS:9999 used to include recommendations for testing and maintenance based on the construction type of the fire damper itself; one type of fire damper required annual testing, while the other type could be tested less frequently, every two years. This could make devising a regular testing and maintenance programme more challenging, especially without the full details of the type and location of each fire damper. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that awareness of the issue as a whole has a lot of ground to make up, something that we, as a company, are trying hard to address.

 

Since the publication of BS:9999 2017, all fire dampers are required to be tested annually, using a method called drop testing, regardless of their type. Hopefully, this should make establishing a regular testing programme simpler and more manageable; however, more than a year on, many property managers are still playing catch up on this issue.

 

Fire dampers are a vital aspect of some buildings’ fire protection measures. In properties which have both internal fire resistance rated walls and mechanical ventilation systems, there are likely to be fire dampers. Wherever the ventilation ductwork runs through a fire-resistant wall, a potential weak point is created in the wall, leaving an opening through which fire can travel.

 

A fire damper is essentially a set of steel louvres which remain open for most of the time to allow air to circulate freely through the ventilation system, but which close automatically in the event of fire to create a barrier, delaying or even preventing the spread of fire. The drop testing method is designed to ensure that should a fire occur, the louvres will drop into the closed position, sealing the compartment formed by the fire-resistant wall. Typically, these are found where rooms lead off corridors with a fire-resistant wall, so are prevalent in buildings such as hotels, hospitals, offices, schools and halls of residence.

 

Our first visit to a new customer often reveals a history without regular testing. In some cases fire dampers have been installed in the wrong place, or not fixed securely, or occasionally, even upside down. These fire dampers will either not close in the even of a fire, or will not achieve compartmentalisation. Before being put into use, a ventilation system is usually tested to ensure that it has adequate air flow. In the past, engineers have clearly propped the fire damper’s louvres open for testing, then forgotten to remove the makeshift props. In the past we have found beer bottles, soft drinks cans, lumps of wood or pieces of string, forgotten after testing but preventing the fire damper from closing. Regular testing would have detected these hazards, but in many cases an accumulation of years of dust suggests that testing has never been carried out.

 

Fire prevention officers are now clamping down on fire damper testing, and this, while it means greater safety for buildings, also presents a new challenge. Fire damper testing is for many building managers, a new cost for which they must now budget. We are working with property owners and managers to provide phased testing as budget becomes available and to schedule testing for times when ventilation system cleaning is being carried out.

 

If your fire dampers are not yet being drop tested, cleaned and maintained annually, you need to establish a regular testing and maintenance schedule as soon as possible. This is a compliance necessity and should be a safety priority too. There are no two ways about it, fire damper testing cannot be put off indefinitely; both because it is a legal requirement and because, in the long run, lives may depend on it.

 

It really is high time to let fire dampers rise to the top of the to do list for every property manager.

www.swiftclean.co.uk

 

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Swiftclean calls for safety over style in ceiling design

By | Ductwork Cleaning, Fire Dampers, News | No Comments

Swiftclean Building Services, expert provider of fire damper testing and maintenance, and ventilation cleaning in compliance with BESA TB001 & TR/19, has called for greater concern for safety over aesthetics when it comes to ceiling design in commercial and public buildings and multiple residence properties. “We are well aware that access hatches are not the most attractive items,” says Swiftclean Managing Director Gary Nicholls. “However, they are absolutely vital for safety.”

 

The company, which has won multiple awards for its expert air and water hygiene services, says that its technicians frequently encounter situations in which cosmetic features such as plasterboard ceilings have been added to improve aesthetics, but which inevitably hinder essential ongoing cleaning and maintenance. Compliance with TR/19, the leading guidance document on ventilation hygiene, issued by BESA, ensures legal compliance requirements are met in schools, hospitals hotels and a wide range of public and domestic buildings across the UK. The annual drop testing and maintenance of fire dampers in accordance with BS:9999 is also a legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order for property owners and managers.

 

Despite this long term legal responsibility, in too many cases, says Swiftclean, additional bulkheads and false ceilings or other services are erected across installed ductwork, making it impossible for some buildings to comply with the law. There is already a potential tension between the ductwork construction standard, DW144 and the ventilation cleanliness guidelines TR/19 in that, in practice, ongoing compliance with TR/19 requires access at more frequent intervals than is stipulated in DW144. If some of the access hatches installed in compliance with DW144 are subsequently covered over or obstructed, this makes it even more difficult or, in some cases, impossible, to comply with TR/19, potentially throughout the lifecycle of the building.

 

If the ductwork itself is visible, exposed or accessible through false ceilings, it is possible to retrofit additional access doors in order to achieve compliance with TR/19 and BS:9999. However, if, once the ductwork has been installed, it has been hidden behind fixed ceilings and walls, compliance can be highly problematic or prohibitively costly.

 

In these cases, safety is definitely compromised, warns Swiftclean. “Not only does compliance become difficult, but buildings insurance policies may be compromised and the responsible person for the building may be liable to prosecution for non-compliance,” warns Nicholls. “In the event of a fatality, there may be criminal proceedings against the maintenance company and individuals could face a custodial sentence. It seems to us imperative that safety should take precedence over aesthetics in many more situations.”

 

Swiftclean has been campaigning for several years for greater awareness for the need to comply with safety guidelines on the cleanliness and safe functioning of mechanical extract and ventilation systems. Gary Nicholls is a member of the steering committee which advised on the drafting of the TR/19 guidelines, the leading industry document on ventilation hygiene, issued by BESA, the Building Engineering Services Association. From time to time he is called on to serve as an expert consultant and witness in legal cases where non-compliance has been identified.

 

www.swiftclean.co.uk

 

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Fire damper compliance – a new challenge?

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For some facilities managers, the recent focus by fire safety and HSE officers on fire damper safety has represented a new challenge and an extra item on their legal ‘to do’ list, as Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of Swiftclean Building Services, explains.

 

Fire dampers consists of metal shutters, installed within ventilation ductwork, which stay open for most of the time to allow air to flow, but which close automatically in the event of a fire, to delay the spread of fire and smoke and allow more time for the safe evacuation of the building.

 

It is a legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order to test fire dampers at regular intervals in accordance with BS:9999 2008, using a method known as ‘drop testing’. Spring operated fire dampers must be drop tested, cleaned and maintained at intervals of no greater than 12 months; while all other models should be drop tested, cleaned and maintained at least every two years.

 

In accommodation applications, fire dampers must be drop tested annually regardless of type. Care settings must also conform with Health Technical Memorandum (HTM) 03-01: Specialised ventilation for healthcare premises Part B: Operational management and performance verification. In care applications a fire damper testing routine will normally be agreed with the local fire prevention officer.

 

Fire damper testing has been somewhat neglected in the past and, as a result, accurate records have not always been kept for buildings in which fire dampers are required. As a result, far too many facilities managers do not know how many fire dampers their properties have, what type they are, where they are located and more importantly whether they function.

 

Once you have identified the location and type of fire damper, you can work out a schedule for regular testing. Wherever the ductwork of a mechanical ventilation system intersects a fire-resistance rated wall, there should be a fire damper. If the building that you manage has corridors which are a means of escape with individual offices, bedrooms, classrooms or meeting rooms leading off, you will probably have at least one fire damper for each separate room.  In halls of residence or hotels, for example, each bedroom will normally have a fire damper as the ductwork will intersect the fire-resistance rated walls of the corridor.

 

The second challenge may be accessing the fire damper for testing. In the past, some fire dampers were installed without a nearby access door for drop testing, cleaning and maintenance.  In some cases, it may be necessary to retrofit access doors to allow future compliance with BS:9999.  If beams, walls or false ceilings have been installed across or around ventilation ductwork, it may be impossible to retrofit an access door; so extensive remodelling may be required, or it may simply be impossible to comply with BS:9999.

 

In new properties, where FMs have the opportunity to influence construction, they should advocate adequate access doors for all ventilation systems, in order both to maintain fire dampers, and to clean the ductwork regularly, in order to comply with TR/19, the leading guidance document for ventilation ductwork hygiene, issued by the Building & Engineering Services Association (BESA.)

 

Once you have established a regular drop testing, cleaning and maintenance programme, it is essential to document your compliance. As the responsible person for the property, it is vital to be able to demonstrate that you have done everything required by law so that, in the event of a fire or a visit from a Fire Brigade fire safety compliance officer, you are protected from prosecution.  Without this, you could be open to prosecution and in the very most serious of cases could risk a custodial sentence.

 

You will almost certainly need professional help from an expert in fire damper testing that can locate and identify fire dampers and provide testing, cleaning and full documentation. For many FMs, fire damper testing is a relatively new cost area to present to a client, so it is wise to enlist the help of an expert outsourced provider in devising a best value compliance schedule.

 

Your fire damper testing must be cost effective, legally compliant and effective. After all, if you get it right, it could save lives, as well as your reputation.

 

www.swiftclean.co.uk

 

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Fire Dampers – the open and shut case for safety

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Fully functioning fire dampers are a vital safeguard for life and property, as Martin Hembling, Service Delivery Director for Swiftclean Building Services explains.

 

One of the routes through which a fire can spread is the communal ventilation system. While a single ductwork system to serve multiple dwellings makes good logistic sense, it does also introduce some potential weaknesses and hazards, so it is vital that it is designed well, installed correctly and incorporates correctly installed fire dampers which are properly and regularly maintained for the lifetime of the property.

 

In a multiple dwelling, it is vital to preserve the compartmentation of each individual dwelling to delay or prevent the spread of fire. Where ductwork crosses an internal fire-resistant rated wall, it creates an opening in that wall through which fire can spread. It is essential, therefore, that this compartmentation is restored by installing a fire damper – a set of louvres which remain open to allow the flow of air, but which will close automatically in the event of fire. By law, all fire dampers must be tested every 12 months in accordance with BS9999: 2017.

 

The method used is known as drop testing, because it ensures that the louvres of the fire damper will drop into the closed position to form a seal which restores the compartment formed by the fire wall. Unfortunately, this vital area of fire prevention has been overlooked and neglected for years but now, quite rightly, it is being scrutinised and enforced by fire safety offices and should be high on the agenda of Building Control professionals.

 

One of the major problems with fire dampers has been incorrect installation and lack of commissioning. We have found fire dampers in the wrong place – i.e. not in line with the fire wall – or even upside down, so the louvres would have to defy gravity to close. We have also seen them propped open by objects like cans, bottles, bricks, cable ties and pieces of string, no doubt so that an air flow test for the ventilation system could be completed, but then forgotten about. Clearly, these fire dampers were not working correctly when the building was handed over for use.

 

Correct installation and commissioning should be scrutinised and confirmed before the building is handed over; but we would also like to see each building have a plan in place for fire dampers to be tested on an annual basis. Without this, in the event of a fire, these louvres may not function correctly. If they don’t, they simply will not prevent the spread of fire.

 

www.swiftclean.co.uk

 

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A fresh look at ventilation maintenance

By | Ductwork Cleaning, Fire Dampers, Kitchen Extract Cleaning, News, Swiftclean | No Comments

Air quality within social housing is an increasingly important issue; fire safety even more so.  Adequately cleaning and maintaining the ventilation system in multiple occupancy buildings is essential for legal compliance, and for ensuring the health and safety of the property, as Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of Swiftclean Building Services, explains.

 

Multiple occupancy poses a potential for fire to spread from home to home, yet although multiple occupancy housing has been with us for well over a century, it is only for just over a decade that we have had fire legislation for this type of housing, thanks to the passing of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which came into force in October 2006.

 

Within multiple occupancy buildings, much care has been given to ensuring that each dwelling is effectively a separate compartment, so that the risk of fire spreading from one to another is greatly reduced.  Sharing ventilation and extract ductwork for kitchens and bathrooms, however, means that a potential route for fire is re-introduced, leading from one apartment to another, or from the apartment to the building’s communal areas.  Communal ductwork represents a potential weakness in terms of the spread of fire and also a possible cause of widespread poor air quality.

 

In order to restore some of this compartmentation when needed, fire dampers can be installed in the ductwork at the point where ductwork passes through a fire resistance-rated wall.  These are essentially a set of steel louvres which remain open to allow free air flow under normal conditions, but which are triggered by sensors to close automatically in the event of fire.  The closed louvres form a barrier to the spread of flames and hot gases, this barrier helps to delay the spread of fire from its point of origin to other parts of the property.

 

Where fire dampers are fitted, they must be tested and cleaned on an annual basis in accordance with British Standard BS:9999 2017, using a method called drop testing, which confirms that the louvres close effectively.  It used to be the case that the frequency of testing depended on the construction of the fire damper, but the 2017 revision to BS:9999 made it mandatory for annual drop testing, cleaning and any necessary repairs for every type of fire damper.

 

Kitchen extract fire safety cleaning should also be a priority. It is an inevitable result of everyday cooking, that deposits of fat, oil and grease build up as a thin film of grease throughout the kitchen extract ductwork.  These deposits represent a very real fire risk and must be removed on a regular basis.  The frequency of cleaning is laid out in tables within TR/19, which is the leading guidance document for ventilation ductwork cleaning, issued by BESA (Building & Engineering Services Association.)  This also requires ductwork to be classified as high, medium or low.  Multiple occupancy shared kitchen extracts will carry a high classification, requiring regular thorough cleaning in accordance with TR/19.

 

In some multiple occupancy buildings, the ground floor is given to retail units; often fast food outlets.  In these units, kitchen extract fire safety cleaning must be completed regularly in compliance with TR/19, in order to reduce the risk of the spread of fire to the floors above.

 

In refurbishments, especially kitchen and bathroom replacement programmes, consideration should be given to updating the ventilation systems as well as the units and sanitary ware.  It should be remembered that a clogged or greasy extract fan will also consume more electricity to run than a clean one, so this should be included in energy saving plans.  Where a common warm air system serves the entire building, it should be replaced, where possible, by individual self-contained heating systems, so that common areas and dwellings do not share the same system.  Alternatively we can replace the original grills with fire rated valves which help to contain the spread of fire.

 

Bathroom ventilation systems often draw in dust, fibres and dirt particles which begin to clog the system.  This can make it less effective, allowing less air to circulate and causing unpleasant odours to circulate. Regular cleaning to TR/19 guidance is important to ensure a good indoor air quality.

 

Planned preventative maintenance is vital in multiple occupancy buildings.  Gaining access to dwellings in order to carry out this cleaning may be difficult, but should be a priority; it will be essential to communicate the importance of this regular maintenance to occupants so that access for cleaning is granted.  In every communal ventilation system regular cleaning, regular testing and cleaning is not only a legal requirement, but also a vital safeguard for residents and visitors.