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Swiftclean welcomes BESA ductwork fire safety campaign

By | Kitchen Extract Cleaning, News | No Comments

Swiftclean, the duct cleaning and legionella risk experts, have welcomed the new fire safety campaign launched by BESA. This was formed in response to the recent Aldgate fire in which yet another a fast food outlet was damaged, threatening the residential flats above it. Swiftclean Managing Director, Gary Nicholls, commented, “It is excellent to see BESA throwing its weight behind publicising the need for TR/19 compliance by highlighting the very real risk of fire which non-compliance poses.

“Our teams regularly tackle the results of non-compliance over a long period and witness first-hand the build-up of fat, oil and grease when regular TR/19 cleaning has not been carried out. We still, all too frequently see the kind of potential fire risk that caused the damage in Aldgate. The fact that this was entirely preventable makes it all the more concerning. BESA helping to raise awareness of the problem with this new initiative is entirely welcome and adds emphasis to our own efforts to raise awareness.”

Swiftclean recently won a coveted H&V News Award for its own campaigning efforts to raise awareness of the need to maintain fire dampers in ductwork and has also campaigned to ‘Make Hidden Grease Visible’, an initiative which has helped the company to win multiple awards over the past five years. Swiftclean is currently emphasising the need to keep all areas of the ventilation system ductwork accessible, so that TR/19 compliance cleaning can be carried out unhindered.

Gary Nicholls is also a member of the BESA steering committee which helps to draft TR/19, the leading guidance document concerning the hygiene of ventilation ductwork and has been instrumental in raising standards of compliance across the industry. Swiftclean is also a BESA training centre and has demonstrated exceptional commitment to training among its own technicians for several decades.


Serious restaurant ductwork fires highlight the importance of TR/19 compliance

By | Kitchen Extract Cleaning, News | No Comments

Swiftclean, duct cleaning and legionella risk experts, warned of the risks of neglecting TR/19 compliance, following two serious kitchen extract ductwork fires in London restaurants in early February 2019.


Eight fire engines and 60 firefighters attended a blazing fire in the ducting of a Chinese restaurant in Hounslow on 7 February 2019, while six fire engines and 40 firefighters were called to a restaurant fire in Brixton on 5 February 2019. In both cases fire took hold in the kitchen extract ductwork and began to spread through the building, threatening offices and living accommodation above the two restaurants.


Twenty people were evacuated from offices above the Chinese restaurant in Hounslow and, fortunately, there were no reported injuries. The London Fire Brigade report stated that the fire was believed to have been caused by an unattended saucepan of cooking oil, but the ductwork carried the fire from the ground floor kitchen to a washroom on the first floor. Both were destroyed by the fire.


According to the London Fire Brigade, the cause of the fire in Brixton was a build-up of grease in the extractor hood in the kitchen. One resident was evacuated from the flats above the Brixton restaurant as a precaution, but again, fortunately, there were no recorded injuries.


Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of Swiftclean, commented, “Grease in the ductwork is not always the cause of a fire, but the danger is that accumulated grease will spread fire further through the building and, once it is established within the ductwork, lack of access can make it more difficult for firefighters to tackle. TR/19 compliance is essential, not just for hygiene reasons but as a vital fire safety measure and to protect your business. If you don’t comply with TR/19 you can compromise your buildings insurance as well as putting staff, customers and neighbouring occupants at risk.”


Swiftclean has long been a leading advocate of TR/19 compliance, and provides specialist cleaning to TR/19 guidelines. MD Gary Nicholls is a member of the steering committee and co-author of TR/19, the leading industry guidance document on ventilation hygiene, which is issued by BESA.

Warding off air quality problems

By | Ductwork Cleaning, News | No Comments

Warding off air quality problems

Clean air is probably more important for the facilities users of hospitals and care homes than in any other sector. In the light of recent reports of infection being spread through ventilation ductwork, Gary Nicholls, MD of duct cleaning experts Swiftclean, explains the importance of complying with TR/19 guidelines.


There was a time when clean air was prescribed by doctors as a health cure for patients with respiratory ailments, and it has long been recognised as beneficial for everyone. In the past, much of the concern over indoor air quality centred around preventing condensation by providing a plentiful air flow for the occupants of a building.  However, the recent incidence of infection being spread through uncleaned ductwork at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow has highlighted the importance of removing from ventilation ductwork, following inspection on a regular basis, the inevitable accumulated dust, dirt and lint that can harbour bacteria and mould spores.


All ventilation ductwork should be inspected and tested at regular intervals and cleaned where dust levels exceed the benchmark limits in compliance with TR/19, the leading guidance document for ventilation hygiene, issued by BESA. The second edition of TR/19 introduced a requirement for all newly installed ventilation systems to be handed over for use in cleaned, TR/19 compliant condition. This was an important advance because, prior to this, ventilation ductwork was all too often found to contain dirt and debris from the construction process. There still may be some systems which have never been cleaned and which pre-date the second edition of TR/19, so it is vital for good air quality that these are tested and where necessary cleaned to TR/19 guidelines as soon as possible.


Unfortunately, as it is largely hidden, it is too easy for the ventilation system to be out of mind as well as out of sight. Although news reports of infection being spread are alarming, we should take them as an impetus to spur us to inspect, test and where necessary clean ventilation systems regularly. This benefits everyone. Care staff who work in poor air quality will suffer a cumulative long-term effect leading to increased sickness and absence levels, which is not good news for patients or managers. Additional costs will be incurred for replacing staff on sick leave, putting additional pressure on hospital budgets. Patients with compromised health or immune systems will be more immediately vulnerable to the ill effects of poor air quality, particularly hazards such as airborne spores or bacteria. Just as handwashing is now a major emphasis in hospitals, clean air should also be a high priority.


In every commercial building, it is important to classify the ductwork of the ventilation system as low, medium or high in terms of cleaning requirements. In a hospital, there will be different classifications according to the area and function of each sector of the building. The manager responsible for maintenance, perhaps in consultation with infection control, will need to define the classifications of each ventilation system serving the healthcare facility. Operating theatres, not surprisingly, will typically have a high classification. Wards, although not quite as critical, must have a good indoor air quality in order to promote speedy recovery and good health, so these will likely be given a medium classification. All public areas, as well as administrative offices should also be given a classification, typically medium. Less well occupied areas such as boiler rooms can be probably be given a low classification, however, steps must still be taken to ensure that these premises are as clean as possible, to prevent bacteria, such as the pigeon-related infection which affected Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, from entering the ventilation system.


The actual cleaning process in all these classification areas is the same, it requires the effective removal of any dust, dirt, lint or construction debris, leaving the ductwork completely clean and capable of meeting the TR/19 post clean verification test. The practical difference between the different classifications is in the thickness or weight of deposit which indicates cleaning being required. TR/19 sets out helpful tables which indicate how frequently the various areas in a building should be tested according to their cleanliness classification. Some parts of a hospital will require particular treatment; for example, laundry extracts must be regularly cleaned to remove dust and lint particles which can cause fires. Another potential fire hazard is the build up of grease in a kitchen extract system. Again, TR/19 explains how often these should be cleaned according to the rate of grease accumulation.


In order to comply with TR/19, it is essential that we have access to the entire ventilation system, so particular attention should be given in every new system, to providing adequate access to achieve TR/19 compliance throughout. In older systems, we can retrofit additional access doors, but where solid ceilings and false walls are added after installation, this may not be possible without major renovation works. It is far better, therefore, to design and install new ventilation systems with future TR/19 compliance in mind.  In settings where we care for the sick or infirm, maintaining good indoor air quality, and therefore the ability to access all the areas of the ventilation system, is always essential for everyone.

Ventilation – access all areas

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Ventilation – access all areas

Despite a growing awareness of the issues surrounding ventilation hygiene and safety, there are still an alarming number of potential barriers to compliance throughout the lifetime of some ventilation systems, as Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of Swiftclean and co-author of TR/19, explains.


Many more building owners and managers are now becoming aware that to run a safe and healthy building, there are a number of ventilation compliance issues to tackle. As well as complying with TR/19, the leading industry guidance document on ventilation hygiene issued by BESA, they also have to tackle the annual testing and ongoing maintenance of fire dampers within the ventilation system, which is covered by BS:9999.


A poorly maintained ventilation system can adversely affect indoor air quality which, in turn, can negatively impact the wellbeing of a building’s end users. In a residential setting, it can exacerbate conditions such as asthma, so it is essential that ventilation ductwork is cleaned thoroughly at regular intervals in accordance with TR/19. In a commercial setting, poor air quality can have a detrimental effect on concentration and productivity and has frequently been linked with raised sickness and absenteeism levels, so TR/19 compliant ductwork also makes good commercial sense.


The ductwork itself is often routed through fire resistant internal walls which are designed to delay or prevent the spread of fire. Potential openings through fire rated walls present an opportunity for fire to travel to other parts of the building, so it is essential that these openings can be sealed in the event of fire by installing fire dampers, a set of steel louvres which will close automatically should a fire occur. Obviously, it is also essential that these are regularly tested, using a method called drop testing. In 2017 BS:9999 drop testing became an annual requirement, to ensure that fire dampers will work properly if needed, and this is an area in which fire officers are, understandably, clamping down.


In the case of kitchen extract ductwork systems, regular TR/19 cleaning also helps prevent fires by removing the flammable grease deposits which are an unavoidable result of cooking. The second edition of TR/19 includes helpful tables which lay out the necessary cleaning frequency, according to each system’s classification (high, medium or low). Heavily used systems such as commercial kitchen extracts will need cleaning the most often and here the rate of deposit accumulation will define the cleaning frequency requirements.


Despite a legal requirement to comply with both TR/19 and BS:9999, which Swiftclean provides, we continue to experience physical barriers to compliance. Clearly, in order to achieve compliance, we must be able to access all areas of the ventilation system, but there are still some fundamental reasons why this is not always possible.


Ventilation systems must be designed and installed in accordance with DW144 for ordinary ductwork or DW172 for kitchen extract ductwork. TR/19 is not a design or installation requirement, but a guideline (and a legal requirement) for ongoing compliance. Ironically, DW144 and DW172 do not include the full remit of access points which are required by TR/19. A new version of TR/19 will be published in 2019 following a review of the issues concerning kitchen extract systems, and this is expected to increase the minimum access door frequency requirement from every 3 meters to every 2 meters. As there are currently no plans to review DW172, the discrepancy between the two is set to grow.


A new, ventilation system can, therefore, be designed, installed and commissioned in full compliance with DW144 and DW172, but in order to achieve ongoing compliance with TR/19, we may well have to retrofit additional access doors at the very first clean. In a busy commercial kitchen, we all too frequently have to install further access points when the system is just a few months old.


In order to effectively clean an ‘elbow’ in the ductwork, we need to be able to approach the angled section from both directions, but we often find that there are insufficient access points close enough to allow a thorough clean. Again, we can usually retrofit an additional door, but it seems nonsensical to have to do this during a new system’s first clean.


This is all very well if the ductwork itself is accessible. This is not always the case. When we are carrying out TR/19 cleaning, we often encounter situations in which a solid ceiling or false wall has been added after the ventilation system was installed. We cannot then tell whether access points exist and have been covered over, or were never included. In many cases, we cannot install additional access points even if we need to, or the client would wish us to. Gaining sufficient access to the ventilation system to achieve TR/19 compliance may involve expensive major remodelling or an unsightly ceiling access hatch. A solid ceiling may look more attractive, but a suspended ceiling is usually better for achieving compliance. There are no building regulations which stipulate that the construction of ceilings or walls should preserve access to essential services for ongoing compliance. Perhaps there should be.


Since TR/19 compliance is required by law, we would argue that it should be designed into the system’s construction from the outset. This would mean updating DW144 and DW172 to include the principles in TR/19. There should also be measures in place to prevent the permanent covering of the ventilation system (and other essential services that will need ongoing maintenance) so that it remains accessible.


System design regulations ought to include sufficient access to conduct fire damper testing to BS:9999. In the event of a fire, smoke and flames can travel through the ductwork to other parts of the building, so it is life critical that fire dampers close as designed to restore the compartment created by the fire-resistant wall. This delay allows vital time to evacuate the building’s users. Fire dampers are often installed in hospitals, care homes, hotels and halls of residence, so the need to be able to evacuate residents and guests is obvious.


If your system is not compliant with TR/19, or does not allow fire damper testing, you will probably find that your buildings insurance cover is compromised. Insurers expect that in managing your building you will comply with the law so, if you don’t, you may not receive a pay-out. In the event of a fire, the legal consequences for any responsible persons can include prosecution and, if found guilty of negligence, can result in a custodial sentence.


Most of these potential problems would be solved if we designed and installed ventilation systems in accordance with TR/19 and with BS:9999 in mind from the outset. Retrofitting additional access points is more expensive than installing them during initial construction, so it makes commercial sense to provide for ongoing compliance at the design stage. If we also ensured, perhaps with a new building regulation, that any further ceiling construction and aesthetic remodelling did not interfere with safe access, we could achieve ongoing system compliance without problems. All of this is surely common sense. Why would we ignore this when good health, and even lives, may depend on it?

TR/19 The barriers to compliance

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TR/19 – the barriers to compliance

There are still an alarming number of ventilation systems which we struggle to make compliant with TR/19, the leading industry document covering ventilation hygiene, issued by BESA, says Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of Swiftclean and co-author of TR/19.


Clean ductwork helps to promote good quality indoor air and, in the case of kitchen extract ductwork systems, to help prevent fires by the removal of flammable grease and dirt. The second edition of TR/19 includes helpful tables which lay out the necessary cleaning frequency, according to each system’s classification (high, medium or low). Heavily used systems such as commercial kitchen extracts will need cleaning the most often and here the rate of deposit accumulation will define the cleaning frequency requirements.


However, in order to comply, we must be able to access the entire system and, in some cases, this is problematic. Ventilation systems must be installed in accordance with DW144 for ordinary ductwork or DW172 for kitchen extract ductwork but, ironically, these do not include the full remit of access points which are required by TR/19 guidelines. A point to note is that the TR/19 guidelines in relation to grease are currently under review and the new version which is due for publication in 2019 is expected to increase the minimum access door frequency requirement from every 3 meters to every 2 meters.


We often encounter problems where there are angles or elbows in the run of ductwork. In order to effectively clean an angle in the ductwork, we need to be able to approach the elbow section from both directions, but we often find that there are insufficient access points close enough to thoroughly clean the angled section. We can usually retrofit an additional door, but it seems nonsensical to have to do this during a new system’s first clean.


After installation has occurred, the importance of maintaining adequate access to the ductwork is not always understood. The interior designer or architect understandably seeks to make a beautiful interior, and does not always bear in mind that TR/19 compliance in ventilation ductwork will be an ongoing issue. In some instances, we find that solid ceilings have been constructed across the ductwork, or false walls installed, obscuring the ductwork.


This can be a major problem. It is hard to tell whether sufficient doors exist, but have been covered up, or if additional doors are needed. Rectifying the situation can be disruptive and costly, requiring service hatches in the beautiful solid ceiling. Although solid ceilings may be more aesthetically pleasing, suspended ceilings are often a better choice for facilitating compliance. When cleaning at height, an access platform may also be required to clean safely and this should be factored in at the design stage. Ideally, future compliance should be on the agenda from the initial design of every building’s ventilation system.


Often, retrofitting additional access doors will solve the problem, but this is not only inconvenient, it also costs the client more than if the full remit of doors needed for TR/19 compliance had been included when the system was installed. In some scenarios, we are quite simply unable to achieve full compliance due to the configuration of the system or a physical barrier which prevents the retrofitting of sufficient access points.


The consequences of non-compliance are considerable. In office settings, a dirty system can contribute to sick building syndrome and increased levels of absence. In residential settings, failure to comply with TR/19 can negatively impact residents’ health and can constitute a breach of a duty of care.


Lack of TR/19 compliance in a kitchen extract system can have far more severe consequences. The airborne grease particles which arise from cooking create deposits which accumulate on the inner surfaces of kitchen extract ductwork. In order to be compliant, this grease layer must be controlled within an average thickness of 200 microns, about half the thickness of an average business card. Allowing the grease layer to accumulate above this will represent an ever increasing and potentially serious fire risk.


Consequently, if your system is non-compliant with TR/19, your buildings insurance may be compromised. Insurance providers may refuse to pay out in the event of a fire if the cause is a non-compliant extract system, because this can fuel a fire and spread it further.


The person responsible for the non-compliant extract system can also face prosecution for negligence, especially if there has been severe damage, injury, or loss of life as a result of a kitchen extract system fire. If found guilty, the responsible person could potentially be given a custodial sentence.


We can solve most of these problems simply by designing ventilation systems in accordance with TR/19 from the outset, ensuring that access points are accessible safely without obstruction and making TR/19 cleaning a priority for the building manager. It makes sound commercial sense, as well as sheer common sense to do this, especially when good health and people’s lives are at stake.

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.