Kitchen extract maintenance policies ‘not robust enough’

Kitchen extract ventilation should be re-classified as Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) to protect catering staff from growing threats to their health, a leading expert in the field has argued.

An increase in “deadly” carbon monoxide fumes from solid fuel cookers, barbecues and pizza ovens is putting commercial kitchen staff at risk and the new fashion for placing layers of ‘volcanic rock’ on top of traditional gas grills is creating a new source of harmful emissions, including greatly increasing the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) detected in the air, according to Paul Downing, technical consultant for the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).

He says that re-classifying kitchen extract systems as LEVs would mean they were subject to more stringent regulation and inspection leading to more regular cleaning and maintenance to improve their ability to remove harmful breathable fumes and organic compounds from the air.

“The ventilation hygiene industry’s current best practice guidance already recommends that kitchen extract systems are regularly checked and cleaned, but commercial kitchen owners and operators would face greater scrutiny and legal pressure if their systems were re-classified to fall in line with other industrial processes like factories, welding shops, spray paint booths and woodworking facilities.”

There are almost 13,000 deaths each year from occupational lung disease and cancer caused by past exposure to chemicals and dust at work according to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), Mr Downing said.

The HSE service and retail control guidance sheet SR27 ‘Controlling Cooking Fumes’ recommends that kitchen extract systems are thoroughly examined and tested at least every 14 months by a “competent ventilation engineer” to comply with COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulations. The SR27 guidance adds that engineering control (local exhaust ventilation) is the recommended approach.

Currently, 45,000 systems are classified as LEVs across the UK, but Mr Downing said BESA figures show that there are more than 500,000 commercial catering establishments.

“While industry best practice already highlights the importance of cleaning and maintaining these systems so they continue to work effectively, re-classifying them as LEVs would send a powerful message about their crucial health and safety role as well as subjecting their owners to much closer scrutiny and inspection.”

Mr Downing said there is “no grey area” with LEVs. “It is the law that these are tested every 14 months and this could be transformational for ventilation hygiene. Employers have a duty of care – clearly stated under the COSHH regulations – to any staff exposed to cooking fumes, which could be carcinogenic.”