Ventilation duct cleaning is vital to fire safety. And the sector offers significant business opportunities for enlightened contractors, according to Gary Nicholls.
Few property managers fully understand the risks to high-rise buildings and their occupants of uncleaned common ventilation ducts. Some will know that they are legally obliged to have ducts inspected at intervals, but relatively few actually know why.
Experts in fire prevention point out the proven risk of fire in uncleaned ventilation ducts caused by waste paper, 'fluff' from tumble dryers, lint and particles from towels, talc and torn toilet paper and other combustibles accumulated in the ducts. Clean the combustibles from the ducts, and the risk of a fire spreading, they say, is greatly reduced.
Yet many council housing managers, worrying about budgets collapsing under the impact of government cuts, simply regard the problem as out of sight and, with a bit of luck, out of mind.
The law requires that what is termed a 'responsible person' undertakes the statutory duty to ensure that ventilation systems are cleaned and maintained to comply with Health and Safety regulations. Ductwork cleaning and air hygiene assessments need to be carried out to the standards of the HVCA, BSRIA and CIBSE and, in some cases, to Health and Safety Executive standards too.
Managers with responsibility for housing should have ducts surveyed by experienced ventilation duct maintenance companies if qualified maintenance has not been completed in the last five years.
Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) of 2005, the responsibility for ensuring regular duct maintenance falls on the responsible person - usually the building manager.
If a death in a fire is caused or contributed to by uncleaned ventilation ducts, the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2005 provides for prosecution, not only of the organisation responsible for the building, but also of the responsible person. That could mean a massive fine or imprisonment.
Clearly, a situation where a substantial market exists in substantial ignorance of the extent of the problem, and where many of the people who have a problem do not even realise that they have legal obligations, offers considerable opportunities.
H&V contractors prepared to ask the right questions to identify local authorities, social landlords or property companies who have not met their legal obligations to maintain ventilation ducts, and who are then prepared to pass the business lead to a fully qualified duct cleaning contractor in return for a commission can generate significant extra earnings without even getting their hands dirty.
Ventilation duct cleaning should not be undertaken by anyone lacking the appropriate training, knowledge and experience. It requires specialised equipment and extensive training as well as a detailed knowledge of the quality and health and safety standards that have to be met.
A contractor who undertook such work without that training and understanding could easily end up being prosecuted if a fire occurred after they had undertaken to clean the ducts.
Companies such as my own are always ready to discuss arrangements whereby H&V contractors pass on information about organisations whose ventilation duct cleaning needs attention, and offer an urgent audit programme to public sector housing bodies or property companies whose high-rise housing is due for routine inspection, or whose tenants are reporting ventilation failures.