Leeds-based Gauntlet Fire Risk Management is urging businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors to heed the warnings of specialist wood and coal fuel specialist, Logs Direct, in Chimney Fire Safety Week.
Logs Direct has warned of an impending ‘”flue epidemic|”, because many businesses, ranging from leisure spas, coffee shops and golf clubs, to B&B, pubs and large hotels, have been overtaken by ‘logmania’ in recent years, fitting woodburning stoves and open fires, without backing this up with the knowledge of how to burn wood safely.
In January 2016, it was reported that the previous 12 months had witnessed a 20 per cent increase in the sale of wood-burning stoves, whilst HETAS has reported a 60 per cent increase in the number of wood burners over the last seven years.
Logs Direct says that, despite the passion for burning wood, far too few homeowners and hospitality providers have got to grips with how to burn wood. This puts a sizeable proportion of wood-burning homes and establishments at risk of a chimney fire, of which 5,000 occur in England alone, each year.
This observation is reflected in the experience of Gauntlet Fire Risk Management – a health and safety expert with over two decades experience, which says many businesses simply do not realise the implications of burning the wrong wood.
They, and Logs Direct, say many businesses buy unseasoned, ‘wet’ logs from farm gates and timber suppliers and think there will be no implications from burning them. However, whilst these may appear dry, the ‘wet’ reference comes from the fact that, on felling, their water content can be as high as 80pc.
For a log to burn efficiently, the water content should only be 20pc or lower, which means logs need to be left to dry, in the right climatic and storage conditions, for as long as two summers and a winter, if they are a hardwood such as oak, beech, hornbeam and sycamore. Even conifers and hard growing broadleaves such as ash, birch and and poplar need to be seasoned for one spring and one summer.
Any leisure business buying wood from farm and country suppliers, and wishing to use it immediately, should seek assurance that the wood has been seasoned properly. They should also resist the temptation to fell their own logs and immediately burn them.
Whilst enhanced heat output – getting the same heat out of one kiln-dried log that you would acquire from three wet logs – is one reason, the other is safety. When wood is damp, moisture-laden and burning inefficiently at a low temperature, creosote deposits build up in the chimney, due to an incomplete combustion process. Wood tar is taken into the flue and chimney in the form of vapour and condenses there, creating deposits that stick to the chimney walls.
This highly combustible creosote can easily lead to a chimney fire, or block the chimney, which has its own dangers, in the form of carbon monoxide poisoning. By not paying attention to the wood being burnt, a hospitality provider could see their business decimated by fire, causing at best a business shut-down and interruption of trade and, at worst, the complete loss of the business and possible fatalities.
Burning MDF-painted or varnished wood is also dangerous, as this releases pollutants into the air that can be harmful to health. Old CCA-treated wood should never be used as fuel and it pays to be aware that most properties built before 2004 were constructed with wood that was pressure-treated with the CCA (chromated copper arsenic) preservative. The supply is, therefore, abundant.
Gauntlet Fire Risk Management can pick up on areas like these when visiting to carry out a Fire Risk Assessment. It can help businesses establish better chimney maintenance procedures, as well as developing guidelines for guarding and putting out the fire, when the room is not in use. Fire evacuation procedures can also be established, with all evidence recorded in safety documents, to demonstrate that all has been done to adhere to fire health and safety laws.
Those requiring assistance with other health and safety matters, such as food safety and general health and safety assessments, can also call on Gauntlet’s expert help.
The Gauntlet team can also point to products that can assist fire safety, such as the new-to-the-UK Chimney Sweeping Logs, which are available from Logs Direct’s website – www.logsdirect.co.uk – and which clean the chimney as they burn, working on and treating volatile compounds and creosote deposits and also making them more brittle, so that chimney sweeping becomes easier.
This, coupled with substituting Logs Direct’s kiln-dried wood for unseasoned and harmful wood, can be an easy-to-implement first step towards better chimney fire safety.
Gauntlet Fire Risk Management’s Gary Skews said: “Chimney Fire Safety Week is the ideal week in which to focus on fire safety if you are in the hospitality or leisure sectors and know how attractive a roaring log fire is for your guests and members. Working on fire safety ahead of the winter months, when the danger is heightened, is a step everyone should be taking, if they wish to keep themselves, their customers and their businesses safe.”