The Richard Norman Interview - Ductwork Cleaning Specialist MD speaks out - Part 2

15 Dec 2010

Q5 What are the challenges to cleaning contracts in today’s market?

I think I have essentially answered this in my response to the previous question. There is however one worrying development which might have been encouraged by the financial climate to look for cost savings. Some businesses, notably restaurants and public houses, have been happy to retain extract ventilation cleaning services on the basis of price alone. The not too surprising result has invariably been inadequate cleaning with systems remaining potential fire hazards. As a provider of expert witnesses in court actions brought as a result of fires in extract ventilation ducting, we know of many instances where business owners and managers thought they had put in place a cleaning service to eliminate fire hazardous grease deposits in the ducting only to find as a result of a fire that the system had not been fully cleaned and grease deposits aided the fire’s spread and destructiveness. In these situations the business owner can find he has both a badly damaged business and a disputed claim because of non-compliance with the law.

Q6 How would you go about initiating a culture of best practice in your company?

As I have described, there are a number of cleaning companies who are not delivering a professional and compliant service. In the absence of a fire the poor work of many companies is escaping detection and unfortunately it’s probably going to take a serious fire in an extract system causing casualties to ensure that all companies provide a fully compliant service. I have therefore placed considerable emphasis on our service delivery quality being totally professional and compliant which means that when we provide a certificate of compliance it means what it says and our clients can feel confident their systems are safe and fulfil legal and insurance requirements. Of course we can only achieve and maintain high standards if our workforce are well trained and we have a running programme of classroom and on-job training not only in delivering the essential service but in the context of best health and safety practice.

Q7 What is your main business mantra?

Without a doubt it is delivering a professional service and to maintain our position as the UK’s ductwork cleaning expert – whether a client wants cleaning services or just help and advice. My company is a very active member of the industry’s representative organisation – the Heating & Ventilating Contractors’ Association. I am a member of the Ventilation Group of the HVCA who have been responsible for providing a recognised standard of excellence for the cleaning of ventilation systems – HVCA TR/19 - Guide to Good Practice, Internal Cleanliness of Ventilation Systems. If more buildings and facilities managers were familiar with this standard there would undoubtedly be fewer instances of poorly cleaned systems. Section 7 sets out clear standards to be achieved for cleaning grease extract ductwork and can be viewed on our website.

Q8 What mistakes can you learn from?

It is a cliché but all mistakes are our opportunities to learn. We spent years in the business thinking that because grease extract systems are linked to catering facilities that catering managers would be a prime target for our sales message. Its one of those instances where in spite of their being good reasons for them to have action taken to remove any fire dangers in the extract of their catering facility (particularly because they are responsible for putting the fire hazardous deposit in place!), they regard anything which is outside their facility (and a grease extract invariably runs away from the facility to within the main building) as the responsibility of the owner or manager of the building in which they operate. Clearly if there were to be a fire in the system the catering manager would inevitably be involved in any enquiry and they would still have a significant risk of liability. As a result of their apparent disinterest we now concentrate much of our effort in getting our message across to the ‘responsible person’ i.e. the facilities or building manager. The catering manager is not as pivotal to decision making as we mistakenly first thought.

Q9 What would be your big idea?

In the last 18 months we have been developing our ventilation system cleaning services with our focus on the cleaning of general extract and supply systems, usually referred to as air conditioning. Whilst uncleaned air conditioning systems do not present the fire dangers of uncleaned grease extract systems, dirty systems do present a potential health hazard to workplace occupants in the shape of transmission of flu and the common cold. In hospitals they are known to provide ideal conditions of temperature and humidity for the development and dissemination of healthcare associated infections such as MRSA. But there is another good reason for cleaning air conditioning systems – reducing energy consumption. Research carried out in the United States has shown enormous energy cost savings result from cleaning air conditioning AHU systems, coils, fans and ducting and installing energy saving filters. After all, Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning costs typically account for 70% of a building’s energy use so there’s a very good case to be made for seeking ways to reduce an air conditioning system’s running costs. Unfortunately whilst companies often know what their energy costs are, only very few know what individual services cost to run e.g. energy consumption costs for air conditioning only.

My hope is that, spurred on by the Government’s drive to reduce energy consumption and thereby reduce carbon emissions under the Carbon Reduction Commitment, companies will look at all possible ways to save energy and, if failing to take advantage of the opportunity to reduce energy costs of running air conditioning because of the absence of separate system measurement, will make the nominal investment required to install measuring devices. Cleaned air conditioning systems will deliver double benefits; a healthier more comfortable workplace provided at a significantly lower cost. So I am currently trying to bring together a number of relevant parties such as the measuring device suppliers, the world’s leading low energy filter supplier, Camfil Farr, and ourselves to offer a package that can provide measurable energy savings.

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