Its warning comes after another year that saw over 5,000 chimney fires break out in England alone and after the introduction of a new certification scheme for wood, backed by Government.
Inns, pubs and accommodation providers have all latched on to the popularity of real-flame fires in recent years, but Gauntlet says the chimneys that flue these sources of heat are often out of sight and out of mind and in a condition that could easily lead to a chimney fire.
A worrying percentage of the fire risk assessments that it conducts in commercial premises that have woodburners and open fires, result in issues being raised in relation to the safe use of the appliance or fire.
To date, it has been too tempting for operators to purchase wood from a local supplier in the village or nearby countryside, often as a goodwill gesture and an attempt to support the local community. This wood is often unseasoned wet wood, which burns inefficiently, due to having a moisture content of around 80 per cent.
Wood that burns at a low temperature, generates wood tar that is taken into the flue and chimney in the form of vapour. It condenses there and creates highly combustible creosote deposits on the chimney walls. This creates perfect conditions for a chimney fire, but also a blocked chimney, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Whilst burning wet wood creates these safety hazards, the environmental issues related to burning wet and unsuitable wood are now top-of-mind at a national level. The Government has this year brought key wood suppliers such as industry expert, Logs Direct, together, to suggest how to tackle the environmental problem of smog in Britain’s cities, which is partially attributable to the increased use of woodburners.
Having highlighted that it is the wood being burned that causes the issue and not the woodburner itself, the suppliers have created a solution in terms of a new certification system for wood – Woodsure.
There has also been an abandonment of the word ‘seasoned’ in relation to wood. Wood suppliers now have to label their wood as ‘Ready to Burn’ and can only do that if their wood has undergone a series of exacting tests, at a central and independent laboratory, and has a water content of less than 25 per cent.
Now, businesses found using wood that is not ‘Ready to Burn’ could be committing an environmental offence, whether they are in an official Smoke Control Zone, or not. Environmental Health Officers have the authority to prevent the use of woodburning appliances, if they feel they are damaging the local environment. Further penalties may be introduced, as the Government develops its Ready to Burn initiative.
Hospitality providers should note that the Ready to Burn initiative applies not just to logs, but also to wood chip, pellets, briquettes and hog fuel.
Gauntlet Health and Safety’s Andrew Scott says: “The hospitality industry needs to quickly get its head around the new wood supply regulations and make sure that those buying wood for a venue’s woodburners are choosing ‘Ready to Burn’ wood. If they do this, they will not only be on the right side of environmental laws, but also improving the health of their chimney and thus keeping guests and customers, not to mention their property, much safer.
“Those using woodburning pizza ovens should also heed the arrival of the Woodsure certification scheme and ensure that they only use Ready to Burn wood.”
Logs Direct’s director, Stephen Talbot, adds: “Choosing Ready to Burn wood is not just advantageous from a health and safety point of view, but a decision that will not invalidate an appliance’s warranty, one that will help the health of the appliance and its longevity and a choice that will also see wood being burnt more efficiently, which means that fewer logs are needed. Buying wood that is not Ready to Burn is actually false economy, because you need many more logs and also more storage space.”
More details about Gauntlet’s services can be found at www.gauntlethealthandsafety.com and www.fireriskconsultant.com whilst Ready to Burn wood supplies can be purchased from www.logsdirect.co.uk from where advice about operating woodburners and open fires can be obtained.