waste fires
Last month, a fire took hold in a derelict pub in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Firefighters had to tackle the blaze that originated from a large pile of waste including old pub furniture that had been piled up at the back of the premises. It appears it had been deliberately set alight and the fire then spread into the building itself. Waste fires continue to be a real problem in the UK This is just one example amongst many. Sometimes, as above, it’s the case that a one off build-up of waste materials results in a fire that would probably otherwise have never happened. But in other cases it’s an ongoing hazard that’s inevitable due to the nature of the business – in particular, for companies that specifically deal with waste. These fires which took place in Northamptonshire , Cambridgeshire and Rotherham are just a few examples of incidents in waste recycling plants this year. Between 2001 and 2013 it was estimated there were around 300 waste fires each year in the UK. There were subsequently signs of improvement in that figure with a reduction in the number of incidents at non-hazardous waste sites between 2013 and 2016 but that wasn’t sustained. The challenge is, regrettably, compounded by the fact that there are also firms operating illegally in the sector, and they are unlikely to concern themselves with the issue of fire prevention until they are caught out. There can be many reasons why these types of fires are able to ignite and take hold so rapidly. As well as arson, risks are posed from several sources such as flammable vapours, welding and cutting, electrical faults, naked flames and chemical and biological processes leading to self-combustion. Inevitably these fires can be very costly in several ways. There’s the obvious risk to life and danger of injury. There’s the business disruption and clean-up costs that must be faced. Depending on the investigation outcomes, there could be a damaged business reputation, higher insurance premiums, compensation claims and perhaps even fines and imprisonment. The nature of the substances in the fire can potentially create a significant environmental hazard, such as air pollution from toxic smoke plumes and surface water pollution from firewater run-off. These kinds of fires can be extremely hard to control and it’s not unknown for some of them to burn for weeks rather than days, compounding the amount of damage done. Managing the risks The reality is that managing fire risks is extremely challenging for waste recycling centres given the potentially high combustibility of many of the materials being stored and processed. As well as materials like paper, cardboard and plastic, centres can find themselves taking delivery of hazardous materials like lithium batteries, flammable liquids and gas cylinders – even when the facility is not actually able to process them. The Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum provides extensive guidance on ways to manage fire risk and the Health and Safety Executive also has a section on its website dedicated to various aspects of the safe management of different types of waste. While the level of complexity around the requirements for recycling waste is considerable, many of the principles are relevant to other businesses as well. Some of the key messages are around the need to follow safe management systems as set out in fire prevention plans and to continually be alert to the way materials are stored. They should never be stacked too high or too close together (this can actually also hamper the fire service’s ability to extinguish a fire). Incompatible materials should never be located near each other and fire detection systems must always be maintained and fit for purpose. And it’s important for any kind of business to recognise the fire risks created by allowing waste to pile up close to premises. Get in contact with us We work with waste recycling plants to help them manage their fire risks – if you’d like some assistance, please get in touch with us for more information about how we can help you.