Last year saw a spate of serious fires at waste management sites in the space of just three days. Those four fires, separated by only hours, raised serious concerns as to whether waste and recycling operations are easy prey for arsonists.
National fire statistics indicate that there are typically one hundred waste site fires each year in the UK. The consequences of these incidents can be devastating, with the fallout sometimes continuing for many weeks. Of real concern were waste plant fires that last year forced homes to be evacuated and a motorway to be closed, with scenes of toxic smoke plumes trailing over a twenty mile radius, accompanied by the blasts of alkaline zinc chloride batteries exploding.
In many of these cases the toxicity of burning plastics was a major issue, with thousands of tonnes of waste, such as bales of plastic, going up in smoke. In an industry, then, that tackles in the UK around 430 million tonnes of waste each year, with an infrastructure employing some 160,000 workers, the hazards for life safety are of critical concern to risk management, and its of urgent priority that every requirement of safety law compliance should be observed.
Fire risk and waste management
As you’ll be only too aware, there is a complex maze of risk legislation to be negotiated by site operators for safe working, including risk assessments under Health and Safety at Work regulations, workplace transport safety, chemical storage, and handling of flammable substances, a list by no means exhaustive.
And, in respect of fire risk management, the duty-holder’s close attention is drawn to the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order (RRFSO), with a view to applying its recommendations to the special challenges presented by a site’s fire safety strategy.
To enable you to explore common ground, and to start evaluating risks often encountered in waste management sites and material recycling facilities (MRFs), the following Ten Top Safety Hints should provide some useful guidelines.
Ten Top Safety Hints
1—Be alert School holidays are times of greatest activity for juvenile arsonists. The four waste site fires reported over the May Bank Holiday weekend last year were believed to be the work of school-age arsonists. Even greater precautions should be taken to protect sites during school holidays. Check perimeter fences and enclosures for possible breaches.
2—No Hiding Place Deterrents to arsonists include good quality energy-efficient dusk to dawn lighting, which is vandal resistant. Avoid high lighting levels, which may produce dark shadows that offer concealment. Roofs and their approaches should be assessed for ways of inhibiting casual access and to avoid providing hiding places for intruders.
3—Keep Staff Informed It’s essential to keep staff regularly informed of fire safety routines and precautions. There should be regular information, instruction and training for staff, during their normal working hours, about fire safety measures in your workplace, from the day they start work, and throughout the period they work at the site.
4—Consult Your Staff There should be continuous evaluation of site safety issues in collaboration with staff. The support of site staff is essential to running a safe site. Safety representatives should encourage staff to contribute positively by identifying problems and generating sound practical ideas or solutions that can achieve fire safety under prevailing conditions.
5—Check Special Fire Risks Some materials, such as rubber crumb, have been reported to have ignited spontaneously. Paper and other cellulose-based materials have reportedly been known to self-heat, and have even ignited where stocks are so large that the heat cannot radiate safely. Some materials can become explosive if in a fine particle condition (e.g. certain dusts). Consult the product trade associations regularly for the materials your site handles to seek further guidance on the precautions to take.
6—Check Hot Spots The intrusions of ‘tramp’ metals, as unwelcome contaminants in materials such as waste paper, can cause localised ‘hot spots’ by finding their way
into moving machinery. Presorting and/or extraction by a magnet/eddy current separator of these contaminants are necessary precautions, especially when ignitable or explosive materials are present.
7—Permits to Hot Work Poorly controlled hot work (welding, burning, etc) can cause catastrophic fires. Where flammable materials are present, hot work should be risk assessed and effective measures put into place to reduce the risk of fire. It may be necessary to carry out hot work under a rigorous permit-to-work system.
8—Emergency Services Liaison It’s essential to establish good lines of communication with the Fire and Rescue Services to establish the most efficient means of liaison. Particularly, the emergency services should be advised of all relevant information about dangerous substances handled at your site to inform the provisions of your Emergency Plan.
9—Regular Maintenance Routines Central to efficient fire safety routines is a schedule of regular maintenance. You must ensure that your premises and any equipment provided in connection with firefighting, fire detection and warning, or emergency routes and exits are covered by a suitable system of maintenance, and are maintained by a competent person in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair.
10—Develop an Emergency Plan The findings of your Fire Risk Assessment will help you to develop your Emergency Plan for the instruction, information and training you need to provide, together with the co-operation and co-ordination arrangements required for other responsible people, and the routines for maintenance and testing of the fire precautions. If conditions on the site change, your Emergency Plan should reflect any new hazards that may arise.
And remember, think ahead. You can reduce subsequent losses and disruption resulting from a fire by preparing a Disaster Recovery Plan. Arson is a reality. Your plan will pay dividends in the event of a serious fire, whether started accidentally or deliberately.
We assesses Viridor
Viridor, one of the UK’s leading recycling, renewable energy and waste management companies, works with more than 90 local authorities and thousands of private customers across the country.
To meet Viridor’s very demanding standards of protection and risk abatement, the company recently commissioned a national fire risk audit of over 40 of their sites across the UK. To accomplish this major fire safety programme, Viridor has appointed us – the UK’s leading specialists in Building Consultancy – we are carrying out the Fire Risk Assessments under exacting criteria.
As part of the fire risk assessment process, we are making recommendations to improve some of the physical features of fire protection and fire management within newly acquired Viridor sites across the United Kingdom. Viridor’s Health & Safety department says that it values the importance of such work in helping the company ensure sites meet their stringent requirements.
As one of the UK’s leading Building Consultancies, we already provide high quality advice and services to clients throughout the UK including effective fire safety strategies to major UK organisations such as the BBC and EDF Energy, through FM companies Lorne Stewart and Johnson Controls.
Our Building Consultancy Division offers a wide range of specialist building consultancy skills and services that are designed to deliver integrated, effective solutions to the FM sector, including Access Audits, Energy Surveys, Fire Safety Consultancy and Training, Building Regulation, Construction, Design & Management (CDM), Listed Buildings and Asbestos Consultancy Surveys.
For more information contact us on 0845 241 7474 or +44(0)1273 320 650
e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.firecoltd.com