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Reducing the risk of fire at waste management sites

Health and Safety Poster
Fire is a big risk to all of us - it's too easy to think it will never happen to you!
New guidance with regards to reducing the risk of fire (2nd Consultation - Draft 1 - September 2014) is available prepared from Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum with input from Environmental Services Association (ESA), Environment Agency (EA), Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Health and Safety Laboratories (HSL), Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) and Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM).

This is a very complex 97 page document and it is impossible to convert and communicate all of its key messages in an article this small so this is intended as just an overview.

Fire is an ever present possibility at most waste management sites. If a fire occurred at any of these sites then it would present significant harm to people and the environment. This would be via the safety risk from the thermal energy and smoke produced, via the health risk from airborne toxic pollutants with both short term and long term effects and from firewater run off.

The resultant costs would be potentially significant too including : -
  • Damage to property.
  • Disruption to business.
  • Future rises in insurance premiums.
  • Future civil claims from parties affected.

There is a legal requirement to carry out a fire risk assessment of your individual premises under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and all of you will therefore have hopefully carried out such an assessment and will have recorded the significant findings from this if you employ 5 or more staff.

Phil Wass
Phil Wass is a Chartered Safety and Health practitioner and has a Masters Degree in Occupational Health and Safety. He is Managing Director of Wass Management Limited who specialise in all aspects of health and safety training, advice and guidance. Phil is an advisor to the Motor Vehicle Dismantlers' Association and understands the needs of the industry. He regularly carries out work for MVDA members.

If you have any health and safety issues, visit Wass Management Limited, email Phil or you can contact him on 01773 541441
There are 11 separate published guidance documents to assist main stream business sectors in the preparation of such an assessment available from H M Government and whilst one of these would assist you in the fire safety considerations of your offices, workshops, warehouses, etc. none of these are specific enough to deal with the considerations for internal and external storage of waste (i.e. tyres, bales waste materials, etc.) and hence the purpose of this particular guidance.

It is also worth mentioning that in addition to the requirements of the 2005 legislation just quoted, additional ‘zoning’ considerations and controls may also be necessary in the presence of large amounts of highly volatile flammable substances under another piece of current U K legislation; The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR).

Key issues that should have been considered within your own site fire risk assessment (other than the basics such as the location of combustibles, the presence of ignition sources, etc.) should have included the following : -
  • How you will control contractor activity at your site (especially any ‘hot works’).
  • The location of extinguishers, hoses, etc. to enable rapid accessibility and use if needed.
  • The training needed for your staff in how to react if a fire is discovered to ensure that everyone goes into ‘auto pilot’ mode.
  • How fire and rescue service vehicles will be able to access your site in an emergency.

But this guidance encourages you to consider a few more specific issues. The total amount of combustible waste at your site and ‘how’ it is stored will heavily influence the likelihood of a fire occurring, the duration of such a fire and the impact of that fire should one occur.

The guidance stresses that waste storage within buildings will have to be considered very differently to such storage in outside external areas. A waste fire outside of premises / buildings will generally be easier to fight but some of the largest waste premises fires experienced in the past have been those outside (many have continued to burn for days).

Therefore individual separation of stacks and separation from buildings will be a crucial consideration to limit the effect of any such fire. Internally stored waste will usually be more difficult to fight due to the rapid loss of visibility due to smoke creation. It is also more likely to spread to other crucial operating areas (such as adjacent buildings).

The way that waste is stacked will be a further consideration in terms of ‘stack stability’ should a fire de-stabilise stacked storage. ‘Vertically’ stacked waste may collapse and fall thus leading to unpredictable and rapid fire spread in adjacent areas.

Alternative stacking methods (e.g. ‘pyramid’) may reduce the likelihood of stack collapse but will increase the floor storage area requirements.

So, this draft document gives specific guidance on planning such storage including the following : -
  • recommended minimum stack distance separation from buildings of 10 metres.
  • Recommended minimum distance between individual stacks of 5 metres.
  • Recommended maximum height of loose stacks of 5 metres.
  • Recommended maximum height of baled stacks of 4 metres.
  • Recommended maximum width of an individual stack of 20 metres (if access is only available from one side).
  • Recommended maximum width of an individual stack of 40 metres (if access is available from both sides).

As already stated, the information above represents only a small overview of the huge amount of technical data provided within the full document which can be obtained from either Chas Ambrose or myself if anyone would like to view this in more detail.

I would suggest that all readers use this as a prompt to think about their overall fire safety provision at this time and to satisfy themselves that they have done enough to reduce the chance of a fire starting and that they have provided enough staff information and training to ensure that an appropriate response to a fire could be mobilised quickly without endangering life.

As always, I am here for initial free advice by telephone if any member has any queries or concerns with regards to this matter or has any other associated health and safety issues which are of concern at this time.

March 2015

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