Materials

Opinions on fire prevention getting in the way of scientific fact – WRA

Opinions on fire prevention getting in the way of scientific fact – WRA
The Wood Recyclers Association (WRA) is urging the Environment Agency (EA) to reconsider elements of its revised fire protection plan (FPP) guidance, which it says does not put enough emphasis on preventative measures.

The WRA, a trade body representing businesses dealing with more than 85 per cent of recycled wood in the UK, says that subjective opinions are getting in the way of scientific fact in the development of the EA’s guidance, which will update the original FPP guidance issued in March last year.

The revised guidance is due to be released in July, but the WRA says that proposals put too much emphasis on the duration of fires and not enough on encouraging operators to improve detection of fires before they take hold.

FPP guidance

Following a series of high-profile fires at waste sites, and with the intention of reducing the possibility of such incidents in the future, the EA developed the guidance, which included new safety measures for the storage of all combustible materials, including several types of wood, in collaboration with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).

However, after Hadfield Wood Recyclers, one of the largest wood treatment companies in the country, had to temporarily close down operations at two of its sites to avoid enforcement action based on the ‘completely unworkable’ guidance, the EA opened a consultation on the FPP guidance, setting out a number of new proposals.

The WRA said in February that it had identified ‘a number of issues’ with the plans that could ‘make many businesses unviable’. These included a new limitation of three to six months on the storage time for combustible material, implemented to minimise the risk of self-combustion. The WRA stated that there is no scientific evidence for the specified times, and that industry-wide practices to reduce fires will be prevented by the ‘unpractical’ guidelines.

Opinions getting in way of fact

Today (27 June), the WRA has once again accused the EA of not taking notice of scientific findings in determining its guidelines on burn time, which it says should be limited to four hours. WRA Chair Andy Hill said: “We have never been sure where this time limit came from or how the figure was arrived at. Once again, it would appear that subjective opinions are getting in the way of scientific fact. We would be delighted to see the evidence to support the four-hour limit, yet despite repeated requests, it hasn’t been forthcoming.

“It is impossible to dictate on paper how long a fire can burn for. There are so many factors to consider, including the type of material, the location of the site, the time of year, et cetera. The only way to determine a safe outcome for any of these factors is for the fire and rescue service to assess each situation on an individual basis as an incident occurs.”

Hill stated that recent fire tests have shown that a better approach is to make sure that hotspots in stacks of wood are detected as quickly as possible to allow preventative action to be taken.

Bespoke plans

Hill added that the WRA feels that bespoke fire protection plans offer the best option, as they allow “stacks of materials to be measured according to the site’s size and shape, and ensuring that material can be easily separated should a fire occur, helping to prevent the spread”.

However, the EA has said that where waste operators have submitted fire prevention plans of their own since July 2015, 65 per cent have been rejected, with the EA requesting additional technical information.

Hill continued: “The key in all of this is about the fire and rescue service being able to work directly with operators on an individual basis and being allowed flexibility in managing incidents when they occur. It is also essential operators are given the ability to run successful businesses within sensible and viable health and safety parameters.

“We hope the new FPP guidance will allow for this but our one question at the moment is around the four-hour burn time. We really feel this is neither helpful nor practical and is detracting from other issues that would have more of an impact.”

More information on preventing fires at waste sites is available in a comment from the Chief Fire Officers Association, written for Resource.

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