EA adds alternative measures in update to fire prevention guide

The Environment Agency (EA) has revised its fire prevention plans (FPP) guidance, to include examples of alternative measures for preventing and dealing with waste fires that have been successfully implemented by site operators.

The revision of the EA’s FPP provides operators with more flexibility in how they proceed with on-site fire prevention and provides an updated look at topics including waste storage, size of waste piles and separation of waste materials.

The case studies added to the EA’s prevention plan cite increased testing of waste piles, increased security of sites, and close access to water sources as alternative measures to reduce the risk of waste fires.

Waste fires remain a dangerous and costly hazard to operational sites, with a recent study finding that waste fires caused by lithium-ion batteries alone are increasing each year and currently costing the UK economy £158 million annually.

Whilst offering these case studies as examples of good practice, the EA has outlined it expects any alternative measures to still meet the three main objectives of the FFP, which is to minimise the likelihood of a fire happening, to aim for a fire to be extinguished within four hours and to minimise the spread of fire within the site and neighbouring sites.

In one example, a waste wood operator was cleared to store pre-crushed wood for 120 days, rather than the standard maximum of 90 days, in pile sizes larger than the maximum sizes set out in the FFP guidance.

The EA noted that the operator had used wood sample basket testing, which identified that the time to ignition was 200 days, which provided reassurance that mass self-heating would not occur within the storage time frame.

The EA added that the operator installed security fencing and monitored CCTV to reduce the risk of arson and used a thermal imaging system designed to alert staff of a fire, in order to increase the chance of distinguishing a fire within four hours.

Another example considered changes to the separation distance between waste piles, with the site operator proposing less than the standard 6 meters. The operator was also looking to store waste in piles larger than the maximum pile sizes set out in the FPP.

The EA agreed that as the site was monitored by CCTV with good security fencing and as the waste was on site for less than 3 months, that the risk of self-heating was low.

To reduce the risk of fire between waste piles less than 6 meters apart, the operator also installed fire walls made from interlocking concrete blocks. The site also benefited from being 50 meters away from a river, which was proposed as a suitable water source in case of a fire.

The recent update to the FFP also provides new guidance on maximum pile sizes for metal and municipal waste. In setting out these new cases studies, the EA has reminded operators that no two sites are the same, therefore each fire prevention plan should be site specific and remain in line with the three main FPP objectives.