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New guidance to prevent waste fires

New guidance for waste and recycling sites has been issued today (20 October) by the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum, to provide operators with information to reduce fire risks.

The guidance aims to provide advice and standards on good and acceptable practice, enabling them to reduce the risk of fire on their sites.

Endorsed by the Chief Fire Officers Association, the new document provides advice on waste handling methods that will ‘provide waste site operators with the tools and information they need to reduce fire risk’. Waste fires pose a significant risk to people and the environment and place a significant burden on fire and rescue services.

After a number of high profile waste fires, a cross-industry working group was formed in 2013 to address the issue. Participants across the waste industry and beyond then were consulted.

The guidance has been written by WISH with input from the ESA (Environmental Services Association), Environment Agency (EA), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Health and Safety Laboratories (HSL), the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) and other bodies.

The document addresses two key aspects of the issue. Firstly, it examines the scope and the fire risks faced by waste and recycling sites. Following this it looks at fire control guidance in four areas: whole site issues; issues in reception; issues during treatment; and storage of waste.

It suggests a range of actions that waste management companies can take to reduce fire risk, including:

  • undertaking a fire risk assesment and liasing with the local fire department on a fire-fighting strategy;
  • putting in place security measures such as CCTV, fences and alarms to reduce the likelihood of arson attacks;
  • considering a formal close-down procedure, which could include shutting off all electrical supplies to machinery, to reduce the risk of fire out of hours; and
  • undertaking regular fire drills to ensure staff know what actions need to be taken in the event of a fire.

'Appropriate, manageable and cost-effective' ways of reducing fire risk

Operations Director at CFOA, Roy Wilsher, said: “This hugely useful document, which will help waste and recycling site operators to manage their fire risk more effectively, is a great example of the collaborative working that the waste industry has undertaken to effect positive change. The code of practice will help these businesses to work towards solutions for reducing their fire risk which are appropriate, manageable and cost-effective.”

The chair of the cross-industry work group on fire, Geoff Smallwood, added: “Waste management operations pose specific fire risks. To date there has been no industry-generated guidance that site operators can use to assess whether their sites meet good practice and have in place appropriate controls. The WISH guidance aims to fill this gap and provide waste site operators with the tools and information they need to reduce fire risk.”

ESA’s Director General, Barry Dennis said: “ESA and its Members take the risk of fires at waste management facilities very seriously, and we therefore welcomed the opportunity to work with WISH, the Chief Fire Officers Association and other partners, to develop guidance on the steps that should be taken, by operators, to maintain an appropriate level of fire safety on site.

“The basic premise of this guidance is that it is unacceptable to store combustible waste material in large and uncontrolled piles. Within the guidance, solutions are offered to safely manage the storage of materials susceptible to combustion.

“We recommend that all operators consult this guidance when planning the storage of combustible waste materials on their sites. “

Tackling waste fires

Although fires at landfill sites are said to be ‘rare’, the waste industry has encountered an increasing number in recent years. In 2012 it was revealed that in the years 2001-2012, the average rate of fires at waste and recycling works came in at just under one per day.

Further to the environmental and social damage that waste fires cause, the cost of clearing up such fires is extensive; the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has revealed that emergency services in Scotland spent £15.9 million tackling 8,000 waste fires in 2012/13.

 The new guidance follows on from previous advice published in 2013 by the EA, aimed at reducing outbreaks of fire at waste storage sites.

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