NRW invests in waste fire technology as WISH updates guidance

Environmental regulators and health and safety bodies have announced a series of measures to cut down on the amount of waste fires causing blazes at sites across the UK.

According to the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA), there have been around 250 incidents of waste fires per year for the last decade, with an estimated cost to fire and rescue services of around £16 million a year.

To combat this, the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum has announced the publication of updated guidance on the prevention of waste fires, while Welsh environmental regulator  Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has purchased new technology to aid in the identification of fire risks at waste sites. 

NRW invests in waste fire technology as WISH updates guidance

New WISH guidance on fire prevention

The WISH Forum has announced that its newly revised waste fires guidance will be officially launched at a waste fires seminar at the National Fire College at Moreton-in-Marsh on 23 June.

The new guidance incorporates the results of a series of waste burn tests which, over the course of 2015 and 2016, have contributed to the development of understanding and knowledge of waste fires.

Chair of the WISH waste fires working group Geoff Smallwood said: “When we released our first waste guidance back in 2014 we acknowledged it would need revising as understanding and knowledge about waste fires developed. Key in this development of understanding has been the waste burn tests conducted through 2015 and 2016. To our knowledge these are the most extensive series of waste burn tests ever conducted. The results have led to many of the revisions in our new guidance.

“Our thanks go to those who took part in the tests, and to NFCC, the WRA (Wood Recyclers Association) and those ESA (Environmental Services Association) members who contributed to funding the tests, which to date have cost more than £170,000.

“Our industry is still recording too many fires each year. This has to change, and we believe the new, revised WISH fires guidance is a key step to reducing fire risk at waste management sites.”

New thermal imaging kit at NRW

NRW has turned to technology to identify fire risks at waste sites with the purchase of a new thermal imaging camera.

The camera was bought following a recent increase in waste fires in Wales resulting from self-combustion, which occurs when a heat source is created in a waste pile, usually as a result of a chemical reaction in the decomposing waste.

Self-combustion fires are difficult to prevent and put out because the heat source is usually buried deep within the waste pile.

The new thermal imaging camera will allow NRW officers who have undergone Fire Prevention and Mitigation training to identify self-combustion risks and to advise waste operators on how to mitigate these risks with methods such as safer waste storage.

The inclusion of fire prevention methods into the permits granted to high risk waste sites are also to be made mandatory.

Gareth Davies, Senior Environment Officer for NRW, said: “Protecting communities and the environment that surrounds them is essential for us and part of doing that means making sure our waste is managed safely and correctly.

“Waste fires are a danger to the environment and to public health and this new tool will give us an extra edge in preventing them. It’s great that technology can bring these advantages to us and we’re looking forward to using the thermal imaging camera as part of our site inspections.”

A burning issue

The two announcements come amid a recent spate of high profile waste fires across the UK.

Around 100 firefighters were called to a blaze in Dagenham at a large warehouse owned by White Skip Hire on 22 April, one of two large fires in London that weekend, as a second fire required firefighters to take emergency action to prevent explosions at a car scrap yard in Ilford on 24 April.

In addition to the two fires in London, a large fire began inside a collection vehicle at Dunsdale Recycling Centre near Redcar in Yorkshire on 21 April, forcing the plant to temporarily close, while Devon Contract Waste were forced to make redundancies after its headquarters were destroyed in a fire back at the start of March (1 March).

Waste fires are a problem that have been the focus of investigation by the Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA) for the past year, as the industry and firefighting services seek to find greater evidence as to how fires comprising of waste materials can best be prevented and fought.

More information is available in a comment piece written by Mark Andrews, Waste Fires Lead, at the Chief Fire Officers’ Association, for Resource suggesting how the waste industry can reduce its fire risk.

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