Reducing the risk of fires at waste sites

As waste site fires increasingly hit headlines, Mark Andrews, Waste Fires Lead, at the Chief Fire Officers Association, outlines how members of the waste industry can reduce the risk of fire.

Large fires at waste and recycling sites often make headline news at local (and occasionally even national) level, with large numbers of fire crews and appliances needed to tackle the fire, which often impacts on local business and causes road closures affecting local communities.

Reducing the risk of fires at waste sites

Incidents such as the major fire at Smethwick in the West Midlands in July 2013, which involved over 200 firefighters and nearly 40 appliances, or the June 2013 blaze in Kidderminster which burned for almost two months, can result in sensational press coverage that impacts not only the reputation of the company involved but also on the wider waste sector.

In recognition of the growing concern that these fires are causing to the waste sector and to fire and rescue services, the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) organised a Fire Futures Forum in November 2013, with stakeholders from the waste industry, Government, Environment Agency and insurance sector. In addition to gaining clarity and consensus on the issues, the forum aimed to work collaboratively to identify appropriate, manageable and cost-effective solutions to help reduce the number and severity of these fires. This led to the formation of the ‘Waste Management and Recycling Centre Fire Working Group’ which includes representatives from across the agencies affected by these fires.

The first task of the CFOA group was to work in partnership with The Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) forum in producing its guidance: WASTE 28 Reducing fire risk at waste management sites, issued in October 2014. This guidance for waste and recycling sites aimed to provide site operators with the information and standards needed to reduce fire risk, helping them to reduce the likelihood and frequency of fires occurring on waste sites and, where fires did occur, to reduce the potential health and environmental impacts. The guidance can be downloaded online and offers advice on both whole-site issues such as plant, fire detection and suppression systems, and specific recommendations on waste processing and storage, including appendices on determining internal and external stack sizes.

However, this guidance does not replace the requirement for Waste and Recycling centres to comply with statutory regulations, and to this end CFOA and the EA are working towards a joint Memorandum of Understanding to enable them to plan, communicate and produce best practice guidance together.

The EA has recently consulted on, and issued guidance for those storing combustible waste at permitted sites that explains the fire prevention standards that must be followed. A central element of this is the legal requirement for operators to have a fire prevention plan if required by their permit, or to submit one as part of their permit application.

The guidance offers a list of issues that site operators should consider as part of their fire prevention plan. These include amounts and types of waste, storage times and methods, waste pile size and separation and fire prevention techniques. It also details the need for a site plan showing the layout, access routes, water supplies of the company, plus key infrastructure within one kilometre of the site. Key, of course, is the importance of preventing fires – through the control of ignition sources, safe working practices, maintenance and inspection programmes, security measures and separation distances of plant and materials. A fire prevention plan that assesses the potential risks, and details the measures in place to address or mitigate these risks, that is understood by all members of staff and contractors and kept up-to-date goes a good way towards helping businesses comply with fire regulations. This compliance, in turn, helps waste operators reduce the risk of business- and reputation-damaging fires.

The work of the CFOA group is far from complete, but real momentum and partnership is at least ensuring the widest publicity of the issues of fire prevention. Collaboratively we continue to make strides towards reducing the impact and likelihood of these devastating events.

Related Articles