On average, there are more than 300 fires every year at waste and recycling plants in the UK. These fires come with an annual cost to fire and emergency services of £16million.
As well as the obvious risk to human life, a major fire causes financial loss through lack of business continuity and downtime whilst recovery takes place, as well as significant costs in property damage. Then there’s the major environmental damage caused by such fires. And with the waste and recycling industry fast gaining a reputation for being unsafe, now is the time to look at how the fire risk can be reduced on these sites.
What’s the Cause of Fires?
On waste and recycling sites, there are many spark-developing dangers. Lithium batteries have a large part to play in the number of fires on-site by exploding in shredders. However, many other factors are also responsible from loaders scratching concrete, shredder sparks igniting nearby waste and incompatible wastes mixing together to cause spontaneous combustion. Then there’s the risk from self-heating waste, arson and mishandled materials amongst others. Several trends have also been identified such as an increase of fires during summer’s warmer, dryer months and a holiday spike at the end of the year due to the increase in waste being collected.
One major waste management company recently analysed its fire report data to determine the cause of fires. This data was from a five year period, covering over 200 fires across 120 sites. Whilst this data was for general waste recycling and recovery type plants only, it provides some interesting results:
- 31% of fires were likely to be caused by hot or hazardous materials in wastes accepted at sites – such as hot ashes, lithium batteries, gas cylinders, aerosols etc
- 24% of fires were likely to be caused by self-heating materials, both in waste reception and storage
- 5% were likely caused by hot surfaces, 7% by electrical faults, 5% by hot-works such as welding and grinding and 9% by friction
- The remaining 19% were caused a variety of other smaller likely causes
Reasons to Reduce Fire Risk
As well as obviously wanting to protect life, there are many business and environmental reasons to mitigate fire risk.
- Combustion products, even those from non-toxic materials, release airborne pollutants. These can cause both short and long-term effects on human health and the environment.
- Firewater run-off can transport pollutants into our drainage systems, rivers, lakes, and soil. This in turn can threaten water supplies, public health and wildlife.
- Property damage can be significant and costly. Also, if you lease your site a fire may well result in the termination of your lease.
- Following a fire, you are likely to be responsible for the costs of clean-up, both on and off-site. This is often expensive, as in many cases the remains of combustion products and partially burnt material can be classified as hazardous/special waste.
- The interruption to your business and the time taken to recover from the effects of a fire can effectively put you out of business.
- Insurance premiums are likely to rise substantially following a major fire, or you may find you’re not able to secure any insurance policy at an affordable cost.
- A major fire could affect your environmental permit/licence/exemption, including any subsistence or other fees you pay.
What’s the Solution?
The key to securing your site from the risk of fire is to look at a whole site solution You should install systems that can both detect the early stages of a fire and mitigate fires as early in the process as possible.
Typically, most waste management sites have three main area types:
- Reception areas where waste is received
- Treatment/process areas where waste may be subject to various stages – sorting, shredding, drying, sizing etc
- Storage areas where either incoming or outgoing wastes are stored.
The risk factors in each area are likely to be different from each other, and these should be determined by a full, comprehensive fire risk assessment. A fire risk assessment should be completed every three years by a competent assessor and will look at fire safety across the whole site, identifying any areas of non-compliance requiring attention.
What Fire Safety Systems should be Installed?
Obviously, this will change from site to site dependent on the types of waste being processed. Some systems to consider are:
Thermal imaging cameras
Heat detectors often aren’t quick enough to spot the start of a fire and trigger fire safety systems. Thermal imaging cameras can provide the earliest possible warning, detecting the start of a fire before it’s taken hold. They monitor not just surface waste but also waste below the surface. Thermal imaging cameras are a good solution in all areas where waste is stored, but more so in reception areas where waste is received. The waste management company mentioned before concluded that 31% of their fires started in the reception area – from accepting batteries, hot ashes etc in the waste. Thermal imaging cameras identify this type of waste in reception, allowing action to be taken to prevent combustion.
Aspirating Smoke Detection
Another highly effective form of detection is aspirating smoke detection. This works by drawing air in via pipes, then sampling it to detect smoke particles. If enough are found, then a fire extinguishing system will be deployed. The benefit to this system is that it can cope with extreme environments. This is due to the ability to situate detection units away from the protected area and any harmful contaminants.
Once a fire has been detected, an automatic sprinkler system is highly effective at extinguishing waste fires. Sprinklers are cost effective, extremely reliable, and more importantly effective. The sprinkler system should be proportionate to the nature and scale of waste management activities you carry out and the associated risks.
Water Misting System
To further reduce the risk of fire, installing a water misting system to damp down dust and odour is a good consideration depending on the type of waste you’re processing. By creating a high concentration of ultra-thin water droplets, a water misting system shields your site from low visibility and spontaneous combustion, while still cutting down the risk of dust explosion and fire.
The systems you decide to install at your waste management site should be determined after a full, comprehensive fire risk assessment. Every site will have different activities, layouts, risk factors and more that will influence the best solution for that site.
BusinessWatch are experts in the development and provision of integrated fire and security solutions to waste management and recycling companies.
Our customers include:
- Morley Waste Traders
- PMK Recycling
- Salvatex Recycling
- Woodford Recycling Services and many others.
To discuss your site fire safety solutions, please speak to one of our Waste and Recycling industry experts. Call us on 0808 108 0882. Alternatively, complete your details and we’ll be in touch asap.