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 to reduce the fire risk on these sites.
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:
As well as obviously wanting to protect life, there are many business and environmental reasons to mitigate fire risk.
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:
The risk factors in each area are likely to be different from each other, and a full, comprehensive fire risk assessment determines these. We recommend a new fire risk assessment every three years. Choose a competent assessor to look at fire safety across the whole site and identify any areas of non-compliance requiring attention.
Obviously, this will change from site to site depending on the types of waste on-site. Some systems to consider are:
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 takes hold. They monitor not just surface waste but also waste below the surface. Thermal imaging cameras are a good solution in all waste storage areas, but more so in waste reception areas. 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 prevent combustion.
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 it finds enough smoke particles, then a fire extinguishing system deploys. 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.
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.
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.
A full, comprehensive fire risk assessment helps determine the systems you decide to install at your waste management site. 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.
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To discuss your site fire safety solutions, please speak to one of our Waste and Recycling industry experts. Call us on 0330 094 7404. Alternatively, complete your details and we’ll be in touch asap.