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Reducing fire risk at waste management sites

The risk of fire is ever-present at waste management sites in the UK. The combination of combustable materials and heavy plant result about one fire a day according to the most recent statistics with some sources suggesting waste-related fires are on the increase.

The growing use of lithium-ion batteries in mobile phones has been cited as a global trigger for a rise in fires at waste and recycling plants.

But the threat posed by other waste materials continues to be an issue. It is vital that operators have adequate controls in place to reduce fire risk at waste management sites and minimise the threat to life, property and the environment.

This guide provides an overview for waste management site operators including fire risks on your site, the importance of managing those risks and the potential consequences of not having adequate plans in place.

Fire safety regulation in the waste and recycling industry

Fire safety in waste and recycling centres is regulated by your local Fire and Rescue Authority (FRA), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) and environmental regulators.

The Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum (WISH) has provided guidance for site operators on reducing fire risk to meet the requirements of all of these regulatory bodies.

On top of that your site’s insurance provider will have a keen interest in your fire safety plans. Fail to comply with legislation and you are not insured in the event of a fire that may have devastating consequences for your business and others.

The importance of reducing the risk

The consequences of fires at waste management sites go beyond loss of costly heavy plant and business operations. There is serious risk of harm to people both onsite and in the local community through inhalation of smoke and airborne pollutants. In the most serious events fire can spread beyond the waste facility.

The local environment can also be impacted by toxins released in a fire and pollution that finds its way into drainage systems, ground water and water supplies from firewater run-off.

If the proper precautions aren’t in place this can result in costly legal processes and fines. In 2020 a wood recycling company was fined £200,000 after a major fire that impacted the local community and polluted a river.

Steps to reduce fire risk at waste management sites

Under fire legislation you must carry out a fire risk assessment at your site and put in place appropriate controls and measures to reduce fire risk.

It’s important to consider:

  • Risk to human life and how this can be mitigated with fire safety equipment, evaluation procedures and staff training
  • The community and environment around your site
  • Potential sources of ignition, from discarded cigarettes to faulty electrical equipment
  • How you manage waste stacks around your site
  • The cleaning programmes you have in place to minimise dust
  • Maintenance and cleaning of mobile plant and machinery
  • Your procedure for the use of hot works, such as welding, grinding and cutting tools
  • Safe shut down of your site to minimise the risk of fire out of working hours
  • Management of potential pollution risk in the event of a fire
  • Fire alarms and suppression systems
  • Fire safety in your office spaces
  • Fire extinguishers and training
  • Evacuation drills.

This list isn’t exhaustive. WISH provide further guidance that you need to consider. A professional fire safety consultant can also help you put together a bespoke fire risk assessment for your site.

How Benfield Fire can help

Benfield Fire Safety’s team is made up of ex-fire service personnel with more than 20 years’ experience of dealing with fire prevention and safety. We can provide fire risk assessments, training in fire-fighting tactics, evacuation training and even incident command on site.

If you are a facility operator and want to reduce the risk of fire at your waste management site please contact Benfield Fire Safety by emailing Customerservice@benfieldfs.co.uk or calling 0300 303 3277.