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Managing Fire Risks in Waste Management & Recycling

3rd August 2018

Fire is an ongoing risk at most sites in the extractives and waste industry due to the readily combustible nature of waste.

Aside from the obvious harm that fires can cause to workers and facilities, a fire that involves waste carries additional dangers both to human health and the environment, as it may produce toxic pollutants.

It is of the utmost importance that operational sites have extensive measures in place to reduce the risk of a fire and maximise the safety of workers and the environment and a Safe System of Work is put in place to prevent an incident from occurring.

Fire Safety Risk Assessment

It is paramount that a fire safety risk assessment be carried out in every waste management facility and regularly reviewed; this can be integrated as part of the company’s general health and safety requirements.

A fire plan must first identify the risks and potential causes of an outbreak; for a fire to start, it requires a source of ignition, fuel and oxygen. The assessment must determine where the potential sources of ignition are located, this involves anything that may produce sparks or heat, such as electrical equipment, lighting and heaters.

Once potential igniters have been identified, fuel sources must also be accounted for; anything that burns must be identified in addition to combustible waste products.

It is important to ensure that a fire safety risk assessment produces measures that manage the identified risks in order to successfully implement an effective plan and avoid potential accidents. Controls that should be implemented and maintained might include:

  • Segregating sources of ignition and combustible materials.
  • Installing effective fire detection and alert measures, such as smoke and fire alarms.
  • Situating correct fire-fighting equipment throughout the site.
  • Ensuring that fire exits, and evacuation routes are clearly indicated and unobstructed at all times.
  • Providing workers with the necessary training and implementing fire drills.
  • Maintaining facility upkeep to avoid a build-up of waste and bi-products, such as dust.
  • Regularly reviewing the fire plan and fire safety risk assessment.
  • Implementing a no-smoking policy.

An example of successfully implementing a fire safety risk assessment might involve identifying that waste as a combustible substance, being put through a shredder as a potential source of ignition due to friction and sparks, poses a risk of fire. The appropriate measure for the site to take might then be to install a water sprinkler system within the shredder area.

Also, as most waste management facilities involve the use of heavy mobile plant, hot exhausts in the direct vicinity of combustible waste poses major risk of a fire outbreak. Sites must then ensure that a control measure is employed to reduce the possibility of this occurring.

Hazardous Substances

Working to prevent an accidental fire outbreak also requires identifying the materials and substances or sources of fuel that are readily combustible which could potentially cause a fire.

Most waste products are flammable and must be handled accordingly, this includes:

  • Paper, cardboard and wood of all types
  • Plastics
  • Rubber (natural or synthetic)
  • Mixed waste from domestic and commercial sources
  • Refuse derived fuels and solid recovered fuels

It is also important to consider hazardous substances after a fire has been dealt with. As most fires are fought using water, this run-off is most likely contaminated with a pollutant which can be harmful to human health and the environment. Therefore, measures must be taken to ensure that this is disposed of properly and the amount of polluted water is minimised as much as possible.

Environmental regulators and water providers should be consulted in consideration of the disposal of hazardous or contaminated waste water.

Fire Safety Training

Whilst it is possible to implement and maintain fire safety risk assessments into your business, it may be more effective to invest in training courses in addition to this. Having an on-site fire safety specialist provides a continual source of fire risk guidance at an operational and advisory level.

In addition to this, fire safety training will help to prepare workers on the procedures that must be implemented and followed in the event of a fire whilst also raising awareness of good fire prevention practice.

For more information on the training services that we can provide, contact us on 01603 627428.