Fire is a risk for any business. Waste transfer stations, however, are amongst the most vulnerable, due to the readily combustible matter that is regularly stored within them. With nearly two-thirds of waste transfer operators affected in some way by fire, it’s vital that more rigorous controls are put in place to prevent fires and, if a fire occurs, to minimise downtime and risk to people, assets and the environment.
With research revealing that there is, on average, one fire each day at waste transfer stations, the risk of fire is evident. This has drawn the attention of the Environment Agency (EA), resulting in more stringent regulations concerning fire on these sites. This means waste transfer stations with limited or a lack of fire-prevention measures in place may be subject to fines or inflationary insurance premiums, caused by failure to meet regulatory compliance.
In order to ensure compliance, waste transfer stations must obtain an environmental permit. A key part of this application is submitting a fire prevention plan (FPP) to the EA for approval, as well as developing a management system that outlines safety and environmental procedures, completing a risk assessment and putting measures in place to avoid and control emissions. There are multiple types of permits which can be applied for, depending on the nature of the business. However, any business that uses, recycles, treats, stores or disposes of waste must hold an environmental permit.
The requirements of an FPP
An FPP will outline the fire-prevention measures and procedures that must be adhered to on a site. It must be easily accessible by all employees, so they are able to refer to it when necessary. Any person working on site – including all permanent and temporary employees and contractors – must be aware of its FPP and the procedures detailed within it.
An FPP must also contain a list of all activities carried out on site, the risks that they carry and identify all possible causes of fire within the site. It must also contain explicit details of the site plan, including a map which highlights:
- The layout of buildings on the site
- Areas where hazardous materials are stored
- Access points/routes for fire assistance in the event of a fire
- All available hydrants and water supplies
- Storage areas, including pile dimensions and any fire walls
- The site’s quarantine area.
The FPP must also specify any buildings within 1km of the site that could be affected if a fire were to break out.
What can waste transfer stations do to ensure compliance?
In addition to submitting an FPP and securing an environmental permit, there are other, practical steps that waste transfer stations can take to ensure compliance and avoid prosecution from the EA. These include managing common causes of fire, preventing self-combustion, controlling the size of and distance between waste piles and putting appropriate measures in place to prevent any fire from spreading.
Managing the common causes of fire
There are many different causes of fire in waste transfer stations, including electrical faults, spontaneous combustion, or even arson. It’s important to identify exactly how your site might be at risk, as different causes can be managed and controlled in different ways.
- Plant and equipment: ensure the entire site, including all machinery and equipment, is subject to regular maintenance and risk assessments. Any vehicles on site should be fitted with fire extinguishers or mobile fire detection and suppression systems.
- Electrical faults: any electrical equipment used on site should be fully inspected and certified by a qualified electrician with regular maintenance to ensure they remain safe for use at any time.
- Industrial heaters: industrial heaters should also be checked frequently and have clear instructions for use.
- Deposited hot loads: all sites should have a quarantine area for the storage of high-risk materials. Hot loads must be stored in this quarantine area to avoid combustion.
- Arson: in addition to the more obvious fire risks, waste transfer stations can also fall victim to arson. It’s important to ensure you have adequate security measures in place, such as intruder alarms, security fences and CCTV. These should be in operation both inside and outside of working hours.
- Ignition sources: naked flames, heaters, furnaces and incinerators should all be kept at least 6m away from any combustible or flammable waste.
- Batteries: despite the rules against batteries in household waste, they inevitably end up within waste piles on various occasions. Batteries carry a high fire risk, so they should be removed or disconnected and stored safely to avoid the risk of combustion.
- Oil and fuel spills: the spillage of any fuels and other combustible liquids should be prevented, with any spills properly reported and cleaned up immediately to reduce the fire risks they pose.
- Discarded smoking materials: a no-smoking policy or designated smoking area, which is a safe distance away from combustible materials, should be implemented on site at all times.
- Reaction between waste: written procedures should be put in place for waste acceptance checks to avoid reactions between incompatible or high-risk waste, including lithium-ion batteries.
- Loose combustible waste, dust and fluff: regular maintenance and cleaning should be carried out to avoid the build-up of loose combustible waste, dust or fluff.
- Manage storage time: your FPP must also outline the maximum storage time of materials on site and the controls in place to ensure this is adhered to. Generally, any combustible waste should not be stored for longer than six months. However, if it is stored in maximum pile sizes for longer than three months, greater prevention measures must be taken and clearly defined within the site’s FPP.
- Monitor and control temperature: over time, waste naturally heats but measures and controls can be put in place to ensure the temperature of waste is kept to a minimum, reducing the risk of self-combustion – particularly during warmer months when sunlight can contribute to a higher temperature of waste.
- Waste bale storage: the number of waste bales on site and temperatures of waste bales should be monitored at all times.
Prevent fire spreading
- Managing waste piles: waste piles should be monitored to ensure they do not exceed the maximum legal size. For all waste piles, this is 20m by 4m.
- Separation distance: combustible waste piles (in line with the legal maximum size) must have a separation distance of at least 6m.
- Fire walls and bays: if the required separation distances aren’t possible, fire walls and bays can be used to mitigate the risk of any fire spreading. Fire walls must be designed to resist fire, with a resistance period of at least 120 minutes. Any fire bays must be fully detailed within an FPP.
Fire detection and suppression systems
Fire detection, alarm and suppression systems will be included in a site’s fire-risk assessments and should be outlined clearly in the FPP.
It’s vital to ensure the correct suppression system is used for a site’s individual risks and requirements. Carrying out a fire-risk assessment can help to identify these risks and highlight the most appropriate fire detection and suppression solution. For larger sites, using more than one type of detection system, such as thermal imaging, flame detection or spark detection may be more effective.
For waste transfer stations – minimising downtime is essential, as waste will continue to pile up. Having suitable fire prevention and suppression systems in place can help to reduce downtime, as the damage caused by fire can be significantly reduced through the use of an appropriate suppression system.
Waste transfer stations need to take steps to ensure they are compliant with the standards outlined by the EA to avoid prosecution. Not only that but putting appropriate fire prevention and mitigation measures in place can also help to minimise downtime, protect assets, life and the environment.
For more information, go to www.fireshieldsystemsltd.co.uk