Recycling plants and waste management facilities have a responsibility to follow fire safety precautions, otherwise, things can go terribly wrong. An example of this was in March 2017, when a huge fire broke out in a Siteserv recycling plant near Llandow, Cowbridge, in Wales. Two years later, the judge at Cardiff’s Magistrates Court found them guilty of breaching their environmental permit, and the plant has been handed a £40,000 fine.
How did the recycling plant catch fire?
An investigation by the fire service discovered the fire occurred because the pile of rubbish self-combusted, and then the rest of the waste (about 2,000 tonnes) caught fire. The part of the facility which caught fire was used for processing black-bag waste. It was divided, shredded, bundled, and then sent to Energy from Waste facilities. This sort of mixed waste is at risk of self-combustion because it can get too hot if stored on a site for more than three months.
Why did the fire spread?
Siteserv was granted an environmental permit in 2015, and a condition of this was that the facility had to create a Fire Prevention Plan which described how they would reduce fire risk. This document was produced; however, Natural Resources Wales conducted compliance visits in the months before the fire and noted that the amount of waste stored without fire breaks was increasing, and the waste was being stored longer than permitted. Despite Compliance Assessment Reviews requiring them to take action, the facility did nothing and missed deadlines.
The fire spread and the entire area caught alight because Siteserv failed to follow their own Fire Prevention Plan. If they had installed fire breaks the blaze could have been contained, and fire fighters could have extinguished it much quicker. It took two weeks for the fire to be put out, even though five fire engines were sent to deal with it. Acrid smoke reached far across the surrounding countryside and caused a local caravan park to close until the fire was extinguished properly.
What can we learn from this?
There were more than 300 fires per year at waste and recycling plants between 2001 and 2013, and a large proportion of these were caused by negligence. It is essential that facilities invest in fire safety systems, such as smoke detectors and sprinkler systems, but this will not make up for poor management. The best prevention method is for facilities to follow their Fire Prevention Plan and make sure the site is free from dust, and the waste is not stacked too high or close together. If the facilities don’t follow Fire Prevention Plans and excessive amounts of waste are stacked all together, then it is incredibly difficult for the fire service to get in and extinguish the fire.
The public is not without blame either; nearly a third of fires in waste and recycling facilities are caused by people including hot or hazardous materials in their bins. The main products you should not put in your bin are hot ashes, gas cylinders, lithium batteries, aerosols and flammable liquids, there are specific facilities where you can send these items.
If you are interested in learning more about fire prevention methods or need to invest in a fire safety system, then Fire Action is here to help. The products we supply are high quality, and are in line with fire safety applications and industry standards. Contact us today to find out more.