Business leaders across Britain’s waste and recycling industry are describing the Environment Agency’s (ES) attempt to create a single set of ‘one size fits all’ fire prevention guidelines for all sectors as ‘unviable’. The need to store a diverse range of materials in various grades, each with differing combustibility, burn rates and fire risk, across widely differing sites, makes the adoption of a ‘catch-all’ solution impossible, they point out. Should such a policy be adopted, it would also pose a severe threat to reputable businesses, while at the same time encouraging an increase in sites exempt from regulations and which the EA admits it does not have the funds to inspect.
What is called for is a new business-facing approach from the EA, more constructive industry engagement and a fire guidance policy which incorporates the conclusions of the scientifically conducted burn tests organised by Waste Industry Safety and Health forum (WISH) FRS support.
Of core concern is the EA’s requirements on spacing between waste materials, which have increased dramatically, while maximum heights have been substantially reduced. To be accommodated, existing regulated sites would need to expand their footprint by up four times, a requirement which cannot be met either in terms of availability of suitable sites nor commercially due to the exponentially increased cost. At a more fundamental level, there is no agreement among fire experts that this is the best approach to prevent, contain or fight the outbreak of fires at waste sites.
Another central point of dispute is the requirement for fire suppression systems, such as sprinklers, across all sites. Such systems are universally expensive to install and yet they are not effective in extinguishing all fires under all circumstances. An example of this has been highlighted in WISH’s burn tests where a plastic pile fire quickly forms an ‘ash and debris cap’ on its surface which does not allow water to penetrate.
In fact, the burn tests continue to indicate in some circumstances tyre fires may cause less detrimental impact by containing their spread and controlling their burn, as was historically the approach.
Peter Taylor OBE, Secretary General of the Tyre Recovery Association (TRA), said: “Our members have a clear understanding of the need for a fire prevention plan and its benefits – our objections come from the unfathomably illogical approach EA has taken to cobble together its current guidance. Among other associations, the TRA has been trying to engage with the EA on this critical subject for many years to offer the insight only industry can provide. However, despite those efforts, the EA has only ever ‘heard’ not ‘listened’ to the point where it’s reasonable to conclude it is deaf to the voice of industry.
“With all sectors within the waste and recycling industry under threat, jobs in jeopardy and regulated and reputable recycling schemes facing potential collapse, the TRA once again implores the EA to think again on its latest fire prevention guidelines.”
Andy Hill, Chairman of the Wood Recyclers Association (WRA) which has been campaigning against the content of the guidance on behalf of its members, said: “We are genuinely concerned that landfill is on the increase again and the FPP guidance as it stands will only worsen this. The UK needs to increase its capacity to recycle used resources, not introduce further measures which will reduce the number of reputable operations who can recycle materials. To achieve that, the support of regulators is essential and the WRA is again reaching out to the EA to join in conversations which will lead to positive outcomes and achieve these objectives.”
In a bid to overcome the issues of the current fire guidelines, both the TRA and WRA are once again seeking discussions with the EA.