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Avoiding scrapyard fires


It has not escaped the public's attention that the waste and recycling industry, including the scrap metal sector, is suffering an increasing number of fires. Scrapyard fires are nearly a weekly occurrence, with blazes presenting a significant health, safety and environmental issue. These fires pose a real risk to employees, contractors, visitors, the emergency services who respond, and to the wider public. We fear it is only a matter of time before the United Kingdom suffers a fatality in the vehicle dismantling industry.


Scrapyard and end-of-life vehicle fires can be made up of multiple burning materials, some of which provide a source of ignition, some acting as fuel, some contributing to fire due to their self-heating or spontaneous combustion properties. Some materials produce chain reactions causing great writhing columns of smoke that are visible for miles around, forcing residents to keep windows and doors locked and closing road networks due to lack of visibility.

The Environment Agency’s senior adviser on fire prevention plans says, “fires are “prolific” in the waste management sector generally, but they are most apparent at ELV sites, often stemming from poor depollution practices and issues related to lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.”

To prevent risk of injury, death and harm to the environment, we need to clean up the supply chain and greatly reduce the risk of fires occurring. The CEO of the BMRA stated that if we do nothing, given fires in the waste industry are already an increasing topic of concern amongst the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Environment Agency, operators could face onerous sanctions from these stakeholders. In addition, these incidents will increase insurance premiums dramatically and, in some cases, may render companies uninsurable. 

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National Fire Chiefs Council
Scrapyard Fires


We hear the term "accidental" used all to often to describe unintentional situations that stem from poor housekeeping, depollution practice, and a lack of proper hazard control. What health and safety professionals think when they hear the term accidental being used during an investigation, is an occurrence that could have likely been avoided. Simply claiming that vehicle depollution and dismantling is inherently hazardous and therefore we need to somehow accept that scrap yard fires are impossible to eliminate, is not acceptable nor sustainable. Business owners are fully in control of their fire prevention planning and only have one simple decision to make - do they train people to prevent fires or how to tackle the next one - which approach will you adopt?


Education is key to making our ELV processes safer, building from the ground up, making our employees more aware of the dangers associated with their roles, taking the time to explain the dangers of taking shortcuts, whilst demonstrating the benefits of evolving current ELV activities with safe and sustainable solutions to increase operational efficiency.


Introducing strict inspection practices for ELVs as they arrive on site is fundamental to eliminating fires. Lithium-ion batteries in discarded electronic devices such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones, and removing road wheels and separating tyre carcases ensures pressure monitors can be retrieved, are common source of fires. Identifying LPG vehicles and removing the tank at the very start of the depollution process is another way to mitigate the risk of fire from tanks accidentally entering the shredder or bailer.

Eduction is the key to preventing scrapyard fires
Fire Investigation


Many business owners still believe it will never be them who falls victim. Even those businesses who rely on the best fire prevention plans and incorporate the latest heat sensing detection equipment still have to accept that some fire risk will remain. However, by ensuring everything reasonably practicable has being addressed, they are doing everything within their power to mitigate the residual risk.

The industry can only manage this problem if we work collectively to eradicate combustion sources from the entire supply chain.

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