What is your vehicle dismantling business really doing to combat scrap yard fires?
I last wrote about scrap yard fires as recently as last month (May 2023), and yet here we are again, revisiting the subject.
On the 22nd May this year, a man was hospitalised after seven tonnes of scrap metal, including vehicles, caught alight at a scrapyard in Lower Sydenham. 60 fire fighters from five crews across London Fire Brigade responded to the fire, taking nearly three hours to bring the blaze under control. Due to the amount of smoke, local residents were advised to keep their windows and doors closed. The fire was believed to have been accidental, with the most likely cause being fuel from a nearby open petrol can being ignited. As a Health and Safety Professional, I 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 I hear when I witness the term accidental being used during an investigation is, an occurrence that could have been likely avoided. Simply claiming that vehicle depollution and dismantling is inherently hazardous and therefore we need to somehow accept as an industry 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 train them on how to tackle the next one. I know which approach I would adopt.
However, many business owners still believe it will never be them who fall victim. I challenge you to take five minutes out of your day and Google search "UK scrap yard fire" and see for yourself, how many hits are returned. I think you will be alarmed at how prevalent accidental fires are within the industry. Even those businesses who rely on the best fire prevention plans and incorporate the latest's heat sensing detection equipment, still have to accept that some fire risk will remain. However, by ensuring everything reasonably practicable has being addressed, those business owners are correctly doing everything within their power to mitigate this residual risk.
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 in 2022 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.
It should not surprise anyone that education is key to making our ELV processes safer. Training makes employees more aware of the dangers associated with their roles, highlighting the dangers of taking shortcuts whilst demonstrating the benefits of evolving current hazardous activities with safe and sustainable alternatives, that increase operational efficiency. And yet, knowing the all too apparent dangers and consequence of a scrap yard fire, some business owners are still willing to gamble with the lives of employees and the futures of their businesses, for the sake of making a cost saving. Reluctance to introduce standardised employee safety training means that many business owners are choosing to gamble a short term and relatively small cost saving, against the likelihood of a serious workplace fire. You don't need to be an accountant to work out that the cost of training your people properly to mitigate a workplace fire, is a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of dealing with the aftermath of a serious fire.
So what can we do for starters? Go back to your Fire Prevention Plan and make sure it is up to date and reflects all your current risks and activities. Businesses must have strict inspection practices in place when ELVs arrive on an ATF site. This will ensure many potential sources of ignition and fuel such as Lithium-ion batteries in discarded electronic devices in laptops, tablets and mobile phones are removed from the vehicle before it enters the site's processing. Removing road wheels and separating tyre carcases ensures pressure monitors can be retrieved, another source of fires. Identifying LPG vehicles and removing the tank at the very start of the depollution process will be effective at preventing the risk of fire from tanks accidentally entering a shredder or bailer. If you are confident as a business owner that the processes highlighted here are in place, then monitor them to ensure you are doing all you can to protect employees, the emergency services, your business and the environment. Remember, every time businesses find themselves having to call the emergency services to deal with workplace fire, you are putting more lives at risk.
Remember that ELV Training is on hand to support you through any of this. Whether your looking for advice on your current depollution activities and practices, you want us to carry out an independent review of your current Fire Prevention Plans, or you wish to enrol your elv depollution and dismantling technicians in our Industry-approved training, we can help. Our business has one goal – to support the vehicle recycling industry, by building competence and capability within it. We currently offer 28 training courses and three qualifications covering a wide spectrum of ELV disciplines including many subject areas that are fundamental to reducing the risk of ELV and scrap yard fires:
Emergency Spill Response
Extraction and Storage of Fuel
Storage of Hazardous Components and Substances
Recovery and Flaring of Liquid Petroleum Gas