The waste sector is prone to a wide variety of fire safety risks. The ongoing use of vehicles and machinery, storage of large volumes of combustible materials and waste’s ability to develop hotspots over time all add to these.

Waste fire safety has improved in recent years, as the Environment Agency (EA) has made Fire Prevention Plans (FPPs) a legal requirement for waste sites. However, there is still improvements to be made, and insurers have a crucial part to play.

What are the common fire safety issues across the sector?

FPPs tend to stipulate a site’s need for ‘a suppression system’. They often will not contain a recommended standard set of criteria for the system to comply with or details of the operating environment in which the system should operate effectively. As a result, we tend to see a lack of sufficient fire protection for waste sites.

Decisions tend to be driven by costs. That can cause businesses to unknowingly cut corners and select a substandard system, which is not tailored to their individual risks. For example, selecting a sprinkler system instead of an automatic suppression system, despite it being designed to preserve the warehouse shell, instead of the valuable equipment within it.

How do insurers usually recommend products and systems?

Many insured systems will have come from a manufacturer’s deal. For example, a forklift truck that is pre-fitted with a vehicle fire suppression solution, installed as part of a bulk deal with the manufacturer. However, that system is a template design. It will not be fit for purpose in every operating environment, such as those which rely on the vehicle to be used continuously for long periods of time, with little downtime.

Also, insurance underwriting templates will often only state the requirement for ‘an approved system’, so there’s no real incentive for businesses to install a more effective system, if the existing one gains insurer approval.

What more could be done?

Certification bodies can be used to inform insurer decisions. Examples include FM, Vds, LPCB, SPCR (P-Mark).

The FM Approval mark indicates that the manufacturer has carried out extensive auditing and testing protocols to ensure a solution has been rigorously evaluated for a specific application.

The SPCR (P-Mark) 199 fire test protocol is a recently adopted industry benchmark for effective fire suppression for heavy vehicles and machinery. Both of these certifications are designed to ensure systems are fit for purpose in practice, applying a range of tests, including openness to environment, environmental testing and extreme vibration tests to ensure it will work in use.

The onus is on the insurer. It is about recommending the right systems for the right sites. Education has a key role to play in that, as insurers need to carry out checks to ensure systems are effective for particular operating environments and uses.

Standards and external testing protocols can help to promote greater transparency on the suitability of systems, helping businesses to select adequate protection for their individual sites. For insurers, that means safer sites, which in turn will see a decrease in pay out costs, as systems and measures are robust and designed to withstand their operating environments.

Has the safety of the industry changed over recent years?

Waste and recycling and waste to energy have always been typically ‘rogue’ operating areas, but things have moved on with the EA continuing to become more stringent in the implementation of its fire safety regulations.

Many current factors are influencing the waste sector’s risk, making the issue of fire safety more pressing. These factors include Brexit and the resulting implications of the Basel Convention regulations and China’s ban on solid waste imports. Both of these are causing new export restrictions to areas which are highly relied upon for waste disposal, meaning greater transportation delays and longer storage times at waste sites. In turn, this results in waste sites operating closer to storage capacity, increasing a number of fire risks.

How do you see things changing over the next few years?

The whole insurance market needs to work together – it is a collective approach to driving up safety standards. Prioritising and adopting certification standards for protective systems and equipment is a key part of that.

It is all about ensuring the right systems are insured for the right sites. Thinking about the operating environment is key – the crucial next step.

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