Fire protection is a key issue in the waste reprocessing sector as most sites are particularly vulnerable in this respect. The high risk of an outbreak of fire, significant heat potential and a layout (conveying systems and few barriers) conducive to rapid spread are a lethal combination. Until recently however, fire protection was not top of the list of priorities among waste processing companies. Fires are often detected too late, making them extremely difficult to fight with inadequate or inappropriate equipment.
Waste reprocessing plants have to face up to numerous outbreaks of fire. Examples include:
The vulnerability of materials recovery facilities is increased by the difficulties in detecting fire outbreaks early:
Furthermore, most materials recovery facilities are ill-equipped to deal with such risks as the equipment installed generally only complies with rather lax administrative requirements. The fire extinguishers and hose reels available at all sites are incapable of containing a fire that breaks out in a pit or that spreads into storage or process areas. Some sites are equipped with monitors that are all too often poorly designed with insufficient output, movement and range. Worse still, owing to their poor design, use of these monitors can cause the fire to spread, for example by propelling blazing waste bales instead of suppressing the fire. Furthermore, the storage areas where the heat potential is concentrated are generally not specifically protected.
Finally, as processing centres are designed to facilitate the throughput of waste (large spaces without barriers, conveyors running through the whole site, etc.), fire can spread more easily and more rapidly.
While it is clear that they are particularly vulnerable to fire risks, it is important to bear in mind that a fire in waste facilities can have serious consequences:
Finally, these sites are generally owned by local authorities and, therefore, fires tend to receive widespread media coverage. As waste reprocessing is generally a topic of local discord (NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard – phenomenon), a major fire can cause a facility to shut down for political reasons.
For information, here are some statistics provided by the Fédération Française des Sociétés d’Assurance (French Insurers’ Federation):
For the last five years, category TRE 850 (urban and industrial waste treatment) has been at the top of the list of most serious fires (in terms of number and total amount of claims).
In 2014, the sector accounted for 19% of serious claims (five out of 26 across all sectors) and 29% of the cost (€37m out of €127m).
The increase in the number of claims from the “waste” sector, and their seriousness, is therefore forcing insurers to:
As the sector is always in the red, insurers show little inclination to negotiate. However, public stakeholders, such as local authorities, Departmental Fire & Rescue Services (SDIS) and Regional Departments of Environment, Planning and Housing (DREAL), are gradually becoming more aware of the potential consequences of fire and increasing their requirement levels.
It is therefore essential to estimate the risks and the control means to be installed from the design phase. For contractors (builders, chief architects/project managers and operators), highlighting the planned fire-fighting appliances is now a differentiating factor in Calls for Tenders for the construction or upgrading of a waste treatment facility.