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Businesses operating within the waste industry are susceptible to a wide range of fire risks. Storage of combustible materials, the ongoing use of industrial vehicles and waste’s natural ability to rise in temperature all add to these risks. The sector’s safety has improved over recent years, with the Environment Agency (EA) making Fire Prevention Plans (FPPs) mandatory for every waste and recycling site. However, there’s still a way to go to ensure maximum safety - and insurers have a crucial role to play. James Mountain, Sales and Marketing Director, Fire Shield Systems Ltd, speaks to an anonymous insurance advisor, operating within the waste and recycling and waste to energy sectors, to explore the next steps the waste industry needs to take to create a safer environment for all. effective fire prevention What are the common fire safety issues you see in the waste industry? While the EA has made FPPs mandatory for all sites, these tend to state the need to install ‘a suppression solution’ For waste and recycling and waste to energy sites in particular, we tend to see a general lack of effective fire prevention and suppression systems. While the EA has made FPPs mandatory for all sites, these tend to state the need to install ‘a suppression solution’. It often won’t stipulate any required standards, particular specifications for compliance, and it also doesn’t always consider the conditions in which the system will be used and should operate effectively. The difficulty is decisions are primarily driven by costs. This can lead to sites unknowingly cutting corners by selecting substandard systems that don’t address their individual risks. For example, a business may select a sprinkler system as a cheaper alternative to an automatic suppression system, however, should a fire break out, that system may be designed to protect the warehouse shell, rather than the teams and valuable equipment inside it. fire safety systems How do insurers usually recommend fire safety systems? In many cases, insured systems will arise from a manufacturer’s deal. For example, a forklift may be pre-fitted with a vehicle fire suppression system, which was installed as part of a bulk deal with the manufacturer. However, that template system may not be fit for purpose in every operating environment, such as those which require the vehicle to operate continuously, with little downtime, to fulfil busy work schedules. If a site demonstrates that it has fire protection measures implemented, some insurers will accept the policy, without verifying how effective those measures are in practice. This can lead businesses to trust a system that isn’t the most suitable for their individual risks. Also, insurance underwriting templates will often only stipulate the need for ‘an approved system’, giving little incentive for businesses to go beyond the minimum approval requirements. That’s where insurers can play a crucial part in driving up standards. individual risk assessment What more could be done? Some certification standards can be used to guide insurer decisions and safeguard sites more effectively Although not compulsory, some certification standards can be used to guide insurer decisions and safeguard sites more effectively. Two key examples of these standards being the FM Approval and SPCR (P-Mark). If a system carries the FM approval mark, subject to an individual risk assessment, businesses and insurers can trust its ability to effectively safeguard a site. Whereas the SPCR (P-Mark) standard acts as an industry benchmark for the fire suppression systems for heavy vehicles and machinery. Both of these standards evaluate the effectiveness of a system, applying a range of tests to ensure they are fit for purpose in practice. The onus for driving safety standards forward is with the insurer. It’s about recommending the right systems for the right sites and environments - education is a crucial part of that. Insurers need to confidently carry out checks to ensure measures and systems are robust enough to adequately protect the site. It’s a win-win scenario. factors influencing risk The standards promote greater transparency on the suitability of systems, preventing businesses from unknowingly selecting a substandard solution and delivering confidence in the safety of the site for teams and assets. For insurers, a safer site means decreased fire risk, meaning pay out costs are also likely to decrease. How has the safety of the industry changed over recent years? Typically, waste and recycling and waste to energy have always been ‘rogue’ operating areas, but safety standards have moved on in recent years, and the EA continues to become more stringent in its fire safety guidance. There are a number of different factors influencing risk across the sectors, making addressing the issue all the more urgent. fire suppression systems By adopting safety standards, the insurance industry can move to reduce inadequate fire prevention systems These include Brexit and the resulting implications of the Basel Convention regulations and China’s ban on solid waste imports, both of which are causing new export restrictions to be placed upon areas which were previously highly relied upon for waste disposal. This is causing a number of waste transportation delays and higher storage levels for waste sites, leading sites to operate closer to storage capacity. In turn, this increases dependence on fire prevention and suppression systems to ensure safe sites. unique operating environments What are the next steps throughout 2021 and beyond? The whole insurance market needs to work together. It’s a collective approach. The EA will continue to push for greater mitigation measures on site. However, by adopting effective safety standards, such as FM approval and SPCR (P Mark), the insurance industry can move to reduce the presence of inadequate fire prevention and suppression systems. Fire safety is all about selecting and insuring the right systems. Insurers need to account for the unique operating environments of sites within the waste and recycling and waste to energy sectors - that is the crucial next step.
Innovation in the fire protection industry can oftentimes be slow to move forward, particularly when compared to other similar industries. This is because legislation, regulation, and enforcement, while all necessary proponents within the sector, can often slow the tide of revolutionary ideas. However, the ability to innovate in this industry can quite literally be a matter of life and death. The developing intricacies of modern infrastructure and the demand for more sustainable solutions must also fuel the need for innovation. Fortunately, there are many companies at the forefront of technical and digital transformation within the industry. At the NFPA Conference in June 2019, much of the chatter revolved around Smart Connected Things (SCoT) within fire protection systems. Smart Technology Smart Tech can offer more accurate, efficient inspections and testing, which on its own is capable of saving lives These systems are now being used by both building owners and service providers to determine fire protection system conditions as well as helping to perform some critical testing functions remotely - which of course has been invaluable in 2020. Smart Tech can offer more accurate, efficient inspections and testing, which on its own is capable of saving lives and protecting valuable property. For example, if a warehouse has been equipped with smart tech solutions to observe water pressure and flow rates within a building sprinkler system, users can have a real-time view of how much water has been flowing per minute. This means that should a fire break out in a particular part of the building the flow rate within the sprinkler can be routed to that specific area to put the blaze out as efficiently and as quickly as possible. Advanced Smoke Detection Fire protection brands have made huge leaps forward in their quest to develop smoke detectors which meet with the UL 268 Safety Standards for 2020. The new standard requires that all smoke alarms and detectors must meet two critical benchmarks: Increased responsiveness to the new polyurethane foam tests. Ability to distinguish the difference between smoke aerosols from accidental fire sources and smoke aerosols from cooking sources. Basically, domestic smoke detectors must be able to understand the difference between materials, based on the kinds of smoke they emit when they catch fire. Detectors must also distinguish between the smoke produced as a by-product of cooking, or a “nuisance” fire, and a real fire, which could pose a threat to human life. Smoke & Flame Video Detection The new alarms feature “TruSense Technology”, which is designed to be able to differentiate between fast and smoldering flames and common false alarms. These technologies were developed in the hope that homeowners wouldn’t just simply remove smoke alarms or batteries due to frequent false alarms. Video Image Smoke Detection technology has been around the industry for a few years now, but full video detection is now being used to supplement it, in order to further the applications of this technology. A video image will then be processed by the software that then concludes whether the clip contains smoke or flames This tech uses video-based analytical algorithms that integrate cameras into advanced flame and smoke detection solutions. A video image will then be processed by the software that then concludes whether the clip contains smoke or flames. The algorithms used to distinguish smoke and flames can utilize several different metrics, such as a change in brightness, contrast and movement. Water Mist Suppression Systems Depending on the kind of system in place, these recognition tools can even offer security and other surveillance features too. This technology is ideal in locations with large surface areas, such as power plants, stadiums, shopping centers and warehouses and distribution centers, where a fire may be particularly challenging to locate using traditional methods. Flame Video systems trace fire to its origin to make for quicker, more effective extinguishment and evacuation. A major concern for most businesses in any industry is sustainability. Water mist suppression systems are able to fight fires using significantly less water than a traditional system. The water is stored under extreme pressure and is released using specialized sprinklers and spray heads. This enables the water is able to reach a far larger surface area since the droplets are much smaller. Exit Point Technology A water mist suppression system is also designed to cool down an area where fire and smoke are present, by blocking radiant heat and eliminating oxygen from the origin point. These systems are often used in areas that see a lot of foot traffic or buildings where the possibility of water damage would be detrimental. All Fire Alarm Systems must include notification appliances, such as bells, horns and strobe lights. Technological advances use directional sound to help evacuees determine the pathway to the fire exits But the latest devices now provide verbal instruction on what to do in the event of a blaze and tell people where to go to the nearest exit. It’s highly likely that evacuation may be hampered by black smoke and smog in a real-life emergency. This obviously makes visibility limited, thereby possibly making exit signs challenging to see. The latest technological advances use directional sound to help evacuees to determine the location and the pathway to the fire exits. New Sealing Sprinkler Guidance The audible sound is specially adapted to the human ear, meaning that someone could easily determine the direction and sound. While the previous entries in this list have been about products, it’s also absolutely vital that fire safety regulations are also developed alongside these products. Not only does this ensure the protection of occupants within the building, but also the structure of the building itself. For example, The Ministry of Housing, Government & Local Government announced tweaks to the Approved Document B (Fire Safety) which went into effect last November and applied to building works that started this January. These updates apply to blocks of flats and mixed-use buildings with top floors that are more than eleven meters above ground level. The legislation change means that C-PVC sprinkler pipes now need to be sealed with only specialist and approved products. The height threshold for a sprinkler system in residential flat blocks has been reduced from 30 to 11 meters.
There are many daily risks faced by buildings and their managers, with electrical fires being one of the most common and dangerous. Commercial fires impact occupant health, property and the business itself – with 25% of businesses who suffer a fire never reopening. Given the often-unpredictable nature of electrical fires, businesses must invest in the latest technologies to prevent irreparable damage. It is the responsibility of the consultant engineer to show leadership and initiative in improving safety to protect the business, its employees and its most valuable assets. Engineers must look beyond simply tackling overloads and short circuits and examine a range of connected solutions that can stop a fire before it even has a chance to begin. This drastically reduces the cost of damages and repairs, while giving building operators unrivalled visibility. Connected protection is crucial at every level of the circuit, from the switchboard to distribution. A centralized system for equipment monitoring and detection provides building managers with all the information they need to keep fire risk under control, and therefore protect staff, property and business. Electrical fire risk awareness During the design and implementation phase, the consultant engineer’s role is traditionally to respect and master the local standards. They should ensure all components and parts of the circuit comply with the latest wiring rules, electrical and building codes. Yet for enhanced safety they should also be willing to look beyond the standards of the day. Given the often-unpredictable nature of electrical fires, businesses must invest in the latest technologies to prevent irreparable damage Today’s regulations do a good job of protecting buildings from the dangers of short circuits and overloads, mostly by mandating the use of circuit breakers. However, consultant engineers should also be aware of the risks posed by circuit deterioration and mistakes made during the installation. Loose cabling and faulty insulation or connections – even something as small as an untightened screw – can significantly increase a circuit’s fire risk. It’s up to consultant engineers to know their market and provide solutions that go beyond the minimum to detect and prevent electrical fires. Why electrical engineers must go the extra mile A stitch in time saves nine. While tackling overloads and short circuits is crucial, engineers must go further, examining a range of connected solutions that can stop a fire before it even has a chance to begin. Acting pre-emptively can drastically reduce the cost of damages and repairs and provide building operators with unrivalled visibility of their facility. Connected protection is crucial at every level of the circuit, from the switchboard to distribution. A centralized system for equipment monitoring and detection will provide the building manager with all the information they need to keep fire risk under control. Connected protection is crucial at every level of the circuit For optimal protection, organisations should employ smart, connected solutions that detect fire and the risk of fire at every level. This means additional protection for the switchboard and the circuit at all levels of the electrical installation, underpinned by a centralised system for monitoring and pro-active action. Using Residual Current Devices (RCDs) against insulation faults triggered by earth leakage currents exceeding 300mA, is a familiar solution. Engineers now have access to more effective earth leakage protection solutions with the same footprint as a classical overload and short-circuit protection. Products can now also offer permanent earth leakage current measurement which, when connected to a monitoring system, allows pre-alarming and monitoring during the time of any drift in the insulation. Identify switchboard vulnerabilities Unprotected electrical switchboards are especially vulnerable to fire risk. The equipment is susceptible to rodent infestation and internal overheating, issues that can often go unnoticed until it is too late. The IEC 61439-2 Low-voltage switchgear and control gear assemblies – Part 2: Power switchgear and control gear assembly’s standard addresses these risks, making compliance a must. However, fulfilling these design and manufacturing rules for switchboards does not eliminate the risk of connection failure. A critical sequence of events can occur. First, increasing electrical contact resistance accelerates further deterioration. This increased resistance induces a rise in temperature – high temperatures deteriorate the connection surface even more. The more deteriorated surface leads to a further increase in contact resistance, and the resulting thermal runaway will cause complete connection failure. Fire, flash-over and explosions become a real risk. Enhanced electrical fire prevention Moreover, final circuits should be protected by an arc fault detection device (AFDD) for enhanced fire prevention. Final circuits should be protected by an arc fault detection device (AFDD) Circuits age unevenly and unpredictably, so persistent monitoring and predictive maintenance are key to limiting fire risk. Cloud analytics can help provide asset health analytics to interpret the status and history of your most critical assets, with preventive notifications and 24/7 support. Fire prevention must be a top priority when assessing all the safety and risk-management of a building. In the case of electrical fires, prevention is better than cure. Therefore, establishing the right approach before crisis strikes will be invaluable. Connected solutions across the entire circuit are an effective solution for consultant engineers to defend buildings from the often-underestimated dangers of faulty installation and ageing components. In short, smart electrical fire prevention provides peace of mind for engineers, facility owners and occupants alike.
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