Articles by James Mountain
The global drive towards sustainability is causing businesses to continually search for alternative fuel sources, seeing an increase in rubber and plastic recycling across the UK. However, recycling these materials tends to relies on high volume storage for lengthy periods of time, as well as intense processing. This creates unique fire risks, as evidenced in the troubling fire record for recycling plants in the UK. James Mountain, sales and marketing director, Fire Shield Systems, explains the key fire risks associated with rubber and plastics, and how these risks can best be mitigated. Over the past century, the plastic industry has rapidly evolved, creating a diverse family of materials comprising various types of plastics. The same can be said for the rubber industry, which uses a range of raw materials, with modern tyres being made up of over 200 different materials, and the average car tyre comprising around 30 types of synthetic rubber and eight types of natural rubber. Many of the diverse ingredients in modern rubber and plastic are combustible, creating unique fire risks and making it crucial for business owners to understand the appropriate mitigation measures. The rubber risk Many of the diverse ingredients in modern rubber and plastic are combustible, creating unique fire risks.When ignited, the spread of fire and smoke from rubber can be rapid. It also burns at extreme temperatures. At 200°C, rubber flows as molten rubber, and at 230°C, it emits flammable vapours, which can become trapped in the hot mass. If not promptly controlled, those vapours can set alight with an explosive force. As rubber naturally repels water, many extinguishing measures are often shed and drained away. This makes suppression extremely challenging, with many common measures, such as ceiling height sprinkler systems, unable to successfully control rubber fires. Tyre fires Prior to recycling, rubber tyres can be stored for extended periods of time. This creates unique fire risks, due to the air spaces between each tyre and their potential for high heat output. When alight, tyres release a range of toxic chemicals and a large amount of oil, with one million tyres releasing up to 55,000 gallons (208,198 litres) of oil. This means water is generally an ineffective extinguishing material. The average car tyre comprises of around 30 types of synthetic rubber and eight types of natural rubber In addition, tyre fires often burn for shocking amounts of time. For example, the Heyope Tyre Fire in Wales begin in 1989 and wasn’t fully extinguished for an incredible 15 years, as the tyres were so densely packed together. During the recycling process, tyres are sometimes shredded into smaller chips, known as tyre shred or rubber crumb. In this state, rubber is extremely vulnerable to self-combustion. However, these fires often take a long period of time to ignite, meaning prevention is possible in many situations. The plastic risk The naturally occurring and synthetic polymers found in plastics react similarly to fire, typically creating highly toxic chemicals when ignited. Additionally, plastic flames can spread rapidly, as high as two feet per second or 10 times that of wood on the surface. Recycled plastics can be used for the production of renewable fuels, such as solid recovered fuel (SRF) and refused derived fuel (RDF). Subcoal technology is now being used to upgrade these fuels into pellets, which can be used as a substitute for coal or lignite to fuel industrial furnaces. However, this pellet material often has a high calorific value, which means it is extremely susceptible to fire risk when stored in stockpiles. Responsibilities and regulations The Environment Agency (EA) outlines that every waste and recycling site must have a fire prevention plan (FPP), which details the mitigation measures and policies in place to reduce a site’s fire risk. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005) also stipulates business owners’ responsibility to take appropriate measures to reduce fire risk. Specific voluntary guidance for the storage of rubber exists (ISO 2230:200), as well as guidance for the suitable use of suppression systems and how to mitigate specific types of fires (NFPA 11, EN 13565). Mitigating the risk Methods for safeguarding sites and mitigating fire risk for rubber and plastics can be broken down into three key areas: initial storage, the recycling process and storage of the newly formed materials. Initial bulk storage of raw materials When reducing fire risk in bulk raw material storage, you should: Monitor the sub-surface temperature regularly Control moisture levels Ensure adequate ventilation Reduce the size of piles Create separation (either physically or using fire walls) between all waste piles Minimise storage times. When it comes to suppression measures, water-based solutions will generally have a limited impact on rubber and plastic fires. Instead, you could use a compressed air foam system, which allows the agent to stick to the materials to remove the oxygen supply and effectively suppress the fire. Processing rubber and plastics When processing rubber and plastic for SRF or RDF, the risk of fire is extremely high and mitigation will often need a holistic approach. Key things to consider include: Cleaning machinery frequently to remove any small, highly combustible particles released during shredding. Regular maintenance of machinery to minimise the risk of mechanical failure or friction. Implementing the right fire prevention systems. Different machinery will require localised application protection. For example, detection systems such as linear heat detection, infra-red flame detection or video flame detection, are important for identifying flames, sparks or embers, which can be created from the metallic presence within the material. Storing processed materials Mitigating fire risk in the storage of processed materials may include: Turning piles frequently where the risk of self-combustion or spontaneous heating is higher Monitoring sub-surface temperatures Controlling moisture levels Managing material risk factors. Processed rubber and plastic, such as SRF or RDF, has a high calorific value, so water alone will often not effectively suppress a fire. Instead, a Class A penetrating foam systems, using deluge systems, cannons/monitors or hose reel systems, is likely to be more effective. To create an effective fire protection strategy, a full risk assessment is crucial, as it helps to generate a unique solution, tailored to the individual site and its risks.
The UK’s demand for sustainable heat and power sources is increasing rapidly. This is seeing a growing dependence on renewable energy sources for electricity, and, as we’re facing a landscape of constrained power generation, consistency of this power source is becoming a key concern. Fire is an evolving risk for power stations. It can cause prolonged outages, which are damaging to sites’ personnel, equipment, and fuels. However, these fires are very common. James Mountain, Sales, and Marketing Director, Fire Shield Systems, looks at the current system underlying fire safety for power stations, exploring why a new approach is needed. Traditional Fire Safety guidance Over the past ten years, The National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 850 Recommended practice for electric generating plants and high voltage direct current converter stations has been seen as the exemplar internationally for fire safety at power generation sites. These recommendations sit alongside a complex mix of regulations managing the fire protection across sites that create power from combustible feedstocks. Those feedstocks can either be derived from organic sources, including wood and agriculture or refuse sources, including household waste. The exploration of alternative systems is limited, but different fuels and processes need different suppression, detection, and monitoring systems to remain effective. However, chapter nine of the guidance dedicates only four of its 70 pages to the fire risks specifically pertaining to the handling and storage of alternative fuels, a rising concern for the power generation industry. Practical experience of advising on the fire safety for sites handling these fuels has revealed a conflicting array of approaches to risk mitigation, many of which are guided by the owner, led by the insurance industry. For the insurance industry, the main concern is protecting fuels, assets, and equipment. However, insurers often rely on more traditional methods to offer that protection, such as sprinkler systems, despite these not always being suitable in protecting certain types of feedstocks. The exploration of alternative systems is limited, but different fuels and processes need different suppression, detection, and monitoring systems to remain effective. To better address, the growing challenges faced, best practice legislation and guidance for power generation sites needs to reflect real work scenarios, including the myriad incidents which have occurred throughout the past decade. What are the risks When Dealing with alternative fuel? When it comes to dealing with alternative fuels, storage, movement, processing, and transportation all present significant fire risks. These risks become more complex with alternative fuels compared with others as, to protect the site effectively, there’s a need to understand their unique properties, consistencies, ingress of hazardous materials, and their reactions on contact with water and foams. When it comes to dealing with alternative fuels, storage, movement, processing, and transportation all present significant fire risks The myriad risks, from carbon monoxide (CO) emissions to large explosions, are guided by an equally complicated set of fire safety guidance. Research into the safe handling and storage of these fuels, and the most suitable mitigation measures to offset the risks, is ongoing. Detecting and monitoring heat within alternative fuels when stored is also challenging, as the material is also an insulator. This means fire and heat are often difficult to identify in their early stages, prior to a blaze taking hold. Some types of alternative fuels are also prone to self-combustion if not monitored carefully. The risk of fires burning slowly within these materials is the topic of a major study from Emerging Risks from Smouldering Fires (EMRIS) between 2015 and 2020. The need for new best practice guidance in fire safety As methods for generating renewable power mature, and new technologies and research emerge, fire safety guidance needs to be updated to reflect this. This is not only a UK-wide challenge, but it’s also recognized across global and European standards. Regulations need to take into account a range of factors to ensure protection systems are effective in practice. The development of renewable power sources requires revision of fire safety guidance. Now, a decade on from when the NFPA 850 was first published, it’s time to revisit its guidance and focus on building a more resilient, fire-safe future for all of the UK’s 78 biomass and 48 waste to energy sites. This involves greater clarity pertaining to the specific risks associated with alternative fuels, such as waste and biomass-derived fuels. The approach needs to be comprehensive, looking at every aspect of designing, installing, and maintaining systems.While the power generation industry remains reliant on outdated and complex guidance, with conflicting approaches to best practice protection, the potential for systems to fail is clear. That robust approach relies on multiple stakeholders working together – including the regulators, government, academics, technology partners, and fire safety professionals. Collaboration is key to build long-term confidence in the safety of sustainable fuels in powering our homes, transport, and industries in the future.
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.
In any business, fire can cause significant damage and substantial loss of revenue, assets, or productivity due to a period of downtime. However, fires can be prevented through continuous temperature monitoring, as it can detect hot spots or rising temperatures that may lead to a fire. Temperature monitoring, in combination with effective suppression systems, can largely reduce fire risk and safeguard your teams, assets and the environment. How thermal imaging supports fire detection and suppression An effective method of monitoring temperature to aid fire detection and suppression is thermal imaging. Many thermal imaging cameras can work in conjunction with fire detection systems, by providing automatic alerts Thermal imaging cameras work by measuring infrared radiation. Invisible to the human eye, infrared radiation is detectable to thermal cameras, as it releases heat. Thermal imaging cameras measure the amount of heat (or infrared radiation) released from an object or in an area. The findings are then converted into images or videos, which show ‘hot spots’ as bright, orange-like markings, in comparison to cooler areas, which appear dark and blue-like. Thermal imaging cameras are described as ‘non-contact’, as they have the ability to monitor temperatures from a significant distance, providing view is not obstructed. Working In Conjunction Many thermal imaging cameras can work in conjunction with fire detection systems, by providing automatic alerts when the temperature reaches or exceeds a certain limit, or increases at a fast pace. These alerts then trigger an alarm, allowing for quick response and mitigation of high temperatures, reducing the risk of a fire breaking out or spreading. The ability to detect heat or hot spots that are invisible to the naked eye, and untraceable by traditional fire detection methods, such as smoke detectors, prove Temperature monitoring can largely reduce fire risk and safeguard your teamsthermal imaging cameras to be an incredibly effective addition to any business’ fire detection system. Thermal imaging cameras can be connected with fire suppression systems, allowing you to entirely automate your response to fires, meaning you can focus on the safe evacuation of your teams. Systems can be integrated to allow your suppression solution to be automatically released if high temperatures are detected, for example. The benefits of thermal imaging Using thermal imaging to support fire detection and suppression has a variety of benefits, including: Detecting high temperatures before a fire breaks out – the fundamental benefit of thermal imaging is the ability to detect heat or monitor rises in heat before a fire begins. This allows for appropriate measures to be carried out to lower temperatures to avoid risk of a fire breaking out. It can also help to identify shortfalls in existing fire prevention measures, which may have resulted in the increase in temperature, allowing for the rectification of these issues. Detecting smaller flames – due to the ability to monitor subtle temperature changes, thermal imaging has the capability to detect and alert to small fires in early stages, which conventional smoke detectors may not be able to detect. Monitoring even in low-light – as thermal imaging cameras do not require light to be able to capture an image, they are ideal for use in low-light environments. This allows for continuous monitoring at night when facilities are unoccupied, providing 24/7 protection. Protecting in multiple ways – thermal imaging can be used not only for fire detection and prevention, but also for security purposes and equipment monitoring. Their constant monitoring will record any trespassers on-site and can be connected with security alarms to notify facilities owners or managers of a break-in. In addition, the temperature of equipment can be consistently monitored, highlighting any faults that may occur when the facility is vacant Where is thermal imaging best used? Thermal imaging cameras can be an effective form of fire detection in a variety of settings. However, they are often most suitable for use in environments which work with combustible materials, have unconventional infrastructures or have operations involving open flames: Environments working with combustible materials – many businesses, such as construction, waste facilities, manufacturing and agriculture, work with combustible materials. This increases the risk of fire, as combustible materials can easily cause a fire to begin and spread if combined with heat or other ignition sources. Thermal imaging cameras can monitor these operations consistently, to quickly detect increases in heat that could result in spontaneous combustion. Facilities with unconventional infrastructures – across a facility, there are a number of components which can present fire risk. Often, these components are in areas that are difficult to monitor on an ongoing basis. Thermal imaging cameras can monitor specific areas or pieces of equipment, such as boilers or furnaces, to continuously monitor temperatures and alert to any abnormal increases in temperature. Operations working with open flames – in facilities where open flames are used in normal operations, such as on construction sites, thermal cameras can monitor existing flames. This ensures the active fire is effectively and safely contained to one area Thermal imaging cameras are an effective method of enhancing your fire detection and suppression systems, by monitoring temperatures 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to protect your teams, assets and the environment.
Due to the nature of their design and uses, tunnels have particularly unique fire risks, and any fire can spread quickly, risking damage to assets or injuries to teams. Mining, cable and communication tunnels are subject to significantly high risks, as they utilize heavy-duty machinery, flammable materials and cables, which are all subject to the production of excess heat. Here we discuss the prevalent fire risks in tunnels and explain how businesses operating within them can assess and mitigate these risks. What causes the heightened fire safety risks in tunnels? Lack of natural ventilation: The enclosed design of tunnels results in a lack of natural ventilation, making it incredibly difficult to regulate temperatures. As heavy-duty machinery operates for long period of time within tunnels, this causes a significant fire risk. Smoke spread across curved ceilings: Tunnels are generally built with a curved ceiling structure. This enhances the spread of smoke along the ceiling, resulting in the entire surface area of the ceiling being covered. When the temperature of smoke decreases – once fire has been extinguished – it can sink to human eye-level, increasing the risk of smoke inhalation. Limited access: Tunnels are often well-sealed and confined, with limited access. This means that if a fire breaks out in a particular area of the tunnel, access points can be restricted, proving evacuation to be challenging. As a result, evacuation may be limited to a singular route – the same route for people and smoke. Heightened risk of structural damage: The sealed and confined nature of tunnels means that temperatures, caused by uncontrolled fires, can reach up to 140°C. These severe temperatures can cause structural damage to tunnels if left unresolved. What are the fire risks in tunnels? Ignition sources: Ignition sources are commonplace in tunnel environments. Vehicles (powered by lithium-ion batteries), heaters and electrical sources, which power equipment and machinery, such as conveyor belts, all present significant fire risks if not correctly monitored. Overheating: Nearly half of all fires in industrial environments are caused by the overheating of electrical equipment. This can be as a result of overuse or even poor maintenance. In manufacturing tunnels, machinery, such as conveyor belts, is continuously used to support operations. If unmonitored, the friction in belts can begin to heat, potentially igniting the materials they carry. Additionally, if industrial machinery reaches high temperatures, it can speed up the propagation process of a fire, especially when in contact with flammable materials, such as coal, wood or dust. Maintenance of equipment: Tunnels of all kinds use machinery to support operations, such as mining, transportation of goods or maintenance work. Due to the lack of ventilation, dust is commonplace, and its build-up can cause clogging in this machinery, amplifying the risk of overheating. Depending on its material, dust can be highly flammable. Combustible materials: Combustible materials are frequently present in tunnels, particularly in mining tunnels. These materials create a prominent fire risk, due to their extremely flammable natural, making it crucial to ensure they are transported and stored safely. Electrical faults: Some tunnels, such as cable tunnels, store lengthy networks of cables, which have the potential to cause fires. A lack of maintenance or heat can increase this risk significantly. So, how can you reduce fire risks in tunnels? Regular risk assessments By conducting regular risk assessments, you can identify any potential fire risks and put the appropriate measures in place to control these. Once a risk assessment has been conducted, it is important to share the results with team members, so they are aware and can act safely to further reduce risk. Temperature checks As overheating is a considerable risk in tunnels, it’s crucial to ensure temperature is continually monitored. This allows you to act to reduce temperatures if they reach or exceed a certain limit, before a fire breaks out. Regular equipment maintenance Regular maintenance of all electrical equipment within a tunnel is key Equipment should be subject to regular maintenance and testing to HSE standards. This will ensure you identify any issues early, allowing you to rectify problems to reduce fire risk. Equipment should also be regularly cleaned to decrease the risk of dust build-up. Any electrical equipment used to support operations should be subject to regular PAT testing (portable appliance testing) and checked for any loose cables or damage. Temperature regulation within the tunnel can also limit the effects of exterior heating on cabling. In cable tunnels, where there is a lot of electrical equipment present, these regular checks are paramount to ensuring safety. Storage and transportation of materials When combustible materials are transported, they should be subject to appropriate controls and measures to ensure they do not present fire risks. For example, combustible materials should be safely stored during transport and subject to regular temperature monitoring to quickly identify the occurrence of any hot spots. Electrical faults Regular maintenance of all electrical equipment within a tunnel is key for mitigating fire risk, as if a fire is to begin within a ‘hidden area’, such as in cable ducts, it can be difficult to access or control the flames. To reduce the risk of cables overheating, the temperature should be consistently monitored to highlight any high temperatures which may result in a fire. Using fire detection and suppression equipment to enhance safety Putting appropriate measures in place can actively reduce fire risks within tunnels. However, unnoticed hotspots, overheating between regular maintenance or combustion of flammable materials are all still prevalent fire risks. As such, supporting your fire prevention measures with a rigorous fire detection and suppression system is key. Overheating is a considerable risk in tunnels If a fire were to break out, detection it early is crucial for allowing the safe evacuation of teams and decreasing the risk of structural and equipment damage. As every tunnel is unique, the fire detection and suppression system must be bespoke and tailored to the site’s individual uses and risks. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.