Articles by James Mountain
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.