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The big bang theory

Explosives disposal specialist Ramora UK is seeing an increase in work related to the safe disposal of pyrotechnics, with around 10% of its business linked to the waste sector. Andrea Lockerbie finds out more

We’ve all heard tales of hand grenades and fireworks turning up at waste sites and recycling centres, which can cause disruption to operations and pose a safety threat to staff and the public.

According to Ramora UK managing director David Welch, a specialist in explosives disposal, its work with the waste management sector typically involves old pyrotechnics like fireworks, or hand grenades and bullets, which can turn up at recycling centres or managed waste sites. When the company gets a call from such a site, it will take the items away – as long as they are safe to transport – and dispose of them in a compliant way, in line with HSE guidelines. If the explosives are not safe to transport, a team will be deployed to destroy the item on site, trying to minimise any disruption to business in the meantime.

Welch explains: “The military are walking away from the provision of bomb disposal services, which is what this is, to commercial operations in the UK which includes waste centres, building sites, aggregate yards, anywhere where the people who are operating the site make money from that service. So if you dig up a hand grenade from your back garden at the weekend the police will still attend and they will call the military out. But if you are building a new shopping centre in the middle of Manchester and dig up a big bomb you won’t have that same luxury and you will have to have in place your own Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) response via a commercial provider. So the more the military walk away, the more requirements there are for commercial companies and in particular waste management companies to deal with it.”

He adds that the military also stopped taking in pyrotechnics or fireworks and flares two years ago, with Ramora winning the contract for the work and servicing the maritime and coastguard agency all around the country, including Northern Ireland, for the collection of all items handed in. When this happened, a large number of sites closed down which has limited the number of coastguard stations such items could be taken to. The police have also stopped taking in such items in many areas or set limits on what can be brought it, which has led to people increasingly putting such items in the bin or taking them to the local dump.

Ramora will either respond to individual calls for its services when devices are found or has ongoing contracts in place, where it will have a licensed explosives store on a site, which it empties on a regular basis unless something requires a team to be deployed immediately. According to Welch two of the big waste management players use its full service, so that they can maintain uninterrupted operations when such devices are found. “We can provide them with the equipment so that they can put these items into a safe container, so even if they did go off they wouldn’t hurt anybody and then we could arrive out of hours to deal with it, so that they can carry on doing what they have got to do,” he explains.

The costs of its services are based on a man-hour element and also the quantity of explosives, which have to be stored and disposed of. “With fireworks and pyrotechnics we normally centralise them and set a day aside, then we go into a range and we put them all into big cages and burn them. It is a recognised method and the only safe method of doing them at the moment,” Welch says.

He adds that legislation has specifically excluded the open burning of explosives being regulated, although work is underway on finding a ‘greener’ way of treating this material. Once burned, the ash is tested in a lab to confirm its content and is then either packaged for compliant landfill or will go off for further treatment, as it is deemed hazardous waste after the burn.

Ramora’s operating model is very much the same as that used by the military. As Welch adds: “It is about providing a service that takes away a hazard from workers or members of the public so that people can just go about their business.”

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