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Knowledge is key to fire management

Chris James

The Chief Fire Officers Associ­ation (CFOA) reports that there are around 250 waste fires in the UK each year, which aver­ages at five a week and repre­sents a serious problem for the site owners, their neighbours and the environment. It costs the fire services around £16m a year to deal with.

New guidance for waste operators on the prevention of fires has just been issued by the Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum and can be accessed via its website, wish­forum.org.uk.

The CIWM-Wamitab Oper­ator Competence Scheme was introduced in late 2008 in England and Wales, and is designed to support waste site managers to run their sites in a safe, legal and environmen­tally friendly way.

The primary qualification is designed to provide the knowl­edge and skills to take on the role of the technically compe­tent manager. There are some variations in requirements in Scotland and Northern Ire­land but, wherever a site is based, it is important that it is well-run, with evidence of good practice in risk assess­ment and materials storage.

waste fire

waste fire

Alongside the primary qual­ification, there is a require­ment in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to take the continuing competence test every two years. There are plans for a major review of this test and the revision will be available from spring 2018.

Investing in skills and devel­opment can be expensive but is key to the good management of waste sites. This is not an area where corners can be eas­ily cut without some lasting consequences.

Waste fires may result in the closure of the site and the sub­sequent loss of jobs – or more serious consequences such as injury or loss of life. Site own­ers and managers can also face prosecution, substantial fines and even prison sentences if found guilty of mismanage­ment.

While the CFOA statistics show that the number of fires has remained fairly constant for the past decade or so, the implementation of good site management could go a long way to reducing the risk of waste fires.

For a variety of reasons, the goal of ‘no fires’ is probably unobtainable, but a robust Fire Prevention Plan outlining how fire risk is managed on-site is a requirement alongside a strong site-wide environmen­tal management system.

Up-to-date knowledge and skills are essential in imple­menting and enforcing such systems, and professional qualifications are designed to support owners in keeping sites safe and compliant.

Chris James is chief executive of Wamitab

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