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.
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