The Environment Agency (EA) has told the waste industry its four-hour burn limit for sites storing combustible materials is an aim, not an “absolute deadline”.
Sectors including wood and tyre recyclers expressed disappointment when the EA published version three of its Fire Prevention Plan (FPP) guidance in July.
Tyre Recovery Association (TRA) secretary general Peter Taylor said the guidance’s stack sizes limits and separation distances were “absolutely unworkable”.
The Wood Recyclers Association (WRA) chair Andy Hill said the burn limit was “unjustified”, and that bespoke permits would need to be allowed for the “majority” of wood recyclers to continue operating.
Now speaking at RWM, the EA’s senior advisers James Finch and John McCarthy have moved to reassure operators that their enforcement of the guidelines will not be too rigid, and some exemptions will be allowed.
McCarthy said: “We understand this four-hour aim is a concern. This is very much an aim and not an absolute deadline you will be held to account over.”
Finch said: “There is basically a three-tier approach to how the guidance can be implemented.
“The first is to be totally strict with all the measures. If you are able to do that, your FPP is likely to be approved quite easily.
“The next option is you could suggest an alternative to any of the measures in the guidance, provided they still meet the [overall objectives]. You would need to show evidence of how that could work.
“The third is it may be acceptable in some circumstances to depart completely from the objectives, in particular the four-hour aim.
“We recognise that for some sites in the middle of a city there is a more significant risk than for some sites in the middle of nowhere.”
They said they would be working with industry during the next few years to implement the guidance at the 7,000 sites where it applies.
Later this week, the EA plans to publish its response to a public consultation on the guidance along with the evidence it received from the fire safety arm of independent body Building Research Establishment Global.
Concerns were raised by RWM audience members about a lack of consistency from the EA on its FPP requirements for different sites and only a two-week consultation on the latest guidance’s cost benefit analysis.
The advisers said the agency has a central panel that was working to improve consistency, and said they would consider extending the consultation.
Previously, industry figures, including Taylor, questioned why the guidance was published before evidence from fire tests by the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) forum could feed into it. As MRW understands, this evidence will now be considered by the EA when it discusses exemptions to the guidance.
The EA previously told MRW: ”Once the WISH fire tests have been independently peer-reviewed, we will consider whether they provide new information which would merit a further revision of the FPP guidance.”
- Picture: McCarthy left, Finch right