Up in smoke: Combustible waste causes millions in damages each year

By Chris Dougherty, General Manager, Westlawn Insurance
27 September 2016

Did you know that every year in Australia, hundreds of fires involving the outdoor storage of combustible waste causes millions of dollars in damages — and even claims several lives?

Storing and disposing of combustible waste is an issue for most businesses. 

Postal deliveries are sent and received in cardboard and paper packaging. Wooden pallets are often left behind following deliveries by truck. And despite the promise of the paperless office, we now seem to be using more paper than ever before thanks to the proliferation of desktop printers and copiers in the office. Rubbish bins around the workplace are filled daily with paper lunch wrappers, takeaway coffee cups and the odd newspaper.

It’s likely that your own business has its fair share of combustible waste. And it could pose a fire threat if it’s not stored properly.

Storing combustible waste safely

To prevent the risk of fire, combustible waste should be stored and disposed of in a safe manner so as not to create a fire hazard:

  • If your business generates a significant amount of combustible waste, you may need to use specialised equipment such as waste balers and compactors.
  • Waste dumpsters are common targets for arsonists, so placement and location of dumpsters is critical to prevent malicious fire in your premises.
  • Keep industrial bins a minimum of 3 metres from all exterior walls and openings.
  • Keep pallets, wooden crates and other packaging materials a minimum of 3 metres from any exterior walls and openings.
  • Industrial bins should have lids closed and padlocked when not in use or when premises are unoccupied.

Safe storage lesson for educational institution

A Melbourne educational institution located on a main road had a waste bin stored in an open area at the corner of the building abutting the main road footpath. Cardboard was accumulated behind the bin, along with windblown dried leaves.

A fire resulted and the ignition was traced to a discarded cigarette butt; whether intentional or unintentional was not known, but ensuing damage to the building resulted in a claim of $96,128.
Source: Vero

Some businesses may need to store tyres from time to time and this presents a heightened risk.

Tyres pose a severe fire hazard and can result in significant losses to property if set alight. A stack of tyres is a tempting target for arsonists as they burn rapidly and emit intense heat and large amounts of dense smoke. These characteristics all hamper fire-fighting efforts.

Store tyres in a securely fenced-off location that is locked whenever premises are unoccupied. Keep stored tyres away from buildings and other property assets. Tyres should also be kept away from the property’s perimeter fences to minimise the threat of arson.

Effective fire-fighting equipment should be on hand at all times, along with sufficient water flow and pressure as fighting tyre fires requires more water than most other combustible materials.

Workplace safety around combustible and hazardous materials

Accidental fire is always a risk wherever employees are working in the proximity of combustible and hazardous materials.

Any work involving a potential source of ignition through heat generation, sparking or open flame, should only be conducted in a safe environment well away from any combustible, flammable or hazardous materials.

Work activities that present a particular risk include:

  • Welding
  • Grinding
  • Cutting
  • Hot riveting, and
  • Flame heating.

If this kind of work is carried out in your business on a regular basis, consider a designated area, segregated from adjacent areas, constructed from non-combustible or fire resistant material.

Keep the designated area free from all combustible and flammable materials. The area should be equipped with suitable fire extinguishers, automatic sprinklers or heat detectors, and mechanical ventilation for fumes.

Smoking also presents challenges in workplaces where combustible or hazardous materials are stored. Blanket bans on smoking may encourage illicit smoking in potentially hazardous areas. Having a designated smoking area may be a safer option.

Any designated smoking area should be in a safe location away from:

  • Building entrances
  • Combustible or flammable materials
  • Enclosed spaces or thoroughfares, or
  • Air conditioning inlets.

Provide appropriate bins for the safe disposal of cigarette butts. Consider introducing a free Quit program to encourage employees to kick the habit.

Whatever the type of business, there is likely to be some level of fire risk from combustible, flammable or hazardous materials. Consider these risks in your business continuity plan and risk management planning.

For information on managing risks in your business, contact Westlawn Insurance Brokers on 1300 WESTLAWN (1300 937 852) or email us at insurance@westlawn.com.au

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Westlawn Insurance Brokers Pty Ltd ABN 65 075 847 291 AFSL No. 246520