In July 2017, a fire started at a Coolaroo recycling plant that took a full 20 days to extinguish. With some people forced to evacuate – or in 16 cases, seek out medical attention – this fire highlighted why it’s a risk to inappropriately stockpile combustible materials.
To address this issue, the Victorian Government established the Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce chaired by EPA to inspect resource recovery facilities across the state and tackle stockpiles that might pose a fire risk. The Taskforce comprises the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), Country Fire Authority (CFA), Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP). An interagency working group (IAWG) was established under the Taskforce including WorkSafe, Sustainability Victoria, and Local Government Victoria.
What has happened so far?
While these sites operate under a number of existing requirements including planning, building, OHS and fire prevention, to assist the Taskforce, the Victorian Government also established an Interim Waste Management Policy (IWMP) to improve safety standards at Victorian waste and resource recovery facilities. The policy requires facility operators who store combustible recyclable and waste materials (CRWM) to manage the materials in a manner that minimises risks to human health and the environment from fire. Non-compliance with the interim policy may lead to sanctions under the Environment Protection Act 1970.
To support industry to comply with the interim policy, the Taskforce has developed a new guideline that provides practical advice on how to improve management of combustible materials. The guideline provides advice on conducting risk assessments, controls that should be in place, management plan requirements and storage requirements to prevent fire. The policy and guideline were developed in consultation with industry and a range of government stakeholders.
The Taskforce is targeting key recycling facilities requiring extra management measures to ensure community safety. Facilities storing combustible wastes have been identified, with those facilities considered high risk made a priority. The agencies are conducting joint audits, and taking action when required. The Taskforce also aims to improve industry awareness of reducing and managing fire risks from stockpiled combustible materials and support best practice.
- Over 500 sites have been assessed for risk.
- 170 sites store combustible material and require further investigation.
- 88 inspections across 73 sites have been carried out.
The Taskforce has delivered an interim report to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, which identifies that the sector is generally ill-prepared and ill-equipped to manage the risk of fire. The Government will now consider the recommendations made by the Taskforce.
The Taskforce and the IAWG will continue to work closely together to identify, audit, and regulate risky sites through to June 2018.
What are we looking for?
Inspections are focusing on fire prevention and management practices. In particular, the focus is on:
- fire risk assessment
- fire management planning
- physical controls such as fire hydrants and sprinklers
- separation distances between stockpiles to minimise fire spreading.
What have we found?
While some operators are considered to be at best practice, the audit program identified that the resource recovery sector is generally poorly prepared and ill-equipped when it comes to managing fire risks at their facilities. A wide range of issues were identified at most inspected sites, ranging from minor housekeeping matters to major failings resulting in significant ongoing risk which are now subject to regulatory action.
How can I help?
The Taskforce needs help from business and community members to identify more facilities that may pose a fire risk. Facilities that store combustible material can become a fire risk in a very short time. It is important for the Victorian community to report operations they are concerned about or facilities that have recently accumulated significant volumes of waste.
When reporting, you can help our staff by informing us that your report is to help the Resource Recovery Taskforce.