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 medical attention – this fire highlighted that stockpiled combustible materials must be properly managed to reduce the risk of fires at these types of sites.
To address this issue, the Victorian Government established the Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce to inspect resource recovery facilities across the state and tackle stockpiles that might pose a fire risk that can lead to harm to human health and environment.
On this page, you can find out more about:
Taskforce aims and achievements
The Taskforce is auditing recycling facilities across Victoria to identify stockpiling of materials that pose a fire risk to ensure environment protection and community safety. Facilities storing combustible wastes have been identified, with those facilities considered high risk made a priority.
The Taskforce also aims to improve industry awareness of reducing and managing fire risks from stockpiled combustible materials and support best practice.
Chaired by EPA, the Taskforce comprises:
- the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB)
- Country Fire Authority (CFA)
- Emergency Management Victoria (EMV)
- WorkSafe Victoria
- the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).
The Taskforce is undertaking joint inspections to ensure that combustible recyclable and waste materials (CRWM) are stored and managed appropriately, and taking action when required. Inspections are focusing on fire prevention and management practices, particularly:
- fire risk assessment
- fire management planning
- physical controls such as fire hydrants and sprinklers
- separation distances between stockpiles to minimise fire spreading.
As of 10 June 2018:
- 800 sites have been identified
- over 700 sites have been assessed against a range of criteria to prioritise those requiring more urgent attention
- using a set prioritising criteria to ensure consistency, 200 of these sites were identified and have either been visited or will receive more urgent attention
- 338 sites have evidence of stockpiles
- 278 on-site inspections across 112 sites have been carried out
- 60 remedial notices and 8 sanctions have been issued.
An interim report was delivered to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change in December 2017.
While some operators are at best practice, the audit program has identified that the resource recovery sector is generally poorly prepared and ill-equipped when it comes to managing fire risks at their facilities. Issues have been identified at most inspected sites, ranging from minor housekeeping matters to major failings in the management of the stockpiled materials and are now subject to regulatory action.
EPA continues to hold duty holders to account. Where remedial notices or actions are required, follow up inspections will be carried out.
The Taskforce and its established the interagency working group (which includes WorkSafe, Sustainability Victoria, Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group and Local Government Victoria) will continue to work closely together to identify, audit, and regulate sites through to June 2018.
When prioritising the identified recycling sites the Taskforce looked at a range of factors that included:
- proximity to population centres
- current stockpile levels
- ongoing volumes of materials being accepted
- capacity to continue accepting waste
- existing fire management practices
The Taskforce used this information against an overarching objective of protecting human and environmental health.
Waste management policy and guidance
While planning, building, OHS and fire prevention requirements already apply, the Victorian Government established the interim Waste Management Policy (Resource Recovery Facilities) (WMP) to improve safety standards at Victorian waste and resource recovery facilities. The interim 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 WMP, the Taskforce developed the Management and storage of combustible recyclable and waste materials guideline (publication 1667) 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
- storage requirements to prevent fire.
EPA is leading, in collaboration with the other Taskforce agencies, a review of the guideline in 2018.
The interim WMP sunsets on 28 August 2018. The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) is leading the development of an ongoing Waste Management Policy (Combustible Recyclable and Waste Material) to ensure that the fire risks at these sites continue to be managed to reduce the impacts to human health and environment.
DELWP and EPA are working together to consult with industry and the community on the proposed policy and review of the existing guideline. Public consultation on the draft policy, the supporting policy impact assessment, and the existing guideline is open until 1 August 2018.
During this time, various engagement and communications activities will be held to ensure all stakeholders understand the proposed policy and have an opportunity to comment.
A copy of the documents and other key information is available on the Engage Victoria website. Use this website to tell us what you think about the documents, and whether you think changes are needed in the policy and the guideline. Industry and government stakeholders can learn more about consultation sessions by contacting email@example.com
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 Facilities Audit Taskforce.