How Fire Alarm Monitoring Can Reduce Risk for the Waste Industry
Waste is kindling for fires. If you work in the waste industry, you are likely aware of the threat that fires pose to operational efficiency, employee safety, and the environment. The combustible mixture of materials that ends up at waste and recycling facilities across the United States causes hundreds of fires a year.
And although awareness of the threat is higher than ever after some well-publicized incidents, the number of fires does not seem to budge. Reports from Europe and the United States show the figure has remained relatively stable, or has even increased, in the past few years. The five-year average of fires in the US is 318—and that number only includes those that have made the media headlines.
Given the continuous problem of fires in waste facilities, this post will take a closer look at the dynamics at play:
- The new types of waste that challenge fire prevention efforts and fuel the hesitation among insurance providers to cover waste plants
- The devastating businesswide impact of fires
- The important role that fire alarm monitoring can play in attracting insurers and dramatically limiting fire spread
Challenges to fire prevention at waste management sites
In addition to the physical devastation that fires cause—a facility can go down in flames in minutes—the mere risk of fires can have serious consequences for your business. Insurance companies appear to have become increasingly reluctant to work with waste facilities. And Science Direct reports this reluctance is only expected to intensify as waste plants have to take on new types of waste and fires outside waste plants are becoming more common.
The new waste items add even more volatility to the unpredictable combination of materials and substances which end up at waste management sites.
- Lithium batteries: These small, non-rechargeable button batteries are everywhere, powering everything from toys to music greeting cards. They often get unwittingly tossed in the trash or recycling bins (glitter and glue make the cards ineligible for paper recycling) where the problem for waste managers begin. As lithium batteries can easily ignite or combust when overheated, you are left to tackle the challenge.
- Hazardous hand gels: Sales of antibacterial hand soaps, gels, and wipes have gone through the roof during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the proliferation of these items is not problem free. The 60-70% alcohol level makes them very flammable. Again, when they get thrown away in the regular trash, you may need to deal with the fallout.
There are also other conditions that contribute to the fire risk:
- High-pressure environment: Heat and movement applied to a cocktail of fire hazards can trigger a fast-spreading fire. This is likely a reality that you consistently try to address to mitigate the risk of ignition at your waste site. The presence of items like aerosol cans, cleaning products, lighters, and broken gadgets creates a major fire hazard, especially when exposed to strong sunlight or handled by excavators and compact machinery.
- Lack of safeguarding: Is part of your waste management site outdoors? Then, you know it’s not uncommon for people to dump unsorted trash outside off-hours. If the content is flammable and the conditions harsh (wind, sunlight), it may start to smolder and grow into a full fire.
Open areas are also subject to arsonists. If you have live video monitoring, you can catch the perpetrators in the act. If not, the risk of not immediately being able to locate and extinguish the fire increases. Professional fire alarms and smoke detectors with 24/7 monitoring are also crucial to early detection (more on that later).
Devastating business impact
It goes without saying that waste plant fires can result in millions of dollars in damages, countless hours of downtime, and present a serious threat to workers on-site. The cost is also counted in bad publicity, rising insurance rates, and environmental destruction.
A case from Sweden, which has a long tradition of maintaining meticulous fire statistics, shows how fast a fire at a waste storage facility can spiral out of control. When fire crews arrived the initial report of a “small fire in a free-standing container” was no longer accurate. Instead, it had spread to a third of a 29,000-square-foot pile with building and household plastics, and was too large to quickly extinguish. In the end, it took 200 people deploying 15 million pounds of sand and 2.2 million pounds of gypsum to end the disaster.
The important role of fire alarm monitoring
But amid the challenges, there is good news. Most insurance providers offer discounts for security systems if they are backed by professional, 24/7 alarm monitoring. When fires do happen despite your best efforts to prevent them, early detection is your best tool to limit the spread.
With alarm monitoring, your fire alarm (and burglar alarm, should you need it) system is remotely monitored by live agents at an alarm monitoring center. They are your eyes and ears around the clock, reacting instantly when an alarm is triggered.
The quicker authorities are dispatched, the better the chances are you can make the burgeoning fire a non-event. When it comes to preventing fires, time is everything. And fire alarm monitoring can give you those extra seconds or minutes you need to protect your business.
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