Waste industry draws fire

waste industry fire

Victorian Waste Management Association Executive Officer Brett Lemin talks about the importance of industry being aware of its obligations and equipped with the knowledge to prevent factory fires. 

From flames to fame … and not the good type! Untamed stockpiles and facility fires have plagued the waste industry’s reputation over the past few years, rocking the public perception of the industry, putting regulators on edge, and wreaking havoc on the insurability of the industry. 

The severity and frequency of these fires have not only shaken the regulators within the space we operate but have also dealt a blow to the industry’s social license to operate. This is excluding the battery fire issue, which is a different discussion altogether. 

For those familiar with my previous articles and presentations, it comes as no surprise that I’m a strong advocate for collaboration and education among all stakeholders. It is through this collective effort that we can drive real change and transition towards a more sustainable future. 

When we reflect on the past and the series of incidents that triggered regulatory changes in Victoria, one thing becomes abundantly clear – not everyone is effectively managing their fire risks. Whether it is due to negligence, ignorance, or illegal profiteering, we can leave that to water cooler speculation. However, one thing remains unclear: whether business owners and their employees possess the necessary resources and training to handle the relevant goods and fulfil their legal obligations.

factory fires
Brett Lemin, Executive Officer, Victorian Waste Management Association.

While there are plenty of informative resources and training courses available for the storage and handling of dangerous goods and the ADG Code, the same cannot be said for the more generic combustible materials that the waste industry handles. 

In response to this gap, a few years ago the Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA), in collaboration with Fire Rescue Victoria and the Country Fire Authority, produced Guideline 1667, also known as the Management and Storage of Combustible Recyclable and Waste Materials guideline (CRWM), now in its third edition.

The CRWM is a valuable resource that covers the fundamentals of identifying and assessing combustible risks within a facility, as well as the essentials of incident planning and management. It contains plenty of useful and relevant information. However, it is unlikely that every employee will be able to read and comprehend a technical 80-page resource that mentions “risk” a staggering 276 times, let alone retain all the information contained within. Nevertheless, it remains crucial that they grasp the document’s contents.

So how can the industry, ensure that everyone is aware of their obligations and equipped with the knowledge to prevent further mismanagement and factory fires? One approach is to provide high-quality training delivered by knowledgeable professionals in an informative and accessible manner. 

In 2018, the Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) partnered with EPA Vic to develop a training course centred around stockpile management and the information presented in the CRWM guideline. 

This course was intentionally designed to be interactive, encouraging participants to share experiences and real-life incidents. By working together, they delve into the course material, fostering a learning process that combines hands-on activities, active listening, practical interaction and it doesn’t hurt to inject a little bit of fun into the process.

With the EPA’s support, the VWMA successfully delivered this course free of charge to more than 100 individuals within the waste and recycling industry. The feedback has been positive, with many participants implementing changes within their operations. Moreover, an eagerness for more in-depth training within this field has been ignited. 

In response, the VWMA has partnered with the team from Circular Resources Australia (CRAUS) to revamp the training program. This endeavour aims to encompass additional information and extend beyond the confines of the original CRWM guideline. If you’re interested, you’ll have the opportunity to engage with the CRAUS and EPA as they present at Waste Expo 2023.

The collaboration between the EPA Vic, VWMA and CRAUS is a promising step forward in addressing the issues of mismanagement and preventing future fires. 

By expanding the training program to cover a wider range of resources and incorporating insights from industry, participants will have access to a more comprehensive understanding of stockpile management and the safe handling of combustible materials such as understanding the ignition and burn temperatures of materials on site.

It’s important to recognise that the responsibility for preventing fires and ensuring safe waste management practices does not lie solely with regulators. It is a collective effort that requires engagement from regulators, business owners, employees, and relevant stakeholders. By fostering a culture of learning and improvement, individuals within the industry can be empowered to make informed decisions and take appropriate actions to mitigate risks.

In addition to the training initiatives, it’s crucial for regulators to not only enforce strict regulations but also provide support and resources to businesses to help them comply. This includes conducting regular inspections, offering guidance on best practices, and facilitating knowledge-sharing platforms where industry professionals can exchange insights and experiences. 

Ultimately, the journey to best practice requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders involved in the waste industry. It demands a commitment to collaboration, education, and continuous improvement. By investing in quality training, promoting knowledge exchange, and strengthening regulatory frameworks, we can rebuild public trust, enhance safety standards, and pave the way for a more sustainable waste management sector.  

For more information, visit: www.vwma.com.au

Send this to a friend