Combustion Hazards to Consider When Recycling Scrap Metal

Fire Hazards at the Scrap Yard


What Sorts Of Combustion Hazards Are Present When Recycling Scrap Metal?

It is important to remember that the scrap industry is quite large and complex – it involves a number of different processes, from decommissioning and dismantling through to transport to ultimately melting and the formation of new metal stock. The process that occurs between these two points from start to finish is called recycling.

It covers the collection, sorting, cutting, torching, shredding and baling of these items. Whilst it sounds like a straightforward process, it should be noted that recycling scrap metal can be quite hazardous in terms of fire safety.

  • High Fire Loads
    When we think about metal, we usually imagine a relatively low combustible load, once-flammable liquids are drained. This, however, could not be further from the truth. It is important to understand that this is the finished product, not the raw material. Scrap comes from a variety of sources, which are often painted, oily and contain plastic or other combustible materials. This can cause serious fires.

  • Sources of Ignition
    Shredding is a particularly hazardous recycling process; sparking and explosions are actually common. Unexpected hazardous materials are also often present within the raw materials; whilst every effort is taken to remove these, some will inevitably slip through. Heat is also known to develop within the large piles of waste as a result of the pressure exerted within the pile.

  • Housekeeping
    Did you know that poor housekeeping is actually inherent to recycling scrap metal? The processes of cutting, shredding and baling will produce a significant amount of combustible dust, which is difficult to control. Ventilation and vacuum systems are essential for minimizing this hazard – many fires have been fueled, in its early stages, by the presence of this dust.The establishment of a dust control program is essential for some recycling businesses. This involves a regularly adhered to cleanup schedule, which clearly states when the cleanup will occur and who will perform it, as well as management oversight to ensure that the dust control policy is actually being followed. The utilization of dust suppression equipment is also a good idea in many environments.

  • Human Elements
    In some cases, recycling employees may lack the expertise and interest in preventative measures or the willingness to properly deal with a disaster. In other cases, training at the facility is fairly limited, which increases the chances that human error will occur. Even though smoking is not usually allowed, this doesn’t stop those who are unaware from accidentally lighting up.

  • Economic Factors
    As the price of scrap is generally pretty volatile, the revenue stream for these facilities is usually quite dynamic. If the price of a certain metal drops, for example, they might be tempted to hold onto raw materials until they start to rise again – this increases the amount of combustible material on​ the site. There are also issues surrounding materials being sent overseas for processing.

  • Pollution/Contamination
    If a fire has occurred on site, the remaining waste might be quite precarious due to the smoke, gasses and extinguishing water present. This can also carry toxic waste to the surrounding environment. Cleanup, inspection and permit requirements related to pollution concerns are also known to delay the facility reopening after such a hazard has occurred.

So, what preventative steps can be taken to help effectively deal with the hazards associated with recycling scrap metal?

Stockpiles heights, for example, should not exceed 20 feet and should be no greater than 6000 square feet in area. A minimum of 50 feet should be maintained between each stockpile and nearby buildings. One or two diggers should always be available to assist in firefighting efforts. Regular inspections and maintenance should be conducted. Additionally, fire sensing technologies from your security provider can be useful in enabling an early response to after hour events.