An Eye On Our Environment With Lee Rawlinson of the Environment Agency
Friday 14th September 2018 @ 15:09 by Lee Wild
News Tameside

More often than not, when you think of incident response, I am willing to bet the first images that come to mind are of the police, the fire service and those of the medical profession.

I am also willing to bet that the Environment Agency isn’t always an organisation that you would associate with incident response but, you might be surprised.

As a Category One responder, we are often on the frontline of many incidents working closely with local resilience forums – including the local authorities and health and emergency services – to make sure people are kept safe and well and, to ensure the environment is protected.

This is particularly evident when we experience an incident ‘closer to home’ in the communities we serve around Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire such as pollution, waste fires or flooding.

To pardon the pun, fires have been something of a hot topic around Greater Manchester recently as we have seen no less than 4 within the last few weeks.

Sadly, most of these fires have occurred at waste sites. There is no doubt that the waste recycling industry provides a much-needed service however, when they catch fire, as they often do, it can damage and destroy local communities and the environment.

As well as representing an obvious danger to human life, these fires pose a major environmental hazard and impose a significant cost on business in property damage. The resulting fires and smoke alone can even close motorways, railways and airports.

The good news is, the majority of waste sites are well run, and thanks to the work of Manchester Fire and Rescue as well as our own team on the ground, awareness of fire risks is increasing. Yet, the sheer combustibility of the materials destined for recycling centres such as paper and wood means waste businesses can’t too many precautions when it comes to fire safety.

The better news is that despite this recent surge of fires across the region, they are still a thankfully rare occurrence. Particularly when you consider that we regulate 359 Waste Permits in Greater Manchester with 33 in Tameside alone!

As a regulatory Government body, we implement tight codes of practice for waste sites and require operators to have an approved fire prevention plan in place before a permit is ever issued.

These prevention requirements bring yet another positive outlook when it comes to the issue of waste fires as, when they do happen, it makes it easier for them to be put out quickly.

When it comes to an incident of any description. Acting fast is imperative. We respond 24/7 to high risk incidences of waste fires or pollution and support local Fire and Rescue services in managing them as effectively as possible when they do occur.

However, for those of you who regularly read this column, you will know by now that just acting quickly is not enough when it comes to our ways of working here at the Environment Agency. We, are continually working with operators within the waste and recycling industry as well as other regulators and Category One responders to develop an integrated response to the issue of waste fires.

Just like in a flood scenario, when it comes to waste fires, there is no break from being prepared and we, as many others do, want to see a waste and recycling sector that is renowned for being safe, responsible and environmentally friendly. It’s too important to be seen as anything less.