Fire safety with Outside storage

Serious fires originating in outside storage are a frequent occurrence, due to the range of occupancies commonly encountered there, often resulting in widespread destruction and major business interruption.

Understanding the Risk

Outside storage is commonly encountered in a wide range of occupancies in the form of raw materials, partly manufactured products or components, crated finished products awaiting despatch, flammable liquids and gases, idle pallets and crates, waste materials, etc. Serious fires originating in outside storage are a frequent occurrence, often resulting in widespread destruction and major business interruption.

The main hazards presented by outside storage are summarised as:

  • Malicious ignition by vandals or arsonists
  • Ignition by carelessly discarded smoking materials, or by heat and sparks, fireworks and Chinese lanterns
  • Spontaneous combustion of oil contaminated waste and other susceptible materials
  • The risk of fire spread between buildings on site and from the neighbouring buildings and plant.

Location and Layout

Precautions in respect of the location and layout of outside storage should be determined by a risk assessment in which various factors such as the type and combustibility of the materials present, the construction and occupation of the buildings within and beyond the confines of the site and the presence of flammable liquids, gases and other hazardous materials and plant should be considered. This assessment should be undertaken as part of the risk assessment of the premises as a whole, in accordance with fire safety legislation. For storage in general, the following precautions are recommended:

  • Individual stacks should, where possible, be limited to a maximum height of 6m
  • Storage should be kept at least 10m (or 1.5 x the stack height where greater) from all buildings and a minimum of 2m from the site boundary. In cases where a severe exposure hazard is present, for example where hazardous processes are undertaken or the storage of hazardous materials encountered, spatial distances considerably greater than 10m may be required

Note – your insurance policy may specify required distances, which would be the minimum required

  • Stacks should be separated by appropriate gangways, ideally 2m wide, to provide facilities for inspection and to ensure adequate Fire Brigade access. These gangways should increase to cater for higher storage levels and potential collapse risk.

  • Close attention should be given to the hazardous storage of idle timber pallets and plastic crates. The quantities of such materials should be restricted as much as possible and the separation distances previously indicated observed.

When flammable liquids are stored in the open, arrangements for the safe containment of the liquid must be considered to help contain a possible flowing liquid fire. The location of the flammable liquids should also be assessed to ensure that adequate spatial separation distances are taken into account as detailed above.

Waste Materials

Disposal arrangements should be such that the amount of waste on the premises is kept to a minimum.

All waste materials should be kept in bins or skips, securely sited at least 10m from the buildings and at least 2m from the site boundary. In cases where such spatial separation is not achievable, waste should be held in lockable metal containers located as far away from buildings and plant as practicable.

Where plastic wheelie bins are used, these should be sited as far away as possible from doors, windows, overhanging roofs and canopies, and from external combustible storage. To prevent bins being moved they should be secured to an anchor point or similar away from the buildings by way of a chain and padlock wherever possible, or kept in a secure enclosure.

Waste storage arrangements are often difficult in city centre locations where there may be very limited secure areas, and on retail or industrial parks. In such situations it will often be necessary to involve the building owners/managing agents and/or other tenants in discussions to find waste control solutions that are suitable and practical for all interested parties, and minimise the risk of arson and/or accidental ignition.

Premises Security

Close attention should be paid to providing effective perimeter security around outside storage and the site as a whole. This can take the form of a range of measures such as security fencing, detector activated remotely monitored CCTV, security lighting and static guarding, together with addressing access control. The nature and extent of security protections should be governed by the outcome of a risk assessment. Flammable liquids and other hazardous materials will require special attention.

General Fire Precautions

  • Ensuring good standards of housekeeping by frequent inspection, including the avoidance of accumulated broken pallets, waste packaging and other refuse
  • Prohibition of smoking
  • Operation of a hot work permit system
  • Cut back and removal of undergrowth, grass and weeds
  • Avoidance of rubbish burning
  • Provision of documented emergency and closedown procedures
  • Maintaining adequate Fire Brigade access
  • Ensuring Fire Hydrants, where installed and maintained, are freely accessible.

In the case of major outside storage facilities, the advice of the Fire Brigade concerning fire fighting water supplies should be sought.

Where governed by the risk, the protection of large or hazardous outside storage facilities with flame detectors, linked to a permanently manned gate house, or alarm receiving centre or the use of fixed fire suppression systems such as water spray, deluge installations or external hose reels may need to be considered.