3 September 2018 by Steve Eminton

EA in fire warning to car recycling site operators

Operators of car recycling facilities have been specifically warned by the Environment Agency about the need to have fire prevention plans (FPPs) in place and to take extra care because of the generally dry weather.


Environment Agency officers at the scene of a fire at metals and vehicle recycling site, Whites of Coventry, earlier this summer

However, while agreeing with the Agency over the need to prevent fires and for car recyclers to act properly, the sector’s trade body has argued that permitted operators face extra costs for FPPs compared to exempt or unlicensed operators. And, the trade body – the Vehicle Recyclers Association – also pointed that its members were gaining FPPs or working on them.


In its statement issued today (3 September) the Agency warned that with forecasts for three months of “above average temperatures and slightly lower than average rainfall likely over the next three months” there is an increased risk of fire at waste sites, “particularly end of life vehicle facilities”.

The Agency went on to urge operators to have FPPs in place and said that reports of fires at car recycling or end of life vehicle (ELV) recycling sites had risen from 21 in 2016 to 24 in 2017.

In its warning the Agency referenced “a number of severe waste fires recently including an incident which forced Coventry Airport to close temporarily and another fire in Witney which resulted in the public being warned of the potential for asbestos debris being deposited.”

The Coventry fire at Ryton under Dunsmore involved the metal recycling and ELV recycling firm Whites of Coventry, with smoke causing closure of the airport, while the Witney fire involved T&B Motors.

Increased risk

Malcolm Lythgo, head of waste regulation at the Environment Agency said: “Fires on waste sites, particularly sites handling hazardous components, unfortunately happen all year round. However, dry, warm weather conditions bring an increased risk.

“It’s really important that those handling end of life vehicles have Fire Prevention Plans in place and engage with the Environment Agency for advice and support on keeping their sites safe. This is not just good for businesses, but also helps to safeguard the environment and surrounding communities.”

Malcolm Lythgo of the Environment Agency has warned that dry, warm weather conditions bring increased fire risk

Mr Lythgo added that Ageny’s FPP guidance seeks to minimise the likelihood of a fire happening and advise on ways to minimise the spread of fire within the site and to neighbouring sites.”

For ELV operators, he noted that there are “simple steps” that can be taken to prevent the causes of fires. These include:

  • Disconnecting and removing batteries as soon as reasonably practical after vehicles arrive on site, to reduce the risk of electrical short circuits.
  • Using safe depollution equipment and storing fuel in containers designed to store it.
  • Ensuring vehicles are fully depolluted before crushing and shredding.
  • Enforcing a no smoking policy for both staff and customers.
  • Following the Environment Agency guidance and putting a Fire Prevention Plan in place.

Trade association view

Responding from the Vehicle Recyclers Association, secretary Chas Ambrose, said that many VRA members do now have FPPs in place or are in the process of putting them together. “The requirement for a FPP is not new; we’ve been working with the Environment Agency on this and advising VRA members since late 2015.”


Vehicle Recyclers Association secretary Chas Ambrose highlighted the costs of FPP for legitimate operators

He commented that “constructing and implementing a FPP is not a ‘5 minute job’, and it’s not always straight-forward, but my experience is that those members that have started the process have found it very useful.

“Remember, this is really about protecting their business, assets and people by reducing the risk of a fire occurring in the first place, and then being prepared and dealing with it promptly if a fire does break out.  But prevention has got to be the priority.”

Dr Ambrose continued: “So, while we very much support the Environment Agency in principle, and agree that the few practical measures they have set out in their article are a good place to start, we do still have some very serious concerns about other practical aspects of FPPs.  These include, for example, the issues of vehicle racking, separation distances for small sites etc.”

And, he also commented on the shape and practicality of the FPP process and plans, saying: “We are also concerned about lack of proportionality, consistency and flexibility in the way in which FPPs are assessed, and unrealistic expectations about timescales in which operators are required to construct plans and implement changes (which can often have very significant financial implications).

“I have no doubt that there are many obvious benefits to permitted operators in having a reasonable FPP in place.  But we must also remember that this is another cost of ‘legitimacy’ that is borne only by permitted operators – those operating with exemptions or illegally avoid this and all the other permitting costs.”

The trade association is currently working on FPP guidance for its members and is to issue this in the coming weeks.


On 7 November 2018 a conference covering issues around fire prevention and control for the recycling and waste sector generally will take place at the offices Willis Towers Watson, London. It is organised with partners by letsrecycle.com. For further details, please visit:


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