The interim report from Victoria's ongoing Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce has returned a critical overview of the sector, finding it unfit to handle fire risks and responses.
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A number of high-profile waste facility fires have occurred in Victoria over recent years.

Released on December 1, the report is unimpressed with most of the sites it has visited to date. It states "the resource recovery sector is generally poorly prepared and ill-equipped when it comes to managing fire risks at their facilities".

"A wide range of issues were identified at most inspected sites, ranging from minor housekeeping matters to major failings resulting in significant ongoing risk which are now subject to regulatory action."

Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D'Ambrosio stated: "This is about improving safety measures and helping to prevent a fire from happening in the first place". However, the audits are also considering on-site safety measures in case of fire.

The taskforce is chaired by CEO of EPA Victoria, Nial Finegan, and includes staff from his agency. Other agencies involved include the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Country Fire Authority, Emergency Management Victoria, and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

It was set up largely in response to repeated fires at the SKM Recycling facility at Coolaroo in Melbourne's north. In particular, concern was raised after a serious fire on July 13 this year that necessitated hundreds of evacuations and several hospitalisations. It required the attention of up to 140 firefighters and 50 vehicles at a time, and resulted in significant air and water contamination. In relatively good news, however, the report notes that no other facility in the state is as at-risk as the Coolaroo site was.

Auditing includes investigation of "fire risk assessment", "fire management planning", "physical controls such as fire hydrants and sprinklers", and "separation distances between stockpiles to minimise fire spreading".

Other activity in response to the Coolaroo fire includes the issuance of guidelines on the handling and storage of combustible recyclable and waste materials (CRWM), as well as actionable advice issued to sites found to be failing to meet best practice.

The report follows the gazetted Waste Management Policy covering resource recovery facilities. The speed of response and use of emergency protocols suggests the Victorian government is treating the situation in the sector as critical.

The taskforce has so far visited 73 sites (with some receiving multiple visits for a total of 88 inspections) and has issued 37 statutory notices. By June 2018, a further 97 sites will be audited. The initial scope of the audit was targeted at the 170 sites storing combustible material in the state, after risk assessments were conducted on more than 500.

The taskforce has also issued a call to industry and community to help identify and report facilities that may have unmanaged risks of fire. The audit continues.