Icepak disaster's mis-steps

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The high fire risk of polypanel construction, its “potential for devastating outcome” and the consequent implications for insurance cover have been highlighted by the Icepak coolstore fire at Tamahere as well as others in dairy factories, food and meat plants, reports Food Technology.

Thousands of coolstores and other industrial buildings around New Zealand are likely to continue to go up in flames at the rate of one a month because of their polypanel or polystyrene sandwich panelling construction, according to a comprehensive study.

The Food Technololgy article focuses on the implications for insurers and premiums and details steps businesses should consider to help control premiums, ensure the safety of employees, the continuity of the business and security of markets.

Several of those steps were lacking at the Icepak Tamahere coolstore.

Businesses are advised that “to reduce risk of arson, secure perimeter of the building to ensure there is no unauthorised access.” Icepak Tamahere had no perimeter fence and was accessible on three sides from roads or rights-of-way.

“Avoid storing timber pallets or other combustibles against the outside of the building,” the article advises. Icepak Tamahere routinely stored timber pallets on-site, including between the first two coolstores to burn on April 5 where witnesses watched them fuel the inferno.

“Involve your local fire service where possible – ensure they are aware of the location of your water supply and any on-site hazards, such as flammable liquids and gases. Ask for their feedback and advice,” businesses are advised. The Fire Service had no knowledge Icepak was using highly flammable propane gas at Tamahere, plastic water tanks on the site melted in the fire’s heat and no fire fighting occurred until water tankers could be brought in through a neighbouring property.

“Retro-fitting sprinklers for most businesses is cost-prohibitive,” is the advice. “However, if you are looking to build or expand operations, consideration should be given to the installation of sprinklers, which are readily accepted as the most effective form of protection.” Icepak, which had expanded several times in recent years, had no sprinklers and its owners suggested in the wake of the fire that they would not work because the water would freeze.

The article concludes by advising that “if you are building new or extending current premises, there are a number of alternatives to the traditional PSP panels now available in the market, which offer greatly improved fire resistance. These include panels incorporating mineral wool, polyisocyanurate (PIR), and phenolic foam composite.”

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