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Outside Storage


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, general waste, vehicles, etc. Fires originating in outside storage are not uncommon and a number of serious incidents have occurred in recent years.

Against this background, this bulletin has been prepared with the aim of reminding all Consultants of the hazards presented by outside storage and the need for vigilance. 



The main hazards presented by outside storage are summarised as:

  • Arson - Malicious ignition by vandals

  • Ignition through carelessly discarded smoking materials

  • Heat and sparks

  • Fireworks and Chinese lanterns

  • Spontaneous combustion of oil contaminated waste and other materials

  • Fire spread/exposure hazards within the confines of the insured site or from the neighbouring buildings and plant.



Precautions as regards the location and layout of external storage should be governed by a risk assessment in which various factors such as the type and combustibility of the materials present, the construction and occupancy 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.

Where dealing with general combustible materials, the following baseline precautions should apply:

  • Individual pallet stacks should, where possible, be limited to a maximum height of 6 metres.

  • Storage should be kept at least 10 metres (or 1.5 x the stack height where greater) from all buildings and a minimum of 2 metres from the site boundary. In cases where severe exposure potential is presented such as when dealing with buildings in which hazardous operations are conducted, where outdoor plant such as transformers and generators are encountered, or hazardous materials such as flammable liquids or compressed gases stored, spatial distances considerably greater than 10 metres may be required.

  • Stacks should be separated by appropriate gangways, ideally 2 metres wide, to provide facilities for inspection and to ensure adequate Fire Brigade access. Increased gangway widths may be required to cater for higher storage levels and the potential collapse risk.

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

It is recognised that there will be many situations where the above distances will be unachievable owing to the size and configuration of the site and that compromises will need to be made. Where resulting in a significant exposure hazard, it is vitally important that such circumstances are fully detailed and illustrated in the survey report from which an informed underwriting judgement can be made.  Consultants must ensure that they are not raising risk improvements for distances that cannot be achieved due to site size limitations. 

Consultants are reminded of the need to check and report on the compliance of all external storage or waste warranties/conditions precedent, where applicable. 

Where dealing with flammable liquids, arrangements for safe catchment will also require to be considered to contain a possible flowing liquid fire and to guard against pollution, in addition to spatial separation. In respect of storage in drums and containers other than fixed tanks, this will normally require a bund of a capacity not less than 110% of the contents of the largest container or 25% of their aggregate storage capacity, whichever is the greater.





The following general provisions as regards the storage of waste materials should apply:

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

  • All waste materials should be kept in bins or skips, securely sited at least 10 metres from the buildings and at least 2 metres 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 employed, these should be secured in position as far away as possible from doors, windows, overhanging roofs and canopies, and from external combustible storage.

As with general storage, any serious deficiencies arising from a lack of available yard space are to be clearly detailed and illustrated in the report for underwriting consideration.



In all cases where outdoor storage is encountered, an assessment should be made of the security protections in place and risk improvements raised for additional measures where necessary, including such features as perimeter fencing, detector activated remotely monitored CCTV, static guarding and access control. Flammable liquids and other hazardous materials will require special attention.



Other fire precautions applicable to outdoor storage include:

  • Ensuring good standards of housekeeping by frequent (ideally recorded) inspection, including the avoidance of accumulated broken pallets, waste packaging and other refuse.

  • Prohibition of smoking, or a designated smoking area well away from general storage or waste storage area.

  • 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 and Rescue Service concerning firefighting water supplies will often be sought by risk aware organisations.

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.

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