Security contractors can face expensive claims when and if they underestimate the dangers associated with waste materials. Tina Chittenden outlines the risks when working for clients in other sectors as well as the waste management industry
You don’t have to be from Yorkshire to understand the old expression: ‘Where there’s muck, there’s brass’. Today in the UK, managing waste – the handling, transportation, storage, recycling and processing of used materials – is big business.
Why does this matter for the security industry? As a specialist insurance broker, over recent years we’ve increasingly seen that, when it comes to security companies: ‘Where there’s waste, there’s risk’. These risks arise even where security contractors are not themselves guarding waste management facilities.
Take the example of a waste site, such as a council household waste collection centre, or a waste company facility like a transfer station or a materials recycling plant. Due to the fact that these sites cater solely for low value waste materials, surely they can be considered low risk? This may seem a reasonable assumption when compared, for example, with the known problem of break-ins at construction sites where there may be copper piping, lead roofs, generators and other plant of perceived value to would-be thieves.
However, our clients’ experience suggests the risk is higher than one might expect. There have been an increasing number of claims arising from break-ins and fires at waste sites. Waste materials can be highly combustible. Fires in these situations tend to burn for a long time and they can cause huge consequential damage to property and local businesses and communities.
In truth, firefighters often have little option but to let the conflagration burn itself out. Special precautions may be required because the materials and fumes are often toxic, which also adds to the clean-up costs.
Assess the risk, price the contract
At present, insurance underwriters do not class waste sites as ‘hazardous locations’ (eg airports, railways, power stations) that require referral. All the more important, then, that the security contractor assesses the risk carefully and prices a guarding contract accordingly.
The usual two-hourly patrol may not be sufficient. If it’s a large site, for instance, you may need to advise your client that CCTV is required.
There can be significant risks associated with waste where your client operates in another sector entirely. This may arise from the fact that they produce waste materials that have inherent value. In one case, a security company became embroiled in a substantial fraud involving metals diverted from the waste stream of a manufacturing plant.
If – as part of a security guarding contract – your staff have ancillary duties to perform such as gate-keeping or weighbridge control, it’s advisable to check that those officers have been thoroughly vetted and that your insurance provides adequate cover against client losses arising from any dishonesty.
The negative value of waste is also creating big business for criminal gangs. The transportation and disposal of waste is highly regulated. Environmental legislation and the landfill tax have driven up the cost of handling and treating all kinds of waste, and in particular those materials deemed ‘hazardous’ or ‘special’ – from plasterboard and fridges through to car oil and fluorescent tubes. In fact, just about every business produces some such waste.
Where does the liability rest?
We’ve all seen evidence of fly-tipping on streets and waste ground. Local authorities spend hundreds of millions of pounds on an annual basis in order to clear and dispose of fly-tipped waste. However, when waste is dumped on private property, the liability for its responsible removal and disposal is that of the site owner.
Again, we’re more regularly seeing claims related to this kind of criminal activity and the consequential damage and clean-up costs for the clients of security contractors.
In cities, there was a spate of incidents where fake businesses rented buildings, filled them with waste tyres and then faded away into the night. The Environment Agency recently warned landowners in rural areas of sophisticated criminal gangs leasing sites for storage with the sole purpose of dumping illegal waste. In one instance, more than 100,000 tonnes of waste tyres had to be cleared from a farm in Lincolnshire this summer at the owner’s expense when the unlicensed operator abandoned the site.
We’re urging our security sector clients to factor-in these risks. The site or property you’re guarding may hold little of value to attract thieves. However, the space, its location or low level of protection may make it ideal for the organised gangs dealing in illicit waste.
One client guarding an industrial estate discovered that several lorry loads of household waste had been dumped overnight. It might just as easily have been asbestos or toxic chemicals, adding further to the cost of removal.
Managing the risk
How, then, can security contractors manage the risks around waste both for themselves and their clients?
When guarding waste management facilities, don’t underestimate the risk they represent. A recycling plant is not the same as some light industrial unit. Approach it as you would a construction site, if not with even greater degrees of caution.
Advise your client accordingly. If you don’t, you may be held liable for professional negligence.
Then ensure, whatever the site you’re guarding, that you cost the work and resource the contract appropriately, whether that means more frequent patrolling, cameras or other forms of surveillance.
Be sure to do exactly what you have contracted to do, keeping accurate records of work carried out so that you can prove it if sued following a fire or fly-tipping incident.
In short, don’t let the muck cost your brass.
Tina Chittenden is Head of the Security Sector at Darwin Clayton