Recent tests carried out at by the LPC/BRE Special Projects Group and the LPC Centre for Risk Sciences within FRS have highlighted what may be a significant fire risk that has so far gone unnoticed in many buildings. Plastic storage pallets have shown themselves to present a severe fire challenge even where the goods stored on them are completely inert.

 

A clip showing the tower burning fully after only 7 minutes.

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 The pallets used in the tests were made of High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and were of the type designed to hold oil drums although there are many different styles including the more traditional 2-way and 4-way pallet.

Comparative tests were carried out between these drum pallets and standard 2-way wooden pallets. 3 levels of empty steel drums were stored on 4 pallets (1 pallet on the top) and were ignited by a small amount of fuel. Once the fuel had burnt out the wooden pallets failed to sustain the fire but after 7 ½ minutes the entire stack of plastic pallets were involved (see photo) and the stack collapsed.


Ignition tests also showed that in less than 30 seconds these plastic pallets could be ignited with a cigarette lighter, and that once alight, a single plastic pallet sustained fire growth which spread laterally consuming the pallet and forming a pool fire.

These problems are compounded by the fact that fire officials, insurance surveyors and indeed even the building owner/occupier may not be aware that the building contains these pallets, let alone the risk they pose.

 

A clip showing the ease with which the pallets can be ignited.

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 Further research and testing work is planned. For more information please contact Chris Gill, gillc@bre.co.uk

These tests were sponsored by the Association of British Insurers (ABI).


C. Gill - 20-11-00