Monday, February 28, 2022

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Managing your expanded polystyrene risks

In recent years, the use of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) has increased dramatically, especially within residential builds, strata properties, and cold storage settings. The popularity of EPS has also seen an uptick in the number of insurance claims, due to the fire risks associated with the product. This guide will help you to understand more about EPS, the associated hazards, and how to limit your risk exposure.

What is EPS?

The national industry association EPSA (Expanded Polystyrene Australia) refers to EPS as “…a lightweight cellular plastic material consisting of small hollow spherical balls.” Developed as an insulating material, EPS is now widely used within construction, packaging, and cold storage due to its versatility. EPS is durable, moisture-resistant, thermally efficient, lightweight, and cost-effective.

Common applications of EPS

EPS is often used as an aggregate in lightweight concrete, however, the risk lies with insulated wall systems. Most commonly found in newer residential builds and strata properties, its use in exterior wall panelling is usually disguised by render and it can also be used as decorative architectural moulding. Both applications can be undetectable to the naked eye.

In commercial properties, EPS is often used in cold storage for abattoirs, butchers, food suppliers & wholesalers, or any activity requiring constant cooling or insulation. Within cool room/cold storage, EPS can be identified by its bright white panelling.

Risks associated with EPS

First, polystyrene is derived from petroleum, meaning it is highly combustible. Second, once inside the panelling, a fire can spread quickly before it becomes evident to the naked eye, meaning EPS fires can cause extensive damage. Third, firefighters are unlikely to attempt to contain an EPS fire, which can lead to more significant repair costs, which the insurer must pay.

Reducing the risk at your premises

Where possible, limit the overall use of EPS and use other materials that are non-combustible/flammable. If EPS must be used, ensure that priority is given to regular housekeeping, including:

  • Ensuring EPS panels are regularly inspected for damage and repaired immediately. Exposed cores present a greater risk of combustibility.
  • Store flammable items away from areas where EPS has been used.
  • Ensure occupants/owners of properties with EPS are aware of the associated risks and the housekeeping required to reduce the likelihood of a fire.
  • Any electrical items near or running through EPS should be contained with a suitable conduit to reduce the risk of combustibility.
  • Implement a “Hot Works Permit” program to ensure that any construction works capable of creating sparks/heat/flames is carried out safely.
  • Expand the use of fire suppression, smoke alarms and thermal detectors in the vicinity of the EPS.

A final note

Always keep your broker informed of any risk management practices in place and any changes relating to EPS. It is vital the presence of EPS is disclosed to your insurer. Removal of EPS can reduce the insurer’s risk and the associated premium payable. To find out more about limiting your unique risks, please reach out directly at any time to Anthony Chitty. Alternatively, please follow this link to find a Honan contact near you.

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