Up In Smoke

Preventing fires on mobile shredding trucks.

Most businesses have now come to realize that many of the documents that they produce or utilize cannot simply be thrown into the trash can or recycle bin when those documents need to be discarded. Business documents often contain confidential information and must be permanently destroyed to comply with privacy laws and regulatory requirements. With the rise in identity theft, businesses are shredding more and more of their documents to protect employee and customer privacy.

While a few businesses opt for in-house document destruction solutions, most companies have turned to the waste and recycling industry to provide this service. Traditionally, the documents would be collected in a truck from a number of customer locations and then taken back to a central facility for shredding. This method of doing business did leave some concerns in the minds of customers as to what was actually happening with their documents once the truck left their facility. Thus began the rise of the mobile document shredding business, which gives customers the peace of mind of seeing the actual destruction of the documents.

Because of the increased demand for mobile shredding, quite a few businesses that specialize in this service have popped up across the country. Additionally, many traditional waste collection and recycling companies have decided to add a shredding truck to their fleet. These trucks offer an added revenue steam while also providing a service that the customer base is demanding. However, the trucks are expensive and many have been lost due to fires associated with the shredding operations.

Obviously paper, paper shreds and paper dust are all highly combustible. Nor does it take a major ignition source to get the paper burning. A piece of metal, such as a wayward binder clip, can create sparks and heat when passing through shredding machinery. Additionally, finely shredded paper and paper dust can find its way in to bearings and other moving parts, where the heat of friction can trigger ignition.

Because of this potential for fire and the significant financial loss that could result, mobile shred truck operators should consider the following to reduce their risk:

Maintenance. Vigilant maintenance is key to preventing most vehicle fires generally and shredding truck fires in particular. Follow all of the manufacturers’ guidelines for scheduled maintenance and cleaning. Clean, well-lubricated moving parts will reduce the likelihood of a friction-related ignition.

Customer Education. Foreign objects entering the shredder are a common source of ignition. These objects include metal items (binder clips, three-ring binders, coins, etc.) as well as other dangerous items such as batteries, disposable lighters and cell phones. Customers should be made aware both orally and in writing of what items should not be placed in the bins marked for shredding. Warning stickers listing the prohibited items should also be placed on each bin.

Adequate Fire Fighting Equipment. Should a fire break out, it is important that the truck have an adequate number of fire extinguishers on board. It is also important that drivers are trained on the early detection of fire and how best to combat a shredding truck fire.

A Fire Suppression System. Automatic fire suppression systems are available — usually as an aftermarket option — for mobile shredding trucks. These systems automatically detect the presence of a fire and discharge extinguishing agents. While these systems can add significant cost to the price of the vehicle, a waste company may recoup some immediate savings in their auto physical damage insurance premiums.

When a shred truck is destroyed by fire, most insurance companies will pay for the actual cash value of the truck (the fair market value of the truck immediately before the fire). Because vehicles depreciate quickly, the actual cash value will fall significantly short of the cost of purchasing a new shred truck. For this reason, it is important for anyone operating a mobile shred truck to take steps to protect their investment.


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