Discarding and disposal of explosives

Explosives, and explosive contaminated items, must be discarded and disposed of safely.

The guidance is aimed at those responsible for:

  • managing the disposal and destruction of explosives
  • planning and implementing disposal activities.

It is also aimed at professional explosive users, such as:

  • fireworks display operators
  • demolition operators
  • shot firers

The guidance will also be of interest to dutyholders, regulatory authorities, the emergency services and others who may be called upon to manage the disposal of explosives or explosives contaminated waste such as:

  • the police
  • the Fire and Rescue Service
  • trading Standards officers
  • Coastguard
  • waste disposal operators

What are the problems associated with disposal of explosives?

One of the main causes of accidents in the explosives industry is the disposal of explosives waste.

The risks associated with disposal of explosives waste means that incidents often lead to injuries or fatalities.

Accidents can be avoided by:

  • a better appreciation of the properties and behaviour of explosives under certain conditions – explosives earmarked for destruction may be unusually unstable due to deterioration
  • drawing up properly considered systems of work, with appropriate safety precautions

Methods of disposal

'Disposal of explosives' means their destruction, or rendering them permanently explosively inert, or their safe and legal transfer to a competent person.

There is generally more than one way of destroying an explosive. The method used will depend on the nature of the explosive and its hazards, and the type and position of the disposal site.

There are five main methods for the safe disposal or destruction of explosives:

  • functioning in the design mode
  • burning
  • detonation
  • dissolving or diluting by a solvent or
  • chemical destruction (including bioremediation)

Sometimes a combination of methods can be used.

Sea dumping and burial are not suitable methods for disposal and are not generally considered as being safe ways to discard explosives, as they will not generally destroy the explosives or render them harmless.

Explosives should be disposed of by the most suitable method. Identification of the most suitable disposal method needs to consider the nature of the explosive and its hazards, and any hazards associated with the disposal method or created during the disposal process. The nature and position of any disposal site should also be considered as part of the identification of the most suitable method.

Anyone disposing of explosives should be aware that they have duties to do so in a way that is not harmful to the environment

Further information on discarding and disposal of explosives can be found in L150-overarching guidance –safety provisions.

Guidance for the Safe Management of the Disposal of Explosives (CBI publication)

Guidance on the disposal of explosives has been published by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) – Guidance for the Safe Management of the Disposal of Explosives. It replaced HSE's Disposal of explosives waste CS23 in 2007.

The guidance has been produced by the Explosives Industry Forum (EIF), a tripartite body made up of the HSE's Explosives Inspectorate, industry representatives and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Its work has also been supported by the wider industry, the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs, the Environment Agency and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

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Updated 2023-07-25