Five ways to reduce the risk of farm fires caused by hot machinery

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Technical Leader Claire Longman advises farmers on five steps they can take to reduce the risk of fires caused by hot farm machinery.

In the last 12 months, we have handled three major claims as a result of large farm fires caused by machinery. With agricultural machinery being used intensively for harvesting, in hot and dry conditions, late summer is the peak time for these incidents. Sadly, they can have a devastating effect, causing thousands of pounds’ worth of damage, as well as posing a threat to people and livestock.

Farm machinery can become very hot after use and can pose a fire risk, particularly if it is stored near flammable materials. 

Here are five steps we advise farmers to take to reduce the risk.

 1.  Keep farm machinery clean and free of debris

Agricultural machinery is becoming more complex, which means potentially flammable debris, such as grass and straw, can become stuck in parts of the machine that are not obviously visible.

That is why we advise farmers to keep checking and cleaning harvesting machinery to ensure belly pans and spaces around motors are free from oil, dust, grease, straw and hay - particularly after a long day out in the fields.

 2.  Ensure machinery is well maintained

There are many tasks to deal with on a daily basis when running a farm, especially during harvesting. However, mechanical defects are another potential cause of fires, so we urge farmers to regularly service farm vehicles and machinery.

 3.  Let machinery cool before storing

We advise farmers to leave hot machinery outside to completely cool down before moving it indoors.  If the machinery is still warm when it is moved into a shed or barn, there is a risk of residual heat rising and catching with flammable materials inside or near to the machinery.

 4.  Check storage areas for flammable materials

Buildings used for storing machinery should be checked carefully for potentially flammable items. Petrol, diesel, fuels and chemicals must be stored separately and secured in clearly labelled and approved containers. The area around the machinery should also be kept clear of rubbish, oily rags, firewood and other fuel sources, such as straw bales.

5.  Assess the risk

The key to preventing accidents is to continually assess risks and take reasonable steps to reduce them, such as keeping fire extinguishers in farm buildings and near or mounted on machinery.

Farm owners must, by law, carry out a fire risk assessment of their farm buildings under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Those with five or more employees must record the findings or risk facing a fine or prison sentence and potentially the loss of the business.

Whether employed or working on a casual basis, farm workers should be familiar with the farm owner’s written health and safety policy. Training may need to be offered, to ensure they are able to work as safely as possible.

A booklet, Farm Fire Safety, which we produced with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, gives further advice to farmers on how to carry out a fire risk assessment, identify hazards and prepare an emergency plan, as well as outlining preventative steps farmers can take to reduce the risks.

Farmers should also familiarise themselves with the HSE’s advice on thermal hazards and farm machinery.