Fire Safety On Farms & At Harvest Time

How To Prevent Agricultural Machinery Fires At Harvest

Following the very hot harvest of 2022 we thought we’d compile a list of actions you can take to prevent any tractor, combine or baler fires this harvest.

How To Prevent Agricultural Fires At Harvest Time

With the summer of 2023 finally dawning on us, it’s critical to make sure that your farm is prepared for the harvest season.  We all remember the scorching harvest conditions of 2022, which made it the driest year on record since 1976. The NFU have since estimated that the tinder-dry conditions set the scene for 800 agricultural machinery fires throughout the harvest; this excludes general farm fires. Looking ahead, we strongly advise farmers to be vigilant and review their farm’s fire safety plan, so they are ready and waiting for whatever this year’s harvest has in store!  This doesn’t have to be a complicated task with lots of paperwork – in this blog we’ll guide you every step of the way.

Why Do Fires Start On Farms?

To prevent fires starting, we need to identify what causes them. First of all, farms are naturally a haven of combustible materials such as hay, straw and fuel. More often than not, farms are situated in isolated locations with poor water supplies, making a fire harder to control. A farm’s busiest time of year is the hot and dry months of July, August and September, when even a small spark could result in a very serious blaze. What’s more, regular workshop activities such as welding or grinding is hot work, which could easily result in a fire starting if carried out near combustible materials.

What Can I Do To Prevent Farm Fires?

  • Ensure machinery is well maintained and serviced regularly, to keep it free of electrical and mechanical faults that could result in a fire. Carry out a pre-harvest inspection on tractors, balers, combines and other necessary machinery. Machinery must be kept free of combustible materials such as hay, straw, oil and grease. We suggest using an air compressor or even a leaf blower to remove chaff and straw from your combine or baler (30 psi is effective at cleaning, wear dust PPE and never point an airline at a person.)  At the end of a working day, carry out routine maintenance and always stop to investigate smells/wisps of smoke, hot engines or bearings. Always ensure that engines are switched off and moving parts have stopped before clearing out blockages or doing maintenance.
  • Carry out a fire safety risk assessment, follow the governments template here . This simply consists of identifying possible hazards and people at risk and will help you take steps to remove the risks and create a ‘fire plan’.
  • A ‘fire plan’ must be put in place with a system of communication between all farmworkers, especially lone workers, temporary workers and anyone living on the farm. Ensure you also have a livestock evacuation plan if your farm has animals. Make sure everyone is familiar with the fire plan and knows what to do in the event of a fire. Keep in regular contact and ensure your phone is well-charged and on your person – it’ll be no use in your truck.
  • Ensure workers are aware of the locations of overhead power lines, and the height of their vehicle in order to pass under them safely.
  • Always carry a fire extinguisher in any machinery used and make sure it is regularly serviced. Make sure everyone knows where firefighting equipment is located, and make sure the equipment is easily accessible. Agri-Linc carry a large range of fire extinguishers, fire beaters, and other excellent tools for fighting fires before they get out of control.  Ensure each fire extinguisher is the right one for the task in hand; for farm fires we recommend powder and foam extinguishers. Browse the full range here .
  • Store hay and straw away from other buildings, especially those containing fuels, chemicals and livestock. Ensure there is approximately 10 metres between stacks and that the top of the stack is not touching electrical roof lighting etc.
  • Fit a fire suppression system that has 'P' mark status to control, extinguish and prevent fire.
  • Carry out electrical safety checks, especially in areas where hay and straw are kept, always turn off electrical items that are not in use.
  • Only carry out welding/grinding etc in designated areas, clear from flammable substances and buildings that store straw and hay.
  • Smoking, cigarettes, open fires and barbeques must only be done in designated areas to ensure fires don’t spread to open farmland and buildings.
  • Ensure fuels, chemicals, hazardous materials and flammable substances are clearly labelled and securely stored away from other buildings. Don’t store excessive amounts and ensure you have completed your COSHH assessment (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations). Read the government’s advice on the subject here
  • Keep escape routes clear and keep areas free from rubbish, oily cloths and materials which could easily combust.
  • Get to know your local fire service team, make sure that the farm is clearly signposted and keep access routes clear for emergency vehicles. Download an app such as What3Words to give emergency vehicles your location as accurate as three metres.
  • Keep water bowsers or tankers handy and connected to a tractor, in the event of a field fire. Ensure you also have a cultivator or plough at your disposal to create a firebreak if necessary.
  • Finally, many farm fires are unfortunately caused by hateful arson attacks. To prevent these, we recommend keeping sheds, buildings and combustible materials locked away. Ensure that fencing and farm gates are sturdy and fix any cases of damage. Use security notices, alarms, lighting and cameras – see Agri-Linc’s range of Farmstream CCTV cameras here .  Even something as simple as a flock of geese will notify you of unwanted intruders…

What Can I Do In The Event Of A Farm Fire?

If a fire starts, despite all your best efforts, follow these steps to combat it.

  • If you cannot put out the fire yourself within 20-30 seconds, it’s time to call the emergency services.
  • Get to a safe place and call 999.
  • Make sure you give the emergency services your full location, if possible a What3words location, as mentioned earlier
  • Make sure the fire service knows what is/is likely to become involved, i.e. fire, chemicals, hay, machinery
  • Give information about farm access to the fire service, notify them of any problems they will have accessing the water supply.
  • Make yourself known to the fire crew on their arrival.
  • Stay away from the fire, and when everyone is safe, prepare to evacuate any livestock and prepare to use farm machinery to assist the fire service to create firebreaks or relocate hay/straw etc.

The below YouTube video from Farmer’s Weekly is a great lesson from a real-life farm fire experience.

One Final Thing… 

Agri-Linc are soon to be stockists of the ‘Fire Safety Stick’, as shown above. This is the lightest, most compact fire extinguisher in the world, making it a must-have in every machinery cab. See the YouTube Video below of this item in action.

As you can see, the ‘Fire Safety Stick’ is an effective piece of kit. It works on all major fire classes and has a long discharge time, compared to a regular extinguisher which can be used up in seconds. In short, the stick works by releasing a gas which robs the fire of oxygen, (a critical element of a fire’s chain reaction) without harming the user. Unlike regular extinguishers, the fire safety stick leaves no damaging mess or residue, requires no service or maintenance, and has a 15-year shelf life.

Last year, a major approved distributor reported that when a small combine fire started, a fire-safety stick was thrown into a combine’s thresher unit, and successfully prevented the machine becoming a write-off and the fire spreading. Minor internal fire damage was easily repaired, and the farmer was even able to use the combine later on in the season. The fire safety stick was able to reach into parts of the combine that extinguishers could not enter and prevent the devastating loss of a combine.

This item is gaining huge popularity in the farming community, and we hope to offer this product to customers very soon – so stay tuned, and keep an eye on our website!

We hope you have enjoyed reading this blog, and we hope it’s given you fresh confidence to face the harvest season! For any queries on Agri-Linc’s range of Fire Protection Equipment or to place an order, simply go to our website or call 01778 591225 to speak to our knowledgeable sales staff!

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