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NFU Mutual issues farm fire warning as Britain braces for drought: Farm fires cost almost £100m in 2021

12/08/2022
Evita van Gestel (NFU)

AS harvest continues and another wave of hot, dry weather begins to hit the countryside, NFU Mutual is warning farmers to take extreme care to avoid fires on their farms.

The warning comes as the leading rural insurer reveals claims estimates suggest farm fires cost over £97m in 2021, an increase on the previous year.

NFU Mutual, which insures three-quarters of all UK farms, says fires on farms typically peak in the months of July and August, when harvest is well underway and the weather is generally hotter and drier. Last year, this period saw almost 500 of such fire claims at a rate of over eight each day.

The current heatwave will also increase the risk of agricultural machinery fire claims. These claims are estimated to have cost over £37m last year, and the insurer saw a 35% increase in the number of combine fire claims during the 2021 harvest.

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Explaining the risks, Evita van Gestel of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd said:

“We know that long periods of hot, dry weather, like that predicted for the coming weeks, increase the risk of dangerous and destructive fires on our farms.”

“Dusty, tinder dry conditions combined with hot moving parts, lots of electrical wiring and a tank full of diesel provide everything that is needed to turn a spark into a violent fire.”

“Not only can this result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of agricultural machinery, but it can also damage or destroy nearby crops and buildings and disrupt harvest at a time when farmers can least afford it.” 

“Most importantly, the current conditions mean a fire can quickly become a raging blaze which endangers lives.” 

“That is why we’re urging farmers to use our fire prevention checklist and to maintain regular cleaning and maintenance of machinery to avoid destructive fires. NFU Mutual also offers premium discounts to farmers who fit approved fire suppression systems to their combines, which can stop a fire in its tracks.”

NFU Mutual fire safety checklist

General fire safety

  • Have a plan in place in the event of fire including a system for keeping in contact with lone workers and anyone working or living on farm 
  • Identify hazards, such as fuel and fertiliser stores or dry straw and grain, and take steps to isolate these where possible
  • Keep vehicles away from these stored materials, as hot engines could ignite dry materials nearby. When storing vehicles inside with other materials, keep the vehicles sufficiently distant from combustibles.
  • Keep electrical wiring inspections up to date
  • Clear workshops of combustible items – maintain good housekeeping
  • Keep mobile phones on you at all times – it’s no use to you if it’s left in a tractor or pickup cab 
  • Keep a bowser filled with water on hand and make sure all workers can access this water supply, and be prepared to create a fire break in the event of a crop fire
  • Use the What3Words App to help emergency services can find your location easily
  • Remind staff to keep well-hydrated, take sufficient rest breaks and monitor for fatigue, stress and mental ill health symptoms. 

Agricultural machinery/combines

  • Ensure planned preventative maintenance is up to date and in accordance with manufacturers’’ service schedules before using any machinery
  • Fit a suppression system that meets P-mark status to contain, extinguish and prevent fire
  • Regularly clean out dust and chaff from hot spots and check the machine over when you finish use for the day
  • You can use a mobile compressor (or a fixed one if fitted to the combine) to regularly blow away debris from the machine, but only do so if the exit pressure is reduced (as a guide 30psi/2.1 bar is effective at cleaning). Wear eye and respiratory protective gear to protect from dust and never point an airline at a person to remove dust from clothing, as there is a risk of injecting air into the skin and causing bubbles in the blood stream. 
  • Switch off engines and ensure moving parts have stopped before clearing blockages or carrying out maintenance
  • Always stop to investigate hot-running engines or bearings 
  • Make sure drivers are aware of the locations and heights of power lines and check that you will safely pass under wires 
  • Keep a fire extinguisher on the combine – and ensure it is regularly maintained 

To see a live fire suppression demonstration with NFU Mutual and Fireward visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJAlQzP71Sk

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