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Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
December 8, 2022

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Fire prevention

Annual cost of farm fires approaches £100m as arson costs almost double

Insurance company NFU Mutual is urging farmers to take precautions and have fire control plans in place, as the cost of farm fires reached £95.6m in 2021.

Electrical faults were the biggest known cause of blazes last year, and the costs of large-scale farm arson attacks almost doubled from £4.7m in 2020 to £8.4m in 2021.

FarmFires-InsurancePrevention-22Biomass boiler fires also continued to increase last year and as many installations begin to age, farmers are being urged to carry out regular maintenance checks.

Andy Manson, Head of Risk Management Services at NFU Mutual, said that farm fires put lives at risk and cause disruptive and devastating damage to farm businesses.

“To help protect their businesses, farmers should put fire prevention and control plans in place, such as regularly reviewing their fire risk assessment and acting on the findings.

“Most fires are preventable by carrying out routine maintenance and inspection on heating systems, electrical installations and machinery, and controlling hot works within farm workshops.

“Implementing and maintaining good standards of housekeeping – particularly around the storage of combustibles and flammables such as hay, straw and fuels – will also reduce the risk of a fire spreading.”

NFU mutual has five safety tips to help farmers mitigate the risks of fire:

  1. Have a plan in place that puts people at the heart of it, ensuring everyone knows what to do in the event of a fire. The biggest priority is to evacuate everyone safely, including people working in or living around the premises, taking special care to assist any vulnerable people.
  2. Electrical faults are a major cause of fire while electric shock can cause death or severe injury. Don’t try and attempt electrical work yourself and always use a qualified and competent electrician for work and inspections. DIY modifications, poor environmental conditions (such as wet, damp or acidic atmospheres), rodents, overloaded sockets and simple wear and tear are common causes of electrical fires on farms.
  3. Suppression systems play a critical role in detecting, containing and extinguishing fire. Whether you have a biomass boiler or a combine harvester working in hot, dry conditions, fire suppression systems can save lives and property.
  4. Good housekeeping is essential to ensure materials and machinery are stored correctly and to eliminate dust and debris. The build-up of waste and materials not only adds to the fuel load, but can block escape routes and cause trip hazards in an emergency.
  5. Welding, cutting or grinding – along with hot work using blow lamps and blow torches – can produce sparks which can turn into fires if they hit a combustible material. If work can’t be done outside, ensure it is done in a clear, open area and far away from combustible materials (including combustible building structures). Anyone carrying out hot works on your farm should be subject to a strict ‘permit to work’ system.

If a fire does break out, farmers are told to call the fire and rescue service immediately and evacuate everyone to a safe location, as in the emergency plan. They should only fight the fire if it is safe to do so and using the correct, maintained extinguishers. If the fire spreads they should prepare to evacuate livestock if it is safe to do so, and use farm machinery to help the fire and rescue service, but only on their instruction.

Farmers should ensure they can direct the emergency services to the exact location of the fire by, for example, downloading the what3words app which pinpoints specific 3 by 3 metre locations. They should send someone to meet and direct the fire and rescue service to the fire, and ensure that the farm entrance is clearly signed and access is kept clear to allow entry to the fire and rescue service.

“We are very concerned about the rising cost of arson attacks, which is a frightening prospect considering farms are not only farmers’ place of work but often their family home,” said Hannah Binns, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist. “We are urging everyone to be on their guard and improve their security to help prevent their business going up in smoke.”

 

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