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Call for action as farm fire costs rise by 40%

NFU Mutual is urging farmers to have fire plans in place as claims statistics reveal the cost of farm fires shot up in 2020.

The cost of farm fires reported to NFU Mutual totalled £69 million last year, with an additional £20m for agricultural vehicle fires. Electrical faults were a major cause, while extreme weather and dry conditions also contributed.

Cases of fire spreading from electrical cabinets emphasised the importance of regular inspections by competent professionals, in addition to regular dust-downs and ensuring clear space around control panels, NFU Mutual said.

Fires involving increasingly popular biomass boilers were an alarming new trend identified from the claims data, as more farmers look to alternative fuel sources. However, the insurer says that servicing and maintenance, along with good housekeeping and waste disposal procedures, can help mitigate risks.

According to NFU Mutual’s figures, farms in the east were the worst-affected last year, with fire costs totalling £21.5m. Northern Ireland was the second worst-affected region where fire claims cost £14.7m (up from £2.7m in 2019), followed by the south west where claims reached £8m (up from £5.9m in 2019).

Agricultural vehicle fires accounted for an additional £20m during 2020. Fires writing off combine harvesters – which can cost up to £850,000 – prompted NFU Mutual to encourage farmers to fit accredited fire suppression systems with discounted agricultural vehicle premiums to help save lives and property.

Farms advised to put plans in place

The rural insurer, which insures three-quarters of UK farms, is now advising farmers to put new fire prevention and control plans in place. Evita Van Gestel of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd works with farmers across the UK to help reduce the risks in their fields and farmyards.

She advises putting an emergency plan in place and regularly reviewing your 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.

“Some insurance policies, for instance NFU Mutual’s Poultry Farm Warranty, will have mandatory requirements relating to electrics and ventilation.”

Five fire safety tips from NFU Mutual Risk Management Services:

Have a plan in place – Put people at the heart of your fire plan and ensure everyone on site 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, particularly those especially at risk and who may have disabilities.

Don’t mess with electrics – Electrical faults are a major cause of fire whilst 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, hostile conditions (such as wet, damp or acidic atmospheres), rodents, overloaded sockets and simple wear and tear are common causes of electrical fires on farms.

Suppress the risk – suppression systems are a major game changer for the industry and play a critical role 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.

Keep on top of your housekeeping – Good housekeeping is absolutely essential to ensure materials and machinery are stored correctly and to eliminate dust and debris. The build-up of waste and materials is not only flammable and potentially explosive, it can block escape routes and cause trip hazards in an emergency.

Control hot work – Welding, cutting or grinding equipment, along with blow lamps and blow torches can produce sparks which spread quickly. If work can’t be done outside, ensure you are in clear, open area and far away from combustible materials. Anyone carrying out hot works on your farm should be subject to a strict ‘Permit to Work’ system.

If a fire breaks out:

  • Call the Fire and Rescue Service without delay.
  • Only attempt to fight the fire if it is safe to do so and using the correct and maintained extinguishers.
  • Prepare to evacuate livestock, only if safe to do so if the fire spreads.
  • Prepare to use farm machinery to assist the Fire and Rescue Service.
  • Ensure you can direct emergency services to the exact location of fires e.g. download the what3words app which pinpoints specific 3m x 3m locations
  • Send someone to meet and direct the Fire and Rescue Service to the fire.
  • Ensure the farm entrance is clearly signed and access kept clear to allow Fire and Rescue Service access.

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