Top Crop Manager

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Ten ways to reduce the risk of a barn fire


February 24, 2020
By Top Crop Manager

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The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has created a list of 10 best management practices (BMPs) to prevent barn fires. It contains practical BMPs to assist Ontario farmers in reducing the risk of barn fires. Barn fires are devastating events for Ontario’s farming families to deal with, and the financial and emotional impacts are felt for many years. Using BMPs in the farm’s daily operations will reduce the risk of such a catastrophic event occurring.

As you prepare to plant your 2020 crops, consider using this as a checklist while going through your barns to lower any potential risk and protect your farm and family as best you can.

Ten BMPs to reduce barn fire risk:

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  1. Focus on housekeeping: keeping a clean, decluttered work environment will significantly lower fire risk, with the added benefit of increased efficiency. Keeping combustibles like straw, dust and bedding contained and away from electrical outlets and other ignition sources is key.
  2. Limit the use of temporary electrical equipment: equipment that is not hard-wired into the electrical system is considered temporary equipment. It may be plugged directly into an outlet using an extension cord or powered from an external fuel source such as a standby generator. Worn or corroded outlets and extension cords can become ignition sources.
  3. Regularly inspect and maintain permanent electrical systems: the permanent electrical system is one of the most vulnerable areas within a livestock barn. The humidity and corrosive gases generated by livestock and the storage of manure degrade the electrical system. Protection of electrical equipment, routine maintenance and ventilation are key.
  4. Perform hot works safely: hot works, such as arc welding, cutting with torches or grinding are a common cause of fires, particularly inside farm buildings where combustible materials or manure gases are present. Sparks falling into under-barn manure storages have caused explosions and fires, and heating sources such as torches used to thaw out water lines have also been connected to barn fires. Relocation of the work site or replacement of the part when possible, and ventilation and preparation when not possible, will significantly lower the risk.
  5. Participate in a risk reduction assessment with insurance or fire departments: many insurance companies and fire departments offer on-site reviews or risk reduction assessments for farms, which help the operator identify potential risks and provide recommendations to address the concerns. The person conducting the risk reduction assessment will often follow a checklist of common fire-related concerns, including storage of combustibles, electrical systems and sources of heat or sparks.
  6. Prepare and implement a fire safety plan: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A fire safety plan summarizes how an operation will prevent a fire and the response in case a fire does occur. This type of plan ensures the operation is regularly maintaining safety equipment, avoiding or reducing high risk activities and is prepared to respond to a fire.
  7. Regularly inspect and maintain fire walls, fire separations and attic fire stops: these will slow down the progression of a fire within a building and increase the time for people within the building to escape. Too often these structural components are compromised, such as by adding openings, which reduce or eliminate their effectiveness.
  8. Regularly maintain heaters: improperly installed or maintained heaters are a common cause of barn fires. The presence of combustible materials, such as bedding and dust, in the barn is a contributing factor to fires. Heaters can also be damaged if livestock have access to them.
  9. Store and maintain motorized equipment away from livestock: motorized equipment, such as tractors, produce significant amounts of heat even after being turned off and stored. This heat can dry debris caught in the equipment and cause the material to ignite. In addition, motorized equipment can develop electrical or mechanical failures that provide additional sources of ignition.
  10. Store combustibles in a designated location away from livestock: combustibles such as straw or oil provide the fuel to feed a fire. Isolating these materials in a separate area reduces the risk of a fire spreading throughout the barn.

Simple actions, like keeping a clean and tidy environment, properly installing and maintaining equipment, conducting a fire assessment and creating a plan are fire safety best practices. With attention to detail, fire safety risks to farm workers, emergency responders and livestock can be reduced and the trend of increasing financial losses reversed. For the complete list, visit the OMAFRA website.