Fire safety on the farm

Every year we attend on average 286 fires at farms and smallholdings. Some years – particularly when there is a hot summer – we have attended more than 400 fires involving farming equipment, vehicles, crops and buildings. 

Farm fires can be devastating, resulting in the loss of machinery, livestock, stores of hay and straw, and the destruction of buildings.

Farms are at a high risk of fire

There is often a large quantity of combustible materials stored in or around agricultural buildings.

Due to the isolated location and sometimes poor water supplies to fight fires, there is also a risk of farm fires getting out of control.

A man with brown hair in a white shirt and denim jeans, crouched down on soil attending to some crops.

Biggest fire risks on the farm, and what to do

1. Farm vehicles and machinery fires

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Ensure machinery is well maintained and serviced regularly – clean machinery regularly to keep it free from hay, straw, oil and grease. Vehicles – including cars and vans – that are not well maintained are at a higher risk of fire.

2. Hay fires

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Remove hay and straw from fields as soon as possible after harvesting. Ensure it is dry before storing, to prevent spontaneous combustion – many fires are caused by storing damp or wet hay.

Fires can very easily spread. Store hay and straw away from other buildings - especially those containing fuels or chemicals, and separate from livestock.

Store hay and straw in stacks at least 10 metres apart and ensure there is sufficient space between the top of the stack and electrical roof lighting.

3. Fires caused by sparks from welding or grinding (hot works)

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It only takes one spark landing on dry materials to start a fire. Welding and grinding can pose a high fire risk if carried out in the wrong place. Only carry out hot work, such as welding or grinding, in clear areas well away from any flammable substances and buildings used to store hay/straw.

4. Electrical faults causing fires

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Carry out regular electrical safety checks, especially in areas where straw or hay is stored. Never leave anything running or switched on unnecessarily.

5. Fires from human causes

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Cigarettes and smoking pose a fire risk - make sure you have designated areas for smoking away from combustible materials and ensure cigarettes and matches are extinguished properly.

Avoid open fires and barbecues and only allow camping and picnicking in controlled areas.

6. Fires involving fuel and hazardous materials

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Ensure any fuels, chemicals and hazardous materials are stored securely and clearly labelled. They should be stored well away from other buildings. Only store what you need. 

Make sure you have completed your COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations) assessment. For further information, read the Government's advice around COSHH in agriculture.

Be prepared for fire

  • Keep escape routes clear at all times and keep all areas free from rubbish, oily cloths and other combustible materials.
  • Make sure everyone at the farm knows what to do in the event of a fire. Carry a mobile phone at all times, especially if working alone. 
  • Keep firefighting equipment in good working order and ensure it is serviced regularly. Make sure it is always easily accessible and that everyone is aware of where it is located. 
  • Make sure that the entrance to your farm is clearly signposted and keep all access routes clear for emergency vehicles.
  • Download the What3words app to give a specific location to the emergency services.
     

What to do in an agricultural fire

Get to a safe place away from the fire.

Call 999 with the following details:

  • full location – ordnance survey grid reference or What3words location if possible
  • what is involved or likely to become involved in the fire i.e. chemicals, hay etc.
  • information about access to the fire for fire engines 
  • if there will be problems accessing water supplies
  • send someone to direct the fire service when they arrive.

Stay away from the fire.

Then, when everyone is safe:

  • prepare to evacuate livestock should the fire spread
  • prepare to use farm machinery to assist the fire and rescue service to move straw/hay etc.

Who is responsible for fire safety on the farm and what does this include?

Fire safety legislation applies to all farm buildings where people work, including packing sheds, milking parlours, barns, holiday lets and farmhouses used for providing bed and breakfast.

Farm owners and managers are usually the Responsible Person who has the duty to ensure adequate fire safety provisions are in place. 

Failure to comply with fire safety law may lead to prosecution. 

A fire safety risk assessment must be carried out. Your fire risk assessment will help you identify risks that can be removed or reduced, as well as help you to decide the nature and extent of the fire precautions you need to take to keep people safe.

Preventing arson at your farm

A large number of farm fires are caused by arson. There are some simple precautions that you can take to reduce the risk of these attacks.
 

Security

  • Lock all sheds and buildings.
  • Keep all fuels, chemicals, pesticides and fertilisers locked away.
  • Repair or replace any damaged fencing or gates.
  • Display security notices and install security alarms and lighting.
  • Use dogs or geese to give early warning of intruders.
     

Storage

Hay and straw should be removed from fields as soon as possible after harvesting.

Hay and straw should be stored: 

  • separate from other buildings, particularly those housing fuels, agrochemicals and machinery.
  • in stacks of reasonable size, spaced at least 10 metres apart.
  • separate from livestock housing.

Rubbish should be disposed of safely and on a regular basis.
 

We recommend you carry out a survey of your farm. This will help identify areas where an arsonist could strike. If there are certain areas you are unsure about, ask your local crime prevention officer or insurance advisor for assistance.