Fire Prevention on the Farm

Fire prevention around the home and farm starts by thinking about the things that can burn, identifying the things that can be an ignition source, and then making sure those two things don't get to know each other. Combustibles and ignition sources cannot always be eliminated, but they can be controlled.

Common fuel sources include gasoline, LP cylinders, aerosol cans, flammable liquids, acetylene cylinders, and accumulation of wood pallets, cardboard, and feed/seed sacks.  Now think about how these items are being stored. They should be in proper containers or cabinets, have labels that clearly identify the contents, and not allowed to accumulate. When in bulk, these items should be stored away from building structures with tanks protected from vehicle traffic.

Now think about the ignition sources. This includes smoking, welding, torch work, grinding, pilot lights, friction from conveyors, electrical wiring, and burn piles. Make it a habit to conduct hot work such as welding, grinding and torch cutting at least 35 feet away from combustible materials. Ensure electrical wiring is in good condition with no exposure to the internal wiring. This means live wiring should be completely enclosed with covers on junction boxes, outlets, missing breakers, and conduit openings.

Burn piles are common on farms, and are a very real ignition source.  Even when away from building structures, items like cardboard and feed/seed sacks can carry flames a long way with a sudden shift in wind. Ideally, throw such items in a dumpster or leave for the weekly garbage pickup.

It is not unusual to see a garbage container or even a fuel can stored directly under a bench grinder.  Obviously this is not a good practice, but it illustrates how important it is to have good work habits and think how things are stored to keep combustibles and ignitions sources apart.

The vapor for flammable liquids is typically heavier than air and it is prone to travel along the floor surface.  This is important to remember when storing portable fuel containers or LP cylinders.  Consider where vapors may travel and ensure ignition sources are not in their path.

Spontaneous combustion is another issue to be aware on the farm.  This can occur from hay and straw that is put into barn or silo storage with high moisture content. As temperatures rise, flammable gases are released and combustion can occur. Placing shop towels saturated with oils in a bunched up enclosed area can also combust, rather than hanging in an open area to dry.

Most farms are not regulated where fire extinguishers must be accessible and have monthly and annual inspections. Still, it is a good habit to inspect fire extinguishers to ensure they are fully charged and the extinguishing agent inside is loose and has not "caked up". Remember, keep extinguishers accessible in the event of an emergency, and do not use them as a coat rack or a place to drape extension cords.

Fire prevention takes constant effort and good work habits. Conditions that are fine today can turn into a hazard in a short period of time. This is a good time of year to review work habits and storage practices.

Kevin Frye serves the FS System as GROWMARK's Safety Services Manager. He can be reached at