Reducing the Risk of Fire on Your Farm - Preventative Maintenance to Reduce the Risk of Fire

Table of Contents

  1. Electrical Systems
  2. Mechanical Systems
  3. Heating Appliance Systems

There are several operational and maintenance practices that farm operators can use to reduce the risk of fires on farm.

General Operating Practices

  • Do not allow smoking in farm buildings. Restricting access to farm buildings keeps people out who don't know or respect these rules.
  • When repairing fixed or stationary equipment inside a farm building (livestock penning, stabling, etc.) with ignition source equipment (welders, cutting torches or grinders), ensure that:
    • fire extinguishers are located in the work area
    • all combustible materials are removed from the work area
    • the site is well ventilated to reduce the concentration of combustible gases present 
  • Establish a fire watch during the work and for a period of time following completion. Gas detection devices are available if accurate gas concentration levels are required.
  • Establish good housekeeping practices. Eliminate clutter inside and outside the buildings. Keep grass and weeds mowed around buildings. These measures reduce the risk of fire spread and improve the effectiveness of suppression activities.
  • Be careful when pressure washing inside a farm building. The high pressure water can physically damage equipment and allow deep water penetration into unwanted areas such as electrical panels, heater controls, etc.
  • Grain handling and feed preparation activities generate dust which presents an explosion and/or fire hazard. Vent these areas and provide a fresh air supply. Properly protect electrical fixtures and use totally enclosed, fan-cooled motors. Good housekeeping practices are critical to limit combustible materials from this area.
  • Ensure all liquid fuel and propane storage areas are located according to applicable Codes (adequate separation distance from fixed ignition sources, etc.). If the storage tanks are exposed to vehicle traffic, install protection (i.e. bollards or equivalent) around the storage tanks to reduce risk of damage from vehicle collisions (Figure 2.1).
  • Install all electrical equipment associated with fuel storage (i.e. electric fuel pump) according to the Ontario Electrical Safety Code.

Picture of two farm fuel storage tanks sitting on a concrete pad.  The storage site has 3 bollards across the front of the tanks to prevent vehicles from hitting the tanks. Tanks have electric fuel pumps that are properly wired with totally enclosed fixtures.

Figure 2.1. On-farm fuel storage with vehicle protection (bollards). (Photo credit: FS Partners)

Electrical Systems

The combination of a humid (wet) and corrosive environment is harmful to exposed electrical equipment (plug ends, unsealed junction points, etc.). Excessive corrosion increases the equipment's electrical resistance and results in increased heat production, the suspected ignition source in a number of barn fires. Thermographic imaging exposes the problem, primarily in swine buildings, however the issue is also seen in poultry and other livestock facilities. Review and follow these best practices relating to the use and maintenance of electrical equipment.

  • On a yearly basis, have a licensed electrical contractor inspect all electrical equipment within the barn. Focus particular attention on cord caps (ends), ceiling mounted outlets, light fixtures (Figure 2.2) and electrical panels located within the animal areas.

Picture of a fire damaged light fixture, ceiling mounted, in a dairy barn.  The light caught fire due to the presence of a bird's nest (combustible).

Figure 2.2. Light fixture in a dairy barn that caught fire due to the presence of a bird's nest (proximity of combustibles). (Photo credit: R. Drysdale, Farm Mutual Reinsurance Plan)

  • Complete a yearly thermographic inspection of the entire electrical system when the barn is at its peak electrical demand (e.g. summer for swine and poultry). Many insurance companies now offer this value–added service for their policyholders. Make any necessary repairs to eliminate identified hot spots (Figure 2.3).

A thermographic (uses colour to indicate hot spots) image of an electrical outlet in a barn.  The outlet is showing signs of temperatures greater than 100°C due to increased electrical resistance caused by corrosion in the fixture.

Figure 2.3. Thermographic image of an electrical outlet in a barn discovered during an annual inspection. Note the hotspots (red) at greater than 100 °C (212 °F). (Photo credit: R. Drysdale, Farm Mutual Reinsurance Plan)

  • The Ontario Electrical Safety Code permits the use of wiring for damp locations in farm buildings housing livestock or poultry when the area has adequate ventilation. For more information on ventilating livestock buildings, see OMAFRA Publication 833, Ventilation for Livestock and Poultry Facilities.
  • Replace older wiring that passes through the walls or other concealed building spaces with wiring installed in conduit.
  • Have a licensed electrical contractor perform all electrical work within the building to ensure it is done safely and meets the requirements of the Ontario Electrical Safety Code. All electrical installations must be inspected by the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA).
  • Properly secure wiring enclosure covers to minimize the entry of corrosive gases and moisture. Replace damaged or deteriorated parts.
  • Do not store flammable and/or combustible material underneath or around the electrical panels.
  • Ensure a minimum of 1 m (3 ft) of clear access space in front of each electrical panel.
  • Repair all damaged or malfunctioning fixtures or equipment as soon as practical. 
  • Completely remove or physically disable all abandoned or malfunctioning wiring within the barn. Removing the fuse or turning off the breaker is not a good practice, or long-term solution, and can lead to dangerous situations if the circuit is reactivated by accident.
  • Heat lamps are a common source of fire. When heat lamps are required, protect the immediate area with non-combustible sheathing (concrete board, concrete, steel, tile, etc.). Keep the area around the heat lamp clear of clutter or bedding materials that could catch fire. Only use heat lamps with the CSA or ULC label. Figures 2.4a and 2.4b show examples of incorrect and correct uses of heat lamps.

Picture of the incorrect use of a heat lamp in a pen.  The image shows the interior of sheep pen in an old stone barn.  A group of 6 large sheep are gathered at the far end of the pen area.  In the center of the picture hangs a heat lamp.  The lamp is suspended using baler twine (combustible) and it hangs too close to the straw bedding which is combustible.

Figure 2.4a. Example of incorrect use of a heat lamp.

The following situations are incorrect ways to use a heat lamp:

  • lamp suspended using baler twine (combustible material)
  • incorrect wiring, electrical cords are knotted together
  • lamp suspended too close to bedding (combustible)
  • animals have access to lamp

Picture of the correct use of a heat lamp in a pen.  The image shows the interior of sheep pen in an old stone barn.  A group of 6 large sheep are separated from the heat lamp area by a metal gate. The heat lamp is suspended using chain (non-combustible) and it is raised to the correct height above the bedding (combustible) to allow younger animals access to the lamp.

Figure 2.4b. Example of improved use of a heat lamp.

The following situations are correct uses of a heat lamp:

  • lamp suspended using chain (non-combustible material)
  • plug connection is not knotted allowing for easy separation
  • lamp suspended at a correct height to bedding
  • limit large animal access to lamp

Mechanical Systems

Mechanical systems such as ventilation fans, feed auger motors, milk cooling equipment and generators break down or wear out with time. Regular maintenance reduces the risk of overheating and decreases the risk of fire.

  • Inspect all motors and mechanical equipment according to the manufacturer's maintenance schedule (minimum, yearly) for evidence of wear, overheating, etc. Repair or replace equipment as required.
  • Ventilate mechanical rooms to reduce the risk of motors (standby generators, refrigeration compressors, milk vacuum pumps, etc.) overheating during normal operation.
  • Properly shield exhaust pipes from standby generators or vacuum pumps, that pass through a wall or ceiling, to reduce the risk of the building overheating and possibly igniting (Figure 2.5). Figure 2.6 shows the potential risk for fire due to the lack of a heat shield ring.

The photo on the left shows a standby generator inside a cinder block room with an exhaust pipe venting through the wall.  The photo on the right is the outside view of the room and shows the exhaust pipe vented through the wall with a heat shield ring around the pipe to decrease the risk of heat damage or fire in the wall.

Figure 2.5. Proper installation of the exhaust pipe through the wall. Note the heat shield ring around the exhaust pipe.

The photo on the left is a thermographic (uses colour to indicate hot spots) image of an exhaust pipe venting to the outside through the barn wall.  There is no heat shield between the pipe and the wall and the exhaust pipe is showing temperatures of 75°C.  The photo on the right is the actual picture of the same exhaust pipe venting through barn wall and without a heat shield to prevent heat damage or fire in the wall.

Figure 2.6. Thermographic image of an exhaust pipe. Note the lack of heat shielding where the pipe passes through the wall. (Photo credit: R. Drysdale, Farm Mutual Reinsurance Plan)

  • For belt-driven fans, regularly inspect the belts to ensure they are not damaged or missing. Also ensure the fan blade assembly spins freely and does not hit the fan housing.
  • Dust and debris build up over time and can cause fan blades to stop turning, resulting in overheating of the fan motor. Remove dust and debris from fan motors and blades to reduce the risk of a fire starting (Figure 2.7). This maintenance is especially important in feed rooms and barns housing livestock and poultry.
  • Have all repairs completed by a qualified individual and ensure all applicable Codes are met.

Photo taken inside a livestock barn of wall mounted exhaust fan. The fan motor, blades and louvers are covered in dirt and dust reducing the fan capacity and increasing heat retention in the motor.

Figure 2.7. Example of a dirty fan in need of cleaning.

Heating Appliance Systems

Heating systems are particularly important as they contain an ignition source (i.e. pilot light, igniters) and open flames.

  • Complete annual maintenance of all heating devices within the farm buildings. Consult a qualified heating technician for this maintenance. Figures 2.8a and 2.8b show how heating equipment can corrode in a barn with high humidity and corrosive air properties.
  • Ensure all heat shields are in place for any heating device that requires them. This is especially important for radiant tube heaters (Figure 2.9).

Rear view of a burner end of a radiant tube heater suspended from the ceiling in a broiler barn.  Orange arrows indicate 3 locations on the burner and blower where significant corrosion has occurred due to the barn environment.

Figure 2.8a. Rear view of a radiant tube heater inside a broiler barn.

Front view of the same burner end of the radiant tube heater suspended from the ceiling in a broiler barn.  Orange arrows indicate 2 locations on the equipment where significant corrosion has occurred due to the barn environment.

Figure 2.8b. Front view of a radiant tube heater inside the same broiler barn. Corrosion is present.

Picture of a u-joint on a radiant tube heater , suspended from the ceiling, with a section of its heat shield missing above the joint.  The image shows how close the section with the missing heat shield is to the wood ceiling and an electrical conduit (all combustible).

Figure 2.9. Radiant tube heater lacking heat shield. Note close proximity to combustibles (wood ceiling and conduit). (Photo credit: R. Drysdale, Farm Mutual Reinsurance Plan)

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 20 November 2012
Last Reviewed: 20 November 2012