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How to manage the risk of harvester fires


We know all too well that fires don’t need a lot to get started. And when fires start during harvesting operations from machinery igniting, it can not only destroy crops and livestock, but may also cause loss or damage to property and impact livelihoods.

It may come as a surprise that agricultural research from the Kondinin Group has revealed that on average every year, 7 per cent of combine harvesters (also known as ‘headers’_ operating in Australian paddocks will start a fire.

What’s even more startling is that of those, 10 per cent will result in significant machinery or crop damage – not to mention the potential risk of injury.

Kondinin Group research engineer Ben White investigated and reported to the government’s Grains Research and Development Corporation about harvester fires. He discovered the main causes of harvester fires came down to machinery failure due to poor machinery hygiene, including dust and chaff build-up, and bearing failures.

So as a farmer, how can you help protect your machinery and what can you do to help lower the risk of harvester fires from starting?

Tips to help lower your risk and improve harvester fire safety

  1. First things first – understand the top four influences that promote fires: relative humidity, ambient temperature, wind and crop type and conditions.
  2. Adhere to state-based grain harvesting codes of practice and declared harvest bans. Abide by the Grassland Fire Danger Index (GFDI) protocol on days where fire risks are increased, and check for Harvest Safety Alerts.
  3. Have adequate water and fire-fighting equipment in the paddock being harvested in case of an emergency.
  4. Consider checking and recording bearing temperatures using an infra-red heat gun or thermal imager to help identify bearings that may need to be replaced before failure.
  5. Regularly check your machine for wear and tear – especially beneath covers and guards for dust and chaff build up.
  6. Clean your machine regularly, starting at the front then working in a top-down manner. Consider finishing off with by blowing air over the exhaust system to remove any remaining dust. Machinery failure is often responsible for starting fires, so harvester hygiene is important.
  7. If you’re harvesting pulse crops, they’re known to be significantly more volatile than grains, so be particularly vigilant when harvesting these types of crops.
  8. A fire suppression system increases the likelihood of extinguishing a fire on a harvester. Consider storing a pair of extinguishers at the cab entry ladder and a pair near the engine at the back of the machine to help fire-fighting efforts if one happens.
  9. Have a fire safety plan in place. Knowing who will do what if a harvester fire ignites is important for everyone on the farm. Also consider including an easily identifiable list of emergency numbers in the cab.
  10. Above all, prioritise personal safety. If operators do have a fire on board, pulling out of the crop as soon as possible and facing the machine into the wind before attempting to fight it may offer better chances of controlling the fire, lowering the risk, and staying safe.


Be prepared by protecting your headers

Although modern harvesters are being engineered to be less prone to catch fire, you may want to ensure that your farming machinery is adequately insured in case the unexpected happens.

At WFI, we have a range of Farm Insurance options that you can choose from that may suit your unique farming needs. To find out more, consider contacting your local WFI Area Manager or call 1300 934 934.

This is general advice only and does not take into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs (“your personal circumstances”). Before using this advice to decide whether to purchase a product, you should consider your personal circumstances and the relevant Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations available from the product issuer, Insurance Australia Limited ABN 11 000 016 722 AFSL 227681 trading as WFI.