Reduce fire risk on harvesters and farm machinery

by Steve Oxley, Wormald’s National Product Manager for Vehicle Fire Suppression Systems

modern combine harvester working on a wheat cropSummer may be a few months away, but for anyone working in the harvesting industry now is the time to prepare.  To help reduce the risk of machinery and crop fires, grain growers and contractors should consider the risks and take preventative and precautionary measures.

According to the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) each year more than 1000 harvesters catch fire.  Of these, about one per cent or approximately 12 harvesters worth at least $500,000 each are burnt to the ground*.

Dr Graeme Quick, an internationally recognised agricultural engineer, was commissioned by the GRDC to investigate the causes of harvester fires.  Dr Quick reported that the most common cause of harvester fires was in the engine bay, where material can collect on hot components such as the exhaust manifold and turbocharger**.

Considering the size, fuel carrying capacity and cost of today’s farm machinery vehicle owners should protect against fire by installing appropriate vehicle fire suppression systems in accordance with Australian Standard, AS 5062-2006 Fire Protection for Mobile and Transportable Equipment. Fire extinguishers suitable for smaller fires, or fires that may occur outside the risk area should also be installed.

The mining and forestry industries have been installing vehicle fire suppression systems for some time.  Based on the incidence of fires reported by the GRDC, the time is right for the agriculture sector to upgrade fire safety equipment in farm machinery.

We are seeing growing interest from farmers to install vehicle fire suppression systems. Anecdotally, they’re telling us that insurance companies are imposing higher excess payments on these expensive machines, up to 10% on the cost of a $600,000 vehicle, unless they install vehicle suppression systems.

Wormald’s Vehicle Fire Suppression Systems (VFSS) are suited to different types of farm vehicles, from tractors to harvesters.  In the event of a fire, the main aim of Wormald’s VFSS is to provide early detection and warning to allow extra time for the driver to safely evacuate, while at the same time initiating the operation of a fire suppression system to help minimise damage to the vehicle.

The Wormald Foam Water Spray VFSS utilises high pressure, small droplet nozzles which discharge a continuous stream of foam water spray at high risk areas, such as engine and transmission compartments, and hydraulic areas.  A critical component of AS 5062 is the implementation of regular inspection, testing and preventative maintenance and survey activities for the VFSS.  This is important so that once installed, the systems remain fully functional.

The VFSS can be recharged on the spot and this is particularly beneficial for vehicles travelling into remote areas where specialised support might not be immediately available.

* GRDC article ‘Why harvesters are at risk of catching fire’, 4 January 2011

**GRDC article ‘The burning issue of combine harvester fires’, 19 November 2010

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