Farmers are being urged to safeguard lives – and livelihoods – when working with hay and straw bales.
“With barn activity increasing during the winter months, following safety guidelines is paramount,” said Rupert Wailes-Fairbairn, of rural insurance broker Lycetts.
Being struck by a falling hay bale was a leading cause of one in five farming fatalities in 2021/22, according to the Health and Safety Executive.
“In addition to the risks of fatal accidents, failure to observe the stipulated stack and distance limits for haystacks could invalidate insurance cover,” said Mr Wailes-Fairbairn.
“If stack limits are contravened, such as being too close together, too high or undervalued, farmers face significant shortfalls in the event of loss, such as accidental fire or arson.”
Some 532 fires were recorded at farm premises in England during 2021/22, 429 of them were accidental, and 103 were caused deliberately. It is imperative that farmers find out if there is a haystack limit defined by value rather than volume, said Mr Wailes-Fairbairn.
“If, for example, a stack with £60,000 worth of hay catches fire, there is a strong chance it exceeds the limit. Often there are distance limits written into policies too, which is usually 20 metres, but this can vary.
“The best way to comply with the terms of a policy is to split stacks and keep them in different locations but checking the policy wording should be the first port of call. The stakes are too high and are certainly not worth the gamble.”
Risk management had an important role in mitigating the chances of fire. An abundance of combustible materials, threat of arson, risk of electrical faults in buildings and overheating in machinery are just some of the fire risks farmers face daily.
It is important to ensure appropriate insurance is in place, says Wailes-Fairbairn. “We’ve encountered incidents of straw being stored in sheds that have been set alight and both the straw and shed have been underinsured.”
Simple measures could mitigate the risk of spontaneous fires. They include ensuring there are no naked bulbs or misplaced glass or mirrors near to haystacks, sufficient and accessible on-site fire extinguishers and having water bowsers nearby.
“Another risk to consider is that of children gaining entry to a barn and playing among the bales. They could suffer serious – or even fatal – injuries should bales fall.
“Keeping buildings locked and securing and maintaining perimeters can prevent unauthorised entry by children or arsonists.”
“Risk management is an often overlooked aspect of farming but taking precautions can help prevent accidents and financial losses.”