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Safe fertiliser storage

Course: Health and Safety | Last Updates: 7th October 2015

Mark Holman
Biography >>

Ammonium nitrate is well-established as one of the best sources of bag nitrogen for UK conditions; but it is also recognised as a major ingredient in home-made explosives. To retain this valuable material, everyone involved in the UK supply chain – from manufacture to field – must take the potential for terrorist use as a serious, ongoing threat. Elsewhere in the world ammonium nitrate has been banned because security has failed; the most recent example being Afghanistan.

fertiliser-storage-do-s-and-don-tsFertiliser manufacturers and distributors have taken the challenge seriously and formed the Fertiliser Industry Assurance Scheme, which ensures security from manufacture or importation to the farm gate. However, the security risks are as high, if not higher, when product is stored on farm.

NaCTSO guidance helps farmers ensure that ammonium nitrate stays in the right hands.

So when fertiliser arrives on farm, the ideal storage is a secure, locked building or compound wherever possible. Buildings should be well ventilated and made of non-flammable materials. Fertiliser is a bulky commodity and farmers taking large deliveries may not have suitable buildings. Therefore, the next best option is to ensure it is out of sight. This means avoiding storage where there is public access, or where stored product is visible from a public highway. Sheeting the stack fully will help conceal stored bags.

Record keeping and stock checking is another important aspect of secure storage. Even small amounts of ammonium nitrate in the wrong hands can be turned into a bomb capable of inflicting serious damage and injury.

Therefore, keep all delivery notes to confirm how much fertiliser is on the farm. Regular checks should be made to see if sheeting or security has been tampered with, or if there are any damaged bags that indicate theft.

If you suspect any loss or find a discrepancy on your stock inventory it is vital to report it to the police. Gathering intelligence of small, insignificant thefts can build up a picture of terrorist activity in a region. Do not think that a few kilos missing is too small to bother about.

When it comes to spreading fertiliser, security still matters. Bags should not be out of sight of the operator for any length of time and certainly not left overnight in fields.

And if at the end of the season you find you have over-ordered, do not sell the surplus. It is an offence without a valid copy of the Detonation Resistance Test Certificate. And the local paper’s small ads are an ideal hunting ground for terrorists.

Besides security issues there is existing health and safety and environmental legislation, guidance and codes of practice that apply to fertiliser storage.

To protect water, fertiliser should be stored at least 10m from drains, ditches and surface water and at least 50m from springs, wells or boreholes. Any spills should be dealt with and walls, floors and equipment kept clean.

Different grades of fertiliser should be stored separately, especially ammonium nitrate and urea, which can interact in a fire. Other flammable substances, such as fuels or pesticides, should also be kept away from stored fertiliser. This includes keeping vehicles clean to avoid oils mixing with fertiliser. Vehicles should also have adequate fire extinguisher capacity.

Maintain a 1m gap between the building fabric and fertiliser bags.

Store well away from heating systems and other potential sources of heat, as well as fuel tanks and oil drums and do not permit smoking.

Importance of fertiliser security

Fertiliser security is important for many reasons ranging from keeping products out of the reach of terrorists to ensuring UK farmers can continue using products such as ammonium nitrate. That is why a range of organisations work closely together to secure the supply chain from manufacture through distribution and storage to use in the field. These include the Agricultural Industries Confederation, DEFRA, Home Office and NaCTSO. Its work is also supported by HSE and the NFU.

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