A fire in a pig unit can have devastating consequences, often spreading quickly and destroying the piggery operation.
Following a recent spate of farm fires in Ireland, some pig producers are finding premiums have increased substantially and older or poorly-managed buildings are excluded from cover.
And it seems likely that UK producers could find themselves in a similar situation.
Below, Ciaran Roche, risk manager at FBD Insurance – which works with farmers to reduce their risks – highlights how producers can improve fire safety and stay up to date with insurance requirements.
Upgrade your ceiling insulation
When there’s a fire, it’s generally not small and results in considerable losses.
A recent incident saw a farm lose its entire 40x70m sow house in less than 20 minutes, after the ventilation system in the ceiling overheated.
Because of the material used in the roof, the fire spread very fast, killing more than 1,000 sows – the claim cost was in the millions of euros.
It is therefore vital to consider the fire risk and materials used in the building construction at the design stage.
Consider upgrading ceiling insulation to save costs and improve fire safety.
Prevent electrical fires
A fire needs three things: heat, oxygen and fuel.
Oxygen is ever present, but producers can control heat sources and the flammability of their buildings and contents.
Most risks relate to electrical equipment, so make sure electrical installations are inspected, tested and certified at least every three years.
Don’t install electrics next to combustible material, change lights to LEDs, and hang them from the ceiling rather than in or on it to prevent heating.
Beware of heat hazards
Heating systems are another source of fire – electric heat pads, lamps and elements all carry a risk.
Good maintenance is really important.
Or you can opt for indirect heating systems with a central heating system, where the boiler is located in a detached boiler house.
Numerous fires have occurred due to a heat lamp falling on paper shredding and this risk can exacerbated by the presence of plastic slats.
Where farrowing houses have plastic slats, don’t use paper shredding under heat lamps.
Where heat lamps are used, ensure that they are securely held in place with a protective mesh guard under the bulb.
Maintain ventilation systems
Ventilation systems should be maintained in good condition and serviced at least annually.
This will help prevent a system failure and reduce the likelihood of a suffocation or fire.
Choose fire-resistant materials in buildings
Having tackled potential fire triggers, producers should then look at addressing the fuel: the building structure and contents.
Although many farm buildings are exempt from regulation under English law, Irish building regulations stipulate that internal insulation linings should have a minimum fire classification of C s3 d2 (see below).
How to understand fire ratings
- Building materials are classified from A (non-combustible) to F (easily flammable). In the Netherlands, all intensive pig and poultry units must meet the B rating.
- Smoke production is rated from s1 (no or very little smoke generation) to s3 (heavy smoke generation) in the first 10 minutes of exposure.
- A burning droplets rating measures the release of flaming particles in the first 10 minutes of exposure, ranging from d0 (none) to d2 (quite a lot).
And regardless of legislation, it’s sensible, when building or refurbishing buildings, to choose the highest-rated products available to minimise the spread of any fire.
For example, choose concrete over wood, and high-spec insulation rather than cheaper plastics.
Insulation has a limited lifespan so farmers will have to renovate buildings.
The roof and ceilings are often where things fall down.
Consider where you site your building
Often piggeries have lots of buildings very close together, so a fire can quickly spread from one to another.
Look at spreading the gaps between them.
It’s also worth compartmentalising buildings internally, by putting in concrete walls to prevent fire spreading, and installing water sources with easy connection for fire services, should a fire break out.
Often farmers keep all their sows in one large farrowing house, and if that goes up, they lose all of their breeding stock.
The business interruption from that can be huge, so consider spreading the risk with several farrowing houses or by having fire breaks within them.
Consider the costs
The benefits of reducing the fire risk are tangible. Not only is the farm less likely to suffer a fire, but the insurance premiums will also reflect the risk level.
The insurance offered depends on the type of farm and construction. In some very high-risk situations, it’s not appropriate to offer insurance cover at all, whereas the lower the risk, the lower the premium.
Conor O’Brien, who keeps 2,000 sows and finishes 50,000 pigs a year at Killee Farm, Mitchelstown, County Cork, has a regular programme of reinvestment to keep his facilities up to date.
And for his most recent investment – refurbishing a fattening house – he has chosen to upgrade to the most fire-resistant products and design possible.
“Our insurer is very anxious that the best current materials are used in the housing, so for me it’s the fire rating and efficiency that’s important,” he says.
Below, Mr O’Brien explains what steps he has taken to reduce risk:
- Lights The old fluorescent lights were inefficient and a greater hazard, so he changed them to LEDs and mounted all lights at least 12in away from the ceiling. Electric controllers have a stainless-steel surround to prevent fire spreading should they malfunction.
- Flooring He installed a steel floor as infrared heat lamps over plastic floors are a greater fire threat.
- Heating system As the farm is only 7km away from a natural gas system, he had a connecting pipe laid and now uses a gas boiler to heat water, which is pumped through radiators below the sow stalls. He has installed flat heat pads in the 500 farrowing places with temperature sensors, so he can reduce the temperature as the piglets get older.
- Fire breaks He has installed concrete fire breaks to contain any fire, and in the fattening unit he has replaced the ceilings with Recticel’s highest fire-rated insulated panels. He has used 60x220ft individual panels so that, in the event of a fire, the whole ceiling should not be lost if properly fitted. The insulation boards also fit below the purlins and come with an aluminium coating for easy wash down.
- 4ha site
- 25,000 pigs on site at any one time
- 2,000 sows
- Selling 27 piglets a sow
- 20 full-time and part-time workers