Tips to reduce harvester fire risk
Grains Research and Development Corporation fire-safety experts and other industry organisations are encouraging growers to implement practical measures to reduce the risk of harvester fires.
Header fires have highlighted the importance of harvester hygiene and maintenance, especially when harvesting volatile crops such as lentils.
Kondinin Group research reveals that on average, about seven percent of harvesters will start a fire every year. In these cases, one in 10 will cause significant damage to the machine or surrounding crop.
Kondinin Group research engineer Ben White, who has reported to the GRDC and industry on harvester fires, said where harvest was underway it might be too late for growers to make modifications such as exhaust-system shielding treatments, so their attention should be directed to ongoing monitoring of machinery throughout harvest.
“Machinery failure is in many cases responsible for fires starting, so harvester hygiene is incredibly important,” he said.
“Operators should be conducting regular clean-outs during harvest and exercising particular caution when harvesting leafy pulse crops, as these are renowned for dust build-up.”
Mr White offered the following 10 tips to improve harvester fire safety:
• Most harvester fires are caused by dust and trash build-up and bearing failures. Keep the machine cleaned down regularly, starting at the front then working in a top down approach. A final revisit and blast of air over the exhaust system to dislodge any dust that might have been disturbed and settled in the course of the clean down is recommended.
• Pulse crops are substantially more volatile than cereals so extra care and vigilance is required when harvesting these.
• Monitoring and logging bearing temperatures with an infra-red heat gun or thermal imager helps identify at-risk bearings so they can be replaced before failure.
• Recognise the big four factors that contribute to fires: relative humidity, ambient temperature, wind and crop type and conditions. Abide by statebased grain harvesting codes of practice and declared harvest bans, and observe the Grassland Fire Danger Index protocol on high fire-risk days.
• Have at least the minimum required water and fire-fighting unit in the paddock being harvested.
• Having a pair of extinguishers – water and A/B/E – at the cab-entry ladder and a pair at the rear of the machine closer to the engine means firefighting options are available when and where they are needed. A fire suppression system provides the best chance of extinguishing a fire on a harvester.
• Having a fire plan in place with the harvest team is imperative. Knowing who will do what and identifying communications channels to be used means everyone knows what to do. Having a listing of emergency numbers or uhf channels in the cab is essential.
• Harvesting highly volatile crops such as lentils across the paddock into the prevailing wind gives operators a better chance of containing the fire as incendiaries are blown onto stubble, not standing crop.
• If operators do have a fire on board, pulling out of the crop immediately and facing the machine into the wind before attempting to fight it gives the operator the best chance of controlling the fire. Remember, harvesters are replaceable so prioritise personal safety.
• Static does not start fires, because it does not have enough energy for ignition of crop residues. Be mindful that it can, however, contribute to dust-fuel loads on the machine.
The GRDC is part of a national harvester fire working group, led by Grain Producers Australia and reviewing research, development and extension gaps and associated need for future investment.
GPA chairman Andrew Weidemann, of Rupanyup, said it was important for industry to unite in an effort to counter the increasing incidence of harvester fires.
“The working group includes growers, the insurance industry, contract harvesters and machinery manufacturers – we are working together to address the issue and prevent these fires occurring,” he said.
The GRDC’S Reducing Harvester Fire Risk Back Pocket Guide is available at www.grdc.com.au/ Grdc-bpg-reducingharvesterfirerisk.
MAINTENANCE: Removing flammable material from the engine bay is important in preventing harvester fires. Picture: BEN WHITE