Following a spike in the number of claims for fires during 2019, H&H spoke to experts from both insurance companies and the British Horse Society to find out what steps yard owners should be taking...
A warning has been issued to equestrians to ensure they are doing all they can to protect yards and businesses from fire after an increase in incidents.
NFU Mutual reported a year-on-year spike in the number of fire claims in 2018, while KBIS has also had an increase. Although other insurers contacted by H&H have not, all have urged the equestrian community to take precautions.
Figures from NFU Mutual put the cost of farm fires in the UK, which include stable yards, at a four-year high in 2018. Its statistics show the total cost as £46.4m, a 27.5% rise from 2017 and the highest total in four years.
Electrical faults remained the most common cause, responsible for 37% of fires, with spread from elsewhere — such as a barn or homestead — second at 23%, followed by arson in third (20%).
The long summer and tinder-dry conditions were significant contributing factors.
“Our latest figures serve as a crucial reminder to be alert to the danger, and have plans prepared and shared with family members and staff,” said NFU Mutual rural insurance specialist Rebecca Davidson.
“It is possible to manage the risks by taking all possible steps to prevent fires breaking out, and to have clear plans in place to evacuate people and livestock safely in the event of a fire.”
KBIS executive director Lawrence Gill told H&H fire is the “biggest contributor factor” to the total claims amount paid by the company’s underwriters each year.
“This is largely because the average cost per claim in respect of fire damage compared to other perils is significantly higher,” said Mr Gill.
“The majority of these fire claims are a result of electrical faults or arson, so the most important thing is to reduce the amount of damage that can be caused by any fire that does start.
“Simple measures businesses can take include ensuring electrical items are unplugged when not in use, not left unattended and ensuring hay, straw and other easily flammable items are stored away from the main buildings.
“This will at least help to reduce the damage caused by fire, meaning that any business interruption suffered as a result of the damage is kept to a minimum.”
He also recommended electrical circuits be inspected by a qualified electrician at least every five years and electrical items to be tested annually.
“Each business should have a fire warden who can work closely with the local fire service, who are often happy to come out and provide advice to businesses with regard to fire pretention,” added Mr Gill. “A ban on open fires and smoking on the property are also simple ways to reduce the likelihood of a fire starting.”
A spokesman for SEIB said the company had not seen a clear increase of yard fires, but offered some tips on keeping safe.
These included having a no-smoking policy on yards, storing combustible materials a suitable distance from buildings, having a good risk management strategy and ensuring that working fire extinguishers and alarms are on site.
Shearwater urged owners to think about insurance.
“Riders and owners would automatically insure their own homes against fire so insuring their horses’ homes against fire should be the next logical step,” a spokesman told H&H. “With so many stables of a wooden — and therefore more flammable — construction, there are numerous hazards that can befall a stable.
“Can you imagine the financial implications of replacing a stable building, and the contents, not to mention the emotional impact?”
Oonagh Meyer, head of approved centres at the BHS, told H&H it is essential proprietors of any yard do all they can to prevent the risk of fire and that their staff are “fully informed” about these.
“Situations will differ in every yard and some may be at greater risk than others, simply due to their location or accessibility,” she said.
“It is important to ensure that all staff as well as clients are fully informed upon fire procedures, in particular making sure that owners of livery horses accept and understand the procedures that will be taken in the event of a fire in terms of liability for their horses.”
She added it is a legal requirement for all businesses to have a preventative fire risk assessment. Riding schools must also have both preventative measures and emergency plans in place under licensing regulations.
“Emergency plans must include priority communications and measures to safely extricate people and horses,” said Ms Meyer.
“Practising a fire drill and evacuation procedure on a regular basis would inform best practice with it being made clear to both staff members and clients what their roles would be.”
BHS recommended measures include clear “no smoking” signage, regular de-cobwebbing, storing flammables appropriately, regular safety checks and considering the location of the muck heap, hay and straw in relation to buildings.
“Additionally, the BHS would advise centres to contact their local fire brigade for location-specific advice,” she said.
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