Safety audits find barns loaded with hazards

Insurance-industry audits of barns are turning up some horrifying hazards.

Randy Drysdale of the Farm Mutual Reinsurance Plan Inc. at Cambridge, Ont., checks barns and showed some of the unbelievable things he has seen to an audience of about 90 attending the annual swine seminar here recently.

One picture was a crowd of electrocuted rats revealed when he opened the electrical panel for the barn. Another panel he opened to reveal heavily corroded connection boxes; yet another panel was coated in dusty cobwebs.

He showed charred wood above box heaters mounted near the ceiling, evidence of an electrical fire that went out. Other photos showed burn evidence around electrical plugs.

Drysdale showed how he identifies hot spots with a handheld detector, revealing electrical plugs, light fixtures and extension cords all on the verge of starting a barn fire.

Drysdale said most farm mutuals now insist on an audit for any facility insured for between $2 million and $6 million.

The reinsurance company he works for requires its own reinsurance backup from firms in London, England, and it would either have to pay much steeper rates, or would be cut off, if there are too many claims.

That’s why the company invests in audits to head off barn fires, he said.

“You’d be shocked”

As for the rats in the electrical panel, he said, “we see four or five of those a week. There has to be maintenance.”

He said, “you’d be shocked by what we see in attics,” including doorways cut in panels designed to separate the attic to keep fire from flashing the length of the barn, and electrical installations that wouldn’t pass code – yet municipal building inspectors “never go up into the attics.”

Buildings should be kept 80 feet apart, and that “makes a huge difference in your cost” of insurance, Drysdale said.

He showed a picture of a fire that destroyed part of a 20-year-old barn. A firewall and fire door saved the balance of that hog barn.

It’s illegal, he noted, to hang a 4.8-kilowatt heater from the ceiling of a barn, yet he often sees that done. These heaters are designed for homes, and the handle is for carrying; they should never be hung by the handle.

Furthermore, the humidity and dust in a barn make them dangerous there, which is why they’re illegal in barns. If these heaters start to burn, the fan keeps running, shooting out flames and red-hot bits of metal, he said.

His company provides reinsurance for more than 40 farm mutuals operating across Ontario.

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