Industry Insurance

Reduce the risk of MPE fires with machinery maintenance


Recent data shows 98 per cent of mobile plant and equipment (MPE) fires are caused by insufficient maintenance. Through regular cleaning and maintenance, businesses can avoid major incidents that damage and disrupt business operations.

NTI’s Mobile Plant & Equipment Risk Engineer, Hayden Reed said that while some incidents can’t be prevented (e.g. extreme weather), other incidents can – like those relating to human error and maintenance.

Often when maintenance-related incidents occur they are repaired in-house, and no insurance claim is made. Even still, there’s a cost to the business, including disruption to operations and job delays.

“There’s also the time and cost of waiting for a repairer, availability of parts, possible injuries, investigations, reputational damage, and possible site and machinery clean-up, for example,” Reed explained.

“In the current economic climate, replacement parts and plant can be hard to find and slow to replace. Now more than ever, preventing incidents – and reducing their severity and impact should they occur – is a critical business strategy.”

Reed said that in a given year, insufficient maintenance is responsible for a considerable number of MPE claims worth over $50,000 with NTI. Of these incidents, equipment fire is by far the leading outcome at 98 per cent. Around 80 per cent is due to missed machinery maintenance opportunities.

So, how can businesses reduce the number of preventable incidents directly related to insufficient maintenance leading to fire?

Reed suggests two key steps: regular cleaning, and regular maintenance beyond scheduled servicing intervals.

Heavy equipment maintenance for fire safety
Cleaning tips for fire prevention

Keeping MPE clean makes it easier to identify faults and avoid incidents – especially fires – caused by the build-up of debris, especially organic compounds, near heat sources.

“You should definitely have a cleaning regime in place that reflects the nature of the work and the risk,” Reed said. “Consideration should be given towards weather patterns and the machine’s duty cycle.”
Most cleaning is best performed by compressed air as water can compact material and make it bake on, depending on the material.

“You can have a staged cleaning schedule – weekly/monthly in winter and other low-risk periods, but daily in summer,” Reed suggested.

Heavy equipment maintenance and repair

Besides debris, MPE operators should ensure they undertake regular checking and maintenance of cables and hoses in high-risk areas, especially engine and pump bays near high-heat sources such as exhausts.
This is in addition to scheduled servicing and maintenance and is aimed at preventing any undesired and costly incidents.

Particular attention should be given to un- fused cables – from battery to isolator and starter motor, and from battery to alternator, Reed said.

If these rub through the insulation and find a way to earth, they will almost certainly cause a fire.

Reed advocates ‘good practice’ as inspecting all hoses and cables every 500 hours, with special attention given to the high-risk areas.

“I am also a big supporter of conducting a high-risk hose/cable audit as a standalone job annually to ensure these items get the attention they deserve,” he said.

“A rule of thumb is anything over two years or 2,000 hours is increasing in risk for these events.”

Machinery safety near open fire

Reed urges operators working near fires to adopt mitigation techniques to avoid potentially catastrophic events. In the past two years, NTI has recorded one claim a year where MPE working near a fire caught alight.

“This could be from trying to clear a firebreak trail near a bushfire or a dozer pushing materials into a fire, usually logs in a paddock getting cleaned up,” Reed said.

“We generally see an ember entering the air intake, lighting the air filter fabric and first seriously damaging the engine and next potentially writing off the machine. The second is where an ember enters the machine and due to debris, further heat and air movement, starts to kindle and results in a large equipment fire.”

To mitigate such risks, Reed suggests:

• Keeping machines clean and free from debris as much as reasonably practical;
• For equipment working around fires, consider fire retardant air filters of pre-filters that cyclonically eject embers; and
• For equipment frequently working around fires consider purpose-built fire guards and windows.

If you’d like to learn more about risk management and how to protect your business, contact your insurance broker, or NTI, today. Visit NTI’s Yellow Cover at

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