Farms, building work, CDM regulations and asbestos – advice from the HSE

Know your responsibilities, advises the HSE.

The law requires that health and safety is managed throughout all stages of a building project, from conception, design and planning through to site work and subsequent maintenance and repair of the structure. The law applies to all work building projects and refurbishments. It does not apply to work on your domestic dwelling (farmhouse) but will apply to refurbishment on any domestic premises you provide to employees.  Get more advice from the HSE in the links below.

What you need to know…

Most farms carry out some building work, from dismantling and re-erecting entire buildings to dealing with asbestos. All such work involves risks and you must put proper controls into place.

Farmers are very resourceful and can often turn their hand to most things. Start by asking yourself if it is a construction job or a maintenance job and, in either case, if you can do it yourself. If in doubt, consult a professional builder for advice.

Building contractors

If you are employing a contractor to do any construction work (including demolition) then the law imposes particular legal duties upon you as a ‘client’ under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015.

The duties of a client include:

  • allowing adequate time for every stage of the work;
  • providing relevant information about the site, including existing structures and the intended use of any new workplace buildings;
  • checking suitable management arrangements are in place during every stage of work; and
  • making sure there are adequate welfare facilities on site before work begins.

If the construction work will last more than 30 days or involves more than 500 person days, then you also have to do the following:

  • appoint a principal contractor;
  • ensure a health and safety plan is in place; and
  • keep a health and safety file.

Both you and the contractor have legal duties for health and safety that you cannot pass to each other by contract. This means you need to work with each other to make sure you get the job done safely.

Asbestos

  • Most farms will have some asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), eg compressed asbestos-cement roof sheets, cladding, building partitions or rainwater gutters and down pipes.
  • The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 requires farm owners and tenants to assess the presence and condition of any ACMs. While not a legal requirement, it is recommended that you arrange a survey by a specialist company unless you can be confident that there are no ACMs in your premises (e.g. single layer steel or non-asbestos fibre-cement sheets on a steel or concrete frame, with no internal cladding, boxing-in or partitions).
  • They should then use this information to assess the risks from asbestos and decide what action they need to take to protect people’s health.
  • The survey and the action list will form an asbestos management plan.
  • Suspect materials may be presumed to be ACMs without further analysis.
  • Well-sealed, undamaged asbestos is often best left alone, but it may be better to remove ACMs that are damaged . If in doubt ask for expert help.
  • Work with asbestos insulation, asbestos board or sprayed coatings (i.e. limpet asbestos) must be done by specialist licensed contractors.
  • Special (certificated) training, refreshed annually, is required for “work with asbestos that doesn’t require a licence”, and if employees are maintaining buildings liable to contain ACMs (i.e. any built before November 1999) they should have “asbestos awareness training” even if there are no known ACMs involved in the work.
  • You must make everyone, working on the farm buildings, especially contractors, aware of the presence of asbestos and the possibility of the presence of previously unidentified ACMs.
  • You must take appropriate steps to protect their health.
  • You must label places where ACMs have been identified.

Excavation

If excavating, remember:

  • trench sides may collapse suddenly whatever the nature of the soil;
  • before work begins, you need to decide how you will protect against collapse of the sides, eg shoring or battering;
  • keep a clear area around excavations to prevent people, materials or vehicles falling in, and the weight of soil or equipment from causing the sides to collapse;
  • if you need to enter the excavation, provide safe access;
  • there may be poisonous or asphyxiating gases in sewer openings, from marshy ground or from confined spaces (Workplace safety and welfare)
  • Keep well away from overhead electricity lines and underground services, including cables and gas pipes. Consult the utility companies before you start work to find out where they are.

Demolition or dismantling

  • Like all construction work, this must be planned and the plan must be in writing.
  • Make sure you arrange to bring the structure down in a way that prevents danger.
  • Make sure you have enough time to demolish or dismantle the building. If any debris or parts of the structure are left standing because you do not have time to finish the job, they need to leave them in a stable condition so they will not collapse.
  • Demolition of buildings containing higher-risk ACMs (sprayed asbestos coatings, asbestos insulation, asbestos lagging and most work involving asbestos insulating board) should only be carried out by a licensed contractor.

New buildings

  • When planning a new farm building, ask yourself:
    • How accessible is it for people and vehicles?
    • Might it change use in the future?
    • What maintenance will it need?
  • It is easy to build safety problems into a building – and just as easy to engineer out these problems at the start.
  • ACMs may not be reused on new buildings. If reused to repair pre-existing buildings this should only take place if it is possible to do so without breaching the duty to: “prevent the exposure of his employees to asbestos so far as is reasonably practicable” – this would rule out any cutting, drilling or breaking of ACM.  There is a complete prohibition on the reuse of asbestos cement on anything other than the same “premises” where it was originally installed.

More resources from the HSE: