Q&A: Rules on handling asbestos on farm explained

Many older buildings on farms contain potentially hazardous asbestos material which can be dangerous to human health when removed or repairs to damaged buildings are required.

Farmers Weekly spoke to Jamie Perkins-Best, who has more than 20 years’ experience as an asbestos consultant and is a director at the Herefordshire-based Environmental Management Solutions, to find out the legalities of working with asbestos and how it should be removed and disposed of safely.

See also: Asbestos management advice: Know the rules

Do I need an asbestos survey for my farm? Are they expensive?

There is a legal duty to manage asbestos in all “non-domestic” properties.

This includes all farm buildings, with the exception of the house, which is not usually a requirement to be included.

The first step of managing asbestos is to locate and assess the condition of all asbestos materials on-site by having a survey. The basic survey is called a management survey.

You have to be a competent person to produce the survey and it is strongly recommended by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) you use a surveying company that is UKAS (UK accreditation service) accredited.

The survey cost will vary depending on the number, size and age of buildings on your farm. Typical costs range from about £300 to £750.

A management plan is also required.

It can be a simple document detailing where asbestos is, how you will make sure all relevant people (staff and maintenance contractors) are aware and do not disturb the asbestos. It should also state how often you check the condition of the asbestos.

I need to demolish an old asbestos building on my farm. What must I do?

A demolition asbestos survey is a legal requirement prior to any demolition and this must be carried out by a competent person.

A demolition survey is more intrusive than a management survey and may break into areas of the structure that are not easily accessed during everyday use of the property.

Again, the HSE strongly recommends using a UKAS accredited company.

Do I need a licence or specialist training to work with asbestos?

Work with asbestos is classified into two categories: licensed and non-licensed. Asbestos-containing materials (ACM) are categorised by how easily they can release asbestos fibres when disturbed.

For example, work that normally requires a licensed asbestos contractor includes work with asbestos insulation board (AIB), asbestos lagging (usually found on pipes and in boiler rooms) and loose asbestos insulation (found in voids and loft spaces).

Examples of non-licensed asbestos materials, which must be dealt with by a competent person, include asbestos cement, asbestos roof tiles and asbestos textured coatings. In these materials the asbestos fibres are tightly bound in a matrix, and therefore the likelihood of their release is much less.

I have asked two employees to remove the structure. Could it be hazardous to their health and will I need to supply them with protective equipment? Do I need to make them aware of the risk?

Asbestos kills more than 5,000 people in the UK each year – so yes, it can be very hazardous to their health. Asbestos is the UK’s largest occupational killer.

Depending on the type of material, the employees may not be able to legally undertake the work, so it is important to ensure the material has been correctly classified. The survey will do this.

There are several legal health and safety requirements the employer must always comply with. They include the provision of suitable training, instruction and equipment and the correct personal protective equipment.

It is a legal requirement that any person that may disturb asbestos during the course of their work attends asbestos awareness training. They must also be able to demonstrate competency and this may involve further training, including the “work with non-licensed asbestos materials” course.

For the employer, it is important that all risks are assessed – not just asbestos – and that a written method statement and risk assessment is available on-site.

Consult HSE Asbestos Essentials for guidance on the correct steps.

The job is big. Should I employ a specialist contractor?

You have to be able to demonstrate competency. Obviously, removing a small section of roof or demolishing a small building is very different from tackling a large barn or shed area.

If the survey has shown the material can be removed as a “non-licensed” task, there is no legal requirement to employ a specialist. However, you need to have the necessary skills, equipment and experience to undertake the task safely.

I have a shed with asbestos-clad roofing. I noticed it got damaged in a recent storm. I don’t intend to remove the shed, but should I remove the damaged material?

Asbestos is safe to remain in situ if it is in good condition and in an area that is not easily disturbed.

However, if the material has become damaged, it is better to repair or remove it.

If the repair is to standard asbestos cement sheets, follow the “asbestos essentials” guidance on the HSE website. If you are unsure of the material, it should be tested first.

How do you spot dangerous ACM?

Advice given by the HSE states all asbestos is dangerous, so all material needs to be maintained and monitored.

The survey should assess the condition of the material and its location should also be considered (how easily it may become damaged or be disturbed).

Regular inspections (a minimum of every 12 months) should be undertaken to assess the condition of the material. If it has become damaged or its condition has deteriorated, action may be required.

How should I dispose of the asbestos materials? Will I need to pay to remove it?

Asbestos materials must be disposed of in a suitably licensed waste disposal facility and to transport asbestos you need to have a hazardous-waste transfer licence, which is issued by the Environment Agency.

It is important the correct paperwork is obtained and completed to show the correct transfer and disposal of the material. This is called a consignment note. It is recommended that a copy of this is filed with your management plan.