What are the legal obligations for managing asbestos on farms?

Asbestos might have ceased to be in legal use in the UK more than a generation ago now, but it is still rightly a concern for farm owners – or at least, it should be. This is due to the naturally occurring mineral’s now well-documented dangers for human health, and the substance having been used in the construction of many buildings that are still present on farms today, as well as in the manufacture of certain old farming equipment.

First commercially mined in the 19th century, asbestos went on to be used in a broad range of construction products throughout most of the 20th century. The material was relatively affordable and easily available, as well as physically strong, a good insulator, and fire-resistant. These qualities led to its incorporation into such products as asbestos cement roof sheets, cladding, and rainwater gutters and downpipes.

Only towards the end of 1999, was a ban finally imposed on the importation and use of any and all types of asbestos in the UK. However, this legal change didn’t lead to the automatic removal of any asbestos already present on farms before that date.

To this day, then, many farms up and down the country are believed to still have asbestos in their buildings and equipment. Tragically, the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibres can heighten the likelihood of an exposed individual going on to develop a potentially fatal disease such as mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer. So, it is crucial for farm owners to know what their legal obligations are in relation to asbestos management.

managing asbestos on farms

Where might asbestos be found on farms?

With asbestos having once been so widely used in the UK – especially during its peak period of use around the 1950s until the 1980s – asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) can take a very wide range of forms across a farm.

You might see asbestos on your farm:

  • As part of the insulation for pipes or boilers, where it was common for white asbestos to be mixed with blue or brown asbestos
  • As part of corrugated roofing and cladding
  • In rainwater pipes and gutters
  • As part of certain older farm equipment and machinery, such as tractors and combines. Asbestos was frequently used, for example, in the brake linings of vehicles.

Legal framework: what laws govern asbestos management in agriculture?

Given that an operating farm is a commercial premises, farm owners and managers need to be aware of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, also known as CAR 2012. This is the overarching legislation in the UK that addresses how asbestos is to be managed on “non-domestic” sites.

A fundamental element of CAR 2012 is Regulation 4, which sets out a “duty to manage” asbestos at non-domestic premises. This legislation applies to employers, employees, and those who manage the maintenance of non-domestic premises.

So, if you are reading this as the owner or manager of a farm, you can expect to be classed as a “dutyholder” under this legislation. This means you will be expected to comply with certain duties such as identifying the location and condition of any asbestos on your farm, along with managing the health risks that such ACMs may pose.

More detailed information on CAR 2012 can be read in the free-to-download publication from the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on Managing and working with asbestos.

What are the primary legal obligations for farm owners?

If you are a person in charge of maintaining non-domestic premises – which is a term that effectively covers all the buildings on a farm, with the possible exception of the house – you will be expected to undertake the following actions:

  • Take reasonable steps to determine whether ACMs are present on your farm – and if so, the amount, location, and condition of those materials
  • Presume that all materials contain asbestos, unless there is strong evidence indicating this is not the case
  • Put together, and keep up to date, an asbestos management plan
  • Regularly review and monitor the asbestos management plan
  • Provide information on the location and condition of ACMs to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them.

If you’re wondering how to take those “reasonable steps” in order to determine the asbestos situation on your farm, it is typically by arranging an asbestos survey that you will be able to find out this information. The basic type of asbestos survey is called a management survey, which will uncover vital details about any ACMs on your farm.

This information, in turn, can be fed into a document known as an “asbestos register”. This will enable you to make informed decisions on how asbestos is managed at your farm, so that you can best protect people’s safety at the same time as maintaining legal compliance.

Why and when do farms need an asbestos survey?

The “duty to manage” asbestos on a farm, in accordance with CAR 2012, includes taking reasonable steps to locate and assess the condition of all asbestos materials on the given site.

asbestos material in soil

While visual inspection might be sufficient to assess which materials on your farm could potentially be ACMs, in order to definitively confirm that those materials do contain asbestos, you will need to have a professional asbestos survey carried out.

Two main types of asbestos survey exist:

  • Management surveys, which are the “main” type of asbestos survey, allowing the dutyholder to create an asbestos register and an asbestos management plan. These surveys are aimed at identifying and assessing ACMs during a given premises’ normal occupation and use
  • Refurbishment or demolition surveys, which are the type of asbestos survey carried out prior to major works, such as refurbishment or demolition, taking place at the given site. This type of survey involves destructive inspection and the potential disturbance of asbestos at the site, thereby necessitating the vacation of the area during the survey.

How to create an effective asbestos management plan for a farm

The asbestos management plan for your farm will need to outline the procedures and arrangements to manage the risks that ACMs present on the site. It will need, then, to contain the following elements:

  • Who is responsible for managing asbestos on your farm
  • The asbestos register
  • The schedule for monitoring the condition of ACMs on the farm
  • How you will share your asbestos register with workers or contractors carrying out maintenance work
  • Control arrangements to prevent disturbance to ACMs
  • The emergency measures to be followed in the event of ACM disturbance.

Your asbestos management plan can be written or electronic. It should be a document that can be easily found, read, and updated, as and when required.

What training should farm workers receive about asbestos?

Regulation 10 of CAR 2012 stipulates that employers must ensure anyone who is liable to disturb asbestos during their work – or who supervises such workers – is provided with the necessary level of information, instruction, and training to enable them to undertake their work safely and competently, without putting themselves or others at risk.

In practice, this means you should certainly provide asbestos awareness training to workers on your farm. This type of training constitutes an introduction to asbestos and its potential risks. As we have previously observed in our comprehensive guide to asbestos training, it should be provided to those who carry out work within or on any building or structure that contains asbestos.

Mere asbestos awareness training will not be sufficient for farm workers who intend to carry out work that is liable to disturb ACMs. If this is the case, additional training will be required, appropriate to the specific work to be done.

How many types of asbestos training are there?

When and how should asbestos be removed from farms?

Even if you discover materials on your farm that – through the surveying process – are subsequently confirmed to be asbestos, this does not automatically mean the ACMs in question will need to be removed.

The HSE’s policy that long been that in instances where ACMs are in good condition and are unlikely to be damaged, they should be left in place, with the risk being managed over time.

The same body does, however, state that if ACMs are in poor condition and are likely to sustain damage during normal use of the site where they are located, and it is not possible for them to be safely repaired or enclosed, they should be removed.

If you do decide that certain ACMs at your farm will need to be removed, you should engage the services of a professional licensed asbestos removal contractor. This is because, while certain asbestos removal tasks are “non-licensed” and therefore don’t legally require a specialist, any form of “DIY” asbestos removal can be extremely dangerous. So, we would always advise that you reach out to a reputable professional.

What records must be kept regarding asbestos on farms?

It is important to practise a high standard of recordkeeping when managing asbestos on your farm. Not least among the recordkeeping requirements will be the maintenance of an up-to-date asbestos register. This document, after all, is meant to be a “live” one, reflecting the current location and condition of ACMs on your site.

So, to make sure that continues to be the case with your farm’s asbestos register, you should undertake regular inspections to check the current condition of ACMs on your site. Your asbestos register will also need to be updated if any ACMs are removed or repaired, as well as if new areas of your farm are surveyed for asbestos.

What happens if farms fail to comply with asbestos regulations?

A failure to comply with the UK’s comprehensive and stringent asbestos law can bring severe legal and financial consequences.

If you do not have a plan to deal with asbestos at your farm, and/or fail to put any such plan into action, you could be hit with a fine of as much as £20,000, or imprisonment for as long as 12 months. Particularly serious violations of the asbestos regulations could land you with an unlimited fine, and/or imprisonment for up to two years.

You should be in no doubt, then, about the importance of carrying out regular checks of your farm’s compliance with the asbestos rules, as well as keeping up to date with any changes to the asbestos regulations.

Conclusion: how can farmers stay ahead of their legal obligations regarding asbestos?

Hopefully, after reading this article, you will feel much more informed about the key legal obligations in relation to asbestos on farms. These include – but are not limited to – arranging a suitable asbestos survey, putting together an asbestos register, and writing an asbestos management plan, as well as putting that plan into action.

The proactive management of asbestos on your farm, as well as continuous education on asbestos-related regulations and best practices, will help ensure you keep on top of the legal requirements. To find out more about how our own services at Oracle Solutions can further assist you with that process, please feel free to contact us via phone or email.  

Photo of Brendan Coleman

Written by Brendan Coleman

Brendan Coleman, with decades of experience in the asbestos industry, is a dedicated Quality Manager. Certified as a surveyor and analyst, he is adept in operations and quality management with a keen focus on HSE compliance. His expertise is pivotal in maintaining high safety and efficiency standards. Brendan ensures our UKAS accreditation requirements are consistently met and exceeded, upholding stringent standards in asbestos remediation. His commitment to enhancing quality and customer satisfaction makes him an essential advisor in asbestos management.