When you consider the age of many of the constructions found on farms, as well as how common a building material asbestos in its various forms was throughout the 20th century, it should be little surprise that, to this day, it remains a large-scale problem that many farms are yet to deal with. However, it is one that requires urgent attention.
According to HSE statistics, over 2,500 mesothelioma deaths were caused by past asbestos exposure, meaning that this is an issue which is crucial to understand and manage correctly. Much of the reason for this is that a lot of people don’t actually know what to look for, what activities might cause asbestos fibres to be disturbed, or what to do if asbestos is suspected or found.
With that in mind, we’re going to take a look over some things you’ll want to know when it comes to white asbestos on farms.
What is white asbestos?
Asbestos is a heat resistant material that was commonly used as a building material throughout the UK in the past. Chrysotile, also known as white asbestos, is not only the most common type of farm asbestos but it is also the most common type of asbestos in general. It was also the last type to be banned back in 1999.
One typical example of an area where this type of asbestos might be found would be an agricultural farm building with an asbestos roof or ceiling. It can also be found within walls, floors and in insulation for things like pipes, ducts and various appliances.
In terms of identifying white asbestos, this can be more challenging than you may think, as it can take various forms and be difficult for someone untrained to spot. However, as a general guide, white asbestos tends to be a light grey colour, although it can also be mixed with blue or brown asbestos, particularly if it is found as boiler or pipe insulation.
When are asbestos fibres likely to be disturbed?
The danger that asbestos poses to health significantly increases with activity that is likely to disturb the fibres and release them into the air, allowing them to be inhaled. As many aren’t aware of where or even whether they have asbestos, it's important to know what type of activities are likely to disturb the materials in order to prevent putting anyone at risk.
One important factor to take into consideration here is when the buildings around the farm were constructed, with buildings and materials dating from before 2000 being a good benchmark for potentially harmful areas. Other ways in which asbestos can be disturbed is through work on insulated pipes and/or boilers, drilling through roof or wall panels, and anything that could break asbestos cement.
What to do if you have asbestos
If you have found asbestos, or have reason to suspect you have asbestos, then the first thing you need to do is create a management plan, with farm management of asbestos sheds and other high-risk buildings taking a top priority. Pre-inspection, you can help assess the potential risk by looking for a record of previous asbestos work. This can potentially be done by contacting previous owners if possible and by finding out as best you can the dates of the buildings on the farm.
Following this, you can undertake a management survey to register where asbestos is located or may be located, as well as determining priorities for action. At this point, it is wise to get advice from an asbestos surveyor and licensed contractor in order to best deal with the different types of asbestos on your property.
Even if you feel confident undertaking work on your farm buildings, it is always recommended that you avoid the temptation to deal with any asbestos related issues yourself. A survey by HSE found that only 30% of tradespeople were able to identify all the correct measures for working with asbestos safely, with a staggering 57% making at least one potentially fatal error in identifying how to remain safe around the material. Therefore, no matter how familiar you are with the construction of your farm buildings, you should always contact an expert in asbestos management.
Another important thing to note is that, if it is not clear whether asbestos is present in an area where work is planned, then expert help will be needed to test for the material. It’s vital that you tell anyone who works on the farm if any work is being carried out in order to avoid exposure.
How much will asbestos management cost?
The cost of farm barn asbestos, as well as farm asbestos in general, can vary greatly depending on the size of the problem. Therefore, getting advice from experts is the best way to understand the costs involved, as well as to remain safe.
Many farmers may also be asking ‘does insurance cover the cost of asbestos removal on my farm?’ The best advice regarding this question is to contact your insurance provider directly and get as much detail as you can from them as, just as costs can vary significantly, so can the specifics of insurance policies.
White asbestos on farms is a serious issue but by acting diligently and utilising the help of experts, it is a problem that is manageable and harm from this hazardous material can be avoided. If you have any further questions regarding asbestos surveying, encapsulation and removal, check our FAQ page for advice.