Farm buildings are fraught with danger. They tend to be used for a variety of activities and this makes their design and construction challenging.
Poorly designed or poorly maintained farm buildings can be a potential source of accidents. This could be due to slippery floors, lack of adequate emergency exits, poor lighting, overloaded spaces or because they are constructed from dangerous materials such as asbestos.
The construction, repair and maintenance of buildings are regular farm management tasks and health and safety needs to be incorporated into all the stages of farm building projects. This ranges from planning to building and also to maintenance after the building is erected. This is equally important, whether you are carrying out the work yourself or employing contractors.
Regulations exist to ensure that health and safety measures are adopted before any building work takes place. These do not apply to your domestic dwelling, but they do apply to any dwellings you provide for employees. If you are planning to take on a building project, you should ensure that you have sufficient knowledge of the building regulations, and the skills and equipment needed to carry out the work yourself. If in doubt, it is important to consult experts, such as construction managers or planning officers, who can advise you on which regulations apply to you and help you to plan your building work with safety in mind.
You also have a legal responsibility for the safety of anyone working on farm buildings. If a person dies as a result of work that you are responsible for, you may be found guilty of corporate manslaughter or corporate homicide. The sentencing guidelines for this offence recommend fines greater than £500,000.
Using building contractors
If you employ a building contractor, you have certain legal responsibilities towards them, including allowing them sufficient time to complete the work safely, providing information about the site and the purpose of the building, ensuring that the builders are suitably managed throughout the work and providing welfare facilities on site.
Did you know that if the construction lasts for more than 30 days or more than 500 person days, you will also need to appoint a coordinator and a principal contractor? Both you and the contractor have joint responsibility for health and safety on site and need to ensure that health and safety plans and records are kept.
The location and purpose of new buildings should be planned carefully to include adequate access for people, farm vehicles, machinery or livestock, as well as safe storage for chemicals and other hazardous materials. Ease of maintenance should also be taken into account at the planning stage as this could save you time and money in the long term. Particular care needs to be taken when erecting steel-framed constructions as these are more prone to collapse during the building process.
Before carrying out any trench work, you will need to plan the precautions to protect the area against collapse and to prevent people or vehicles from falling into the trench. If workers need to enter the trench you will need to provide safe access and exits.
Plan the excavations so that they do not cause damage to any underground services, such as drainage, electricity cables or utility pipelines. Consult the utility companies to ensure that you have clear plans of pipe locations. Additionally, take care not to compromise the foundations of nearby structures.
Demolition and dismantling of old buildings
It is essential to plan this type of work so that any dangers can be eliminated. Produce a written plan which includes details of the dismantling or demolition process, and how dangerous materials, such as asbestos, will be disposed of. Pedestrian and vehicle access should be prohibited around the work area and warning signs should be clearly displayed. All debris and remaining parts of a structure need to be left in a stable condition so they do not collapse onto people, livestock or equipment.
Look out for asbestos!
Farm buildings may contain asbestos materials in places like their roofing, insulation, guttering, lagging or water tanks. Asbestos may also be found within domestic dwellings as room partitions, or in machinery as insulating panels or seals.
Farmers are legally required to carry out surveys of their premises to identify all asbestos so it can be assessed for risk to people’s health. Wherever it is found on the farm, it should be labelled to warn workers of its presence. If it is in poor condition, it will need to be removed, as inhaling the fibres can result in serious illness or death. If unidentified materials resembling asbestos are found, it should be assumed that they are asbestos and treated accordingly. All work with asbestos should be carried out by specialist contractors who hold a license to remove and dispose of the material responsibly.
Falls from roofs are one of the main causes of serious accidents and deaths on farms.
Any work on roofs will require a risk assessment to be carried out beforehand. If you plan to do the work yourself, ensure that you have the skills, equipment and available manpower to carry out the work safely. Ensure that all staging equipment and scaffolding meets the required specifications for the job.
Many farm buildings have roofs which are meant to keep out the weather rather than withstand any weight. You should avoid walking on roofs, including flat roofs, unless adequate precautions have been taken beforehand. Ensure that all work at height is properly planned, supervised and carried out by trained workers.