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Safety tips: Tackling the dangers of maintaining farm buildings

The number of fatalities caused by falling from height is at a record high.


Farmers Guardian reports on the simple measures which can save a life...

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Safety tips: Tackling the dangers of maintaining farm buildings #FarmSafety

In 2016, a 57-year-old Scottish farmer was crushed to death beneath a wall and a steel door. At the time, he was demolishing an old building in what he believed to be a relatively straightforward job.


When it collapsed unannounced, it killed him.


In Wales the same year, a farmer was killed when he fell through a fragile roof. At the time, he was repairing damaged cement roof sheets in what he believed to have been a non-hazardous renovation.


And in the south west of England, a 78-year-old farmer died after falling off a roof. He was carrying out renovation and repair work when he fell from the roof edge.


Maintaining and repairing old barns, stables and outbuildings is a key part of farm upkeep. Whether used for shelter and storage or as part of day-to-day work, these buildings can be vital.


Often, they have stood for generations.

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Every year across the UK there are incidents of farmers, workers and contractors falling to their death or sustaining life-changing injuries while carrying out repair work on these buildings.


Whether it’s because of working on roofs, rickety ladders or unsafe practice, falls from height are frequent and account for almost one fifth of all deaths on farms.


Farmers don’t just face the risk of falling when they carry out maintenance on old buildings. They also have to consider the risk posed by asbestos as most farms will have some asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).


When inhaled, asbestos fibres can cause serious diseases, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and


The issue of safe building maintenance formed the focus of an inspection by the Health and Safety Executive, which was carried out across the country from November 2017 to February 2018.


Rick Brunt has been involved with the farming industry for 35 years, and has been HSE’s head of agriculture for the past four years and is well aware of the risks associated with carried out unsafe works on farm buildings.

He says: “We know there are many good examples of farmers carrying out building maintenance and repair, planning the work properly and using the right equipment to do the job safely.


“Despite this, falls from height are still one of the main causes of death and injury on Britain’s farms, and each year too many farmers are working with asbestos and breathing in dangerous fibres.”


As well as the human cost, there are serious consequences for breaching regulations around working at height.


In January of this year, a firm was fined £100,000 after a worker died after falling while installing roof sheets on a new farm building.


And in November last year, a farmer from Taunton was also prosecuted after a worker suffered a fractured pelvis when he fell 14 feet through a skylight on his farm.


Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Victoria Bailey said: “Those in control of work have
a responsibility to ensure safe methods of working are used and to inform, instruct and train workers in the safe system of working.


“If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the
incident, the serious injuries sustained by the employee could have been prevented.”

Despite the serious medical and financial consequences, Rick sayss there are simple, straightforward steps that can be taken to carry out building maintenance and repair safely.


Rick says: “With asbestos, the risks are well known and there are already laws in place which mean farmers should know exactly where those materials are present.


“Well-sealed, undamaged asbestos is often best left alone, but it may be better to remove asbestos-containing materials which are already damaged. When you’re working with asbestos, when in doubt make sure that you ask for expert help.


“Work with asbestos insulation, asbestos board or sprayed coatings must be done by specialist licensed contractors and you must make everyone on the farm, especially contractors, aware of the presence of asbestos and the possibility of where there could be asbestos.”


  • Avoid working at height where you can
  • Use scaffolding, scaffold towers or mobile work platforms instead of a ladder whenever possible
  • Plan out what you’re going to do accounting for the equipment you need, the people you need to help you and the weather conditions
  • Put prominent warning signs which show where there are fragile materials
  • Download the HSE’s asbestos app for guidance on how to assess and work with asbestos containing materials
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