For many UK schools, asbestos management is an ongoing issue which needs to be considered regularly. Indeed, some figures suggest the proportion of school buildings, many of which are ageing structures, with asbestos could be as high as 80%.
Why do so many school buildings contain asbestos – and why is it so dangerous?
One of the issues is that many of our schools were constructed before the year 2000, at a time when the use of asbestos was rife across the building industry, and before it was found that exposure to the substance was dangerous when its fibres were disturbed. Equally, this was before the link between asbestos and mesothelioma, various lung cancers, asbestosis and a number of other serious diseases was fully understood.
Where is asbestos most likely to be located in schools?
As mentioned, asbestos in schools is found in many of these buildings constructed pre-2000. Asbestos-containing materials (or ACMs) are found in places including (according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)):
- Floor and ceiling tiles
- Textured coatings
- Cement guttering and roofing
- Lagging used in boilers and pipes for thermal insulation
- Sprayed asbestos coatings, typically mixed with paint and water and used for thermal insulation, fire protection, ducts and partitioning
- Insulation boards
- Corrugated roof panels
In March 2017, the Department for Education (DfE) published this guidance on asbestos in schools and its possible locations.
When does asbestos in schools become a risk to health?
The main risks posed by asbestos in school buildings arise when maintenance, repair and/or construction work is taking place. That’s when, if asbestos is present, it is most likely to be disturbed, leading to fine asbestos fibres being released.
Risks can come from seemingly innocuous tasks such as fitting telephone or computer cabling, since workers often need to get behind wall panels or into ceiling voids.
You should also think about the risks of unsupervised and/or unruly activities, and the likelihood of these causing pupils inadvertently to disturb asbestos fibres, as part of any asbestos management review.
When is asbestos in schools not deemed to pose a risk to health?
Risk is considerably reduced for material in parts of the building which are unlikely to be disturbed, or areas where there is not a high chance of maintenance work being carried out.
Additionally, if the asbestos is in good condition, and unlikely to be damaged, it shouldn’t pose a significant risk to the health of pupils, staff or visitors.
Having proper asbestos management plans and asbestos testing also mitigates the hazards – as does agreeing not to pin or tack children’s work to ceiling or insulation board tiles.
Finally, all staff should understand the potential dangers of asbestos in their school.
Managing asbestos found in school buildings – what can be done?
When it comes to dealing with asbestos in schools, much depends on whether the presence of the substance is confirmed, or whether it is merely suspected. You also need to know whether asbestos management plans are in place, or whether asbestos surveys and testing are necessary.
School asbestos surveys
Should asbestos be suspected, then it’s a good idea to find out when the last asbestos survey was done, and what asbestos management plans, if any, are in place.
If you run a school, find out what any existing asbestos management plan says, and the locations of any asbestos it may have identified.
It may be that you need an asbestos management review, and to get new schools asbestos surveys and asbestos testing done by a UKAS-accredited specialist company.
An asbestos management plan
You may need to put an asbestos management plan in place if you don’t have one already – or update an existing plan. This vital document registers and outlines the way asbestos will be managed across a particular property, and how people using the site will be kept safe from exposure to asbestos. It should be clear, simple and easily accessed, and you’ll need to review it regularly.
The HSE says all schools must have a site-specific asbestos management plan, and if the local authority has drawn this up, the school should be familiar with it. Yet one HSE survey found that nearly a third (31%) of those questioned had no written schools asbestos management plans in place.
If asbestos is disturbed, or located in a part of the school which is vulnerable to disturbance (not least by unsuspecting children), the part of the building with ACMs will have to be removed, by a professional asbestos removal company.
Asbestos awareness training
Asbestos awareness training is vital for both school staff and contractors. When taking on a contractor, use an organisation which has undergone this training, although it is not a legal requirement.
Caretakers are often the most at risk, so remember asbestos awareness training for them, so they stay safe as they carry out small maintenance jobs and activities like drilling across your school site.
Asbestos management review
An asbestos management review ensures compliance with HSE guidelines and maximises safety, while providing assurance as to the viability and consistency of asbestos management plans.
This review establishes current strategic management, and provides an independent assessment of what you are doing well, while identifying areas where extra action may be needed.
A qualified asbestos risk assessor carries out asbestos management reviews, and will follow the HSE’s recommended ‘plan, do, check, act’ procedure.
What are schools’ legal responsibilities for asbestos management?
In schools, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 apply.
Additionally, the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2012 define those with responsibility for maintaining premises which may have asbestos as duty holders. In schools, that could be the duty holder or the governing body, or the responsibility may be shared.
The HSE says duty holders must:
- Keep an up-to-date record of the location and condition of ACMs in the school
- Assess the risks from any ACMs in the school
- Make plans to manage the risks from ACMs in the school
- Put those plans into action
- Ensure that staff most likely to be at risk receive asbestos training
Speak to Core Surveys about school asbestos surveys & management plans
At Core Surveys, we’re asbestos professionals, conducting a range of commercial asbestos surveys and with a particular specialism in asbestos management surveys in schools and universities. We also offer asbestos management reviews and have our own on-site asbestos testing lab where we carry out asbestos testing and analyse bulk samples.
With offices in South Wales and Sussex, we’re ideally located to complete schools asbestos surveys across the surrounding areas from Brighton, Surrey, London and Kent to Wales (including major cities like Swansea and Cardiff) and Bristol.
Get in touch to discuss asbestos in your school today.