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Education is Crucial for Asbestos Management in Schools

20 July 2022 | Updated 21 July 2022

SOCOTEC is highlighting the risk of asbestos exposure in UK schools, and what the FMs should be doing about it. 

One of the main issues with regards to asbestos exposure in schools is that many of the buildings in use in the UK were constructed before the year 2000. According to documents leaked to The Observer newspaper earlier this year, deteriorating school buildings in England are a “risk to life.”

The use of asbestos was rife across the building industry between the 1930s and 1980s, with asbestos manufacturing companies promoting the material as a wonder product unmatched in its fire and chemical resistant, soundproofing and heat insulating properties. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that more than 75 percent of Britain’s state schools have been found to contain asbestos.

In school buildings, the most common uses of asbestos were in:

  1. Spray coatings for fire protection and insulation on concrete walls, ceilings and steelwork

  2. Insulation lagging, particularly around pipework, boilers and ducts

  3. Insulating boards

  4. Asbestos cement products

  5. Bitumen

  6. Floor tiles

  7. Textured paints and coatings.


Who Has the Duty to Manage Asbestos?


Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, the primary responsibility to manage asbestos in a school lies with the duty holder. This is defined as anyone who has the responsibility for the maintenance and/or repair of the building. The duty holder has a legal responsibility for the safe management of any asbestos-containing materials that are present in a school, and is also liable for prosecution if the regulations are breached.

In order to manage the presence of asbestos in buildings, duty holders are expected to survey their building, create a register of ACMs and write an asbestos management plan that details the procedures for monitoring the condition of ACMs.

The asbestos management plan is a vital document which registers and outlines the ways in which asbestos will be managed across a particular property, and how people using the site will be kept safe from exposure to the fibrous mineral. It should be clear, simple and easily accessible, and duty holders will need to ensure that it is reviewed regularly. The HSE also states that all schools must have a site-specific asbestos management plan, and that key stakeholders should be familiar with it.


Who Is At Risk from Asbestos in Schools?


The most likely way that ACMs will create a risk in schools is when they are disturbed or damaged through maintenance, repair or construction activities. With this in mind, school caretakers are considered to be at high risk of asbestos exposure due to the nature of their work. If asbestos is disturbed during any of these activities, there is a risk that the fibres will be released and create a risk to other occupants of the building, such as teachers and students.

In addition, within a school environment, asbestos can be disturbed through activities of the students, such as the movement of table and chairs (rubbing against walls for example), kicking and throwing balls and in some cases vandalism. Given the age of many school buildings, the passing of time also increases the possibility of the general degradation of building materials.

If asbestos is in a good condition and is unlikely to be disturbed or damaged, it will not pose a significant risk to health as long as it is properly managed. It is, however, strongly recommended that teachers and children should not undertake activities that damage ACMs, such as pinning or tacking work to insulating boards or ceiling tiles.


Asbestos Awareness Training


Asbestos awareness training, like that which SOCOTEC offers, is vital for both school staff and contractors. As aforementioned, caretakers are often the most at risk, so asbestos awareness training would be a requirement for them, particularly as they carry out small maintenance jobs and activities that could potentially disturb and damage the fibrous mineral. All third-party contractors undertaking building and refurbishment works which could disturb ACMs should also be asbestos awareness trained, with the school instructing these works being required to check this as part of their engagement process.


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 places a legal duty on employers to prevent exposure and assess the risks posed by asbestos. The Health and Safety Executive has estimated that asbestos may still be present in 300,000 non-domestic buildings and many more homes, despite the long-term efforts to remove it. With this in mind, MPs have now called for a 40-year deadline for all asbestos to be removed from public and commercial buildings, including schools.

More specifically, The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 states that the responsibility for maintaining premises that may contain asbestos lies with the duty holders. In schools, this can be classed as the duty holder or the governing body or the responsibility may be shared.

Duty holders must:

  1. Confirm what you already know about the ACMs on your premises, and review how you are currently managing them

  2. Prevent work on your premises that may disturb the fabric of the building until measures to control the risks have been implemented

  3. Carry out an initial inspection for damage and disturbance of materials and take immediate action to control these

  4. Develop a strategy for compliance

  5. Carry out a risk assessment of your ACMs to set priorities for management

  6. Develop a long-term management plan

  7. Monitor and review the management plan.


How Can New Methods Help?


Working with Alert Technology Ltd, SOCOTEC is trialling a portable real-time airborne asbestos warning device, the ALERT PRO1000. The device emits an alert if asbestos fibres are detected within the atmosphere and enables the identification of activities that may have caused fibre release.

As for safeguarding from already identified hotspots, Asbestos SMART is a simple, easy to use technological solution which gives visiting contractors and key on site personnel immediate access to the latest asbestos register for your building, just by using their mobile phone or smart mobile device.

Every UKNAR registered building enrolled into the Asbestos SMART system is issued with a unique QR code. The QR code presented can be incorporated into a sign. This can be tailored to your organisation’s individual requirements, including your logo and contact details.


Picture: School building, external wall. Image credit: Unsplash.

Article written by Bailey Sparkes | Published 20 July 2022


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