Today there is growing concern surrounding the use of asbestos as a building material in many of Britain’s schools.
Attention is being focused on the well known serious health issues arising from exposure to asbestos possible health effects on our teachers and possibly former pupils. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) have been published its latest asbestos in schools inspection initiative, which took place in 2013/14. The report is based on a random sample of 153 schools and provides advice as to managing asbestos in schools.
The risk of exposure to asbestos can lead to illnesses such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, generally in later life. To reduce this risk to the children, staff and parents, the report highlights how it can be managed. Out of the 153 schools inspected, the majority (71 per cent) required no further action or were given straightforward, simple advice.
However, 29 per cent received written advice from HSE, and 13 per cent were subject to enforcement action, in the form of improvement notices. Enforcement action was taken over failures such as training staff and producing written management plans – not because staff or pupils were considered at significant risk of exposure, but because these are vital elements of the required control measures. However, since the last inspection programme in 2010/11, there has been an improvement.
Geoff Cox, the Head of HSE’s Public Services Sector, said: “Over the last few years there has been a lot of work by stakeholders across the school sector to raise awareness of the duty to manage asbestos. It is really encouraging to see that awareness of the requirements has increased since our previous inspection initiative. That said, schools should not be under any illusion – managing asbestos requires ongoing attention. Schools now have access to a wealth of guidance setting out clear and straightforward steps to achieve and maintain compliance. Where duty holders fall below acceptable standards, HSE has taken, and will continue to take, enforcement action”
There were a lot of common themes in those cases where schools were falling short of the requirements. HSE has published its findings to help others learn from them. Key elements include schools having:
- up to date records of asbestos containing materials in their school – this is to make sure that the school knows the location of any asbestos containing materials that could be damaged or disturbed by normal activities, by foreseeable maintenance, or when installing new equipment.
- training for maintenance staff whose work could expose them to asbestos and every school needs a robust system to alert anyone who may disturb asbestos at the school. The key group of personnel at risk from asbestos is tradespeople – particularly those undertaking maintenance activities. It is vital that schools ensure that anyone who may disturb asbestos is made aware of its location and condition.
Asbestos which is in good condition and remains undamaged and undisturbed does not pose any significant risk to health if it is managed in compliance with the legal requirements and according to HSE’s published guidance.
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